The Voice of Sport – the Story Behind the Confederation of Australian Sport: Sport Finds its Strength in the 1970s and Begins to Influence Government Policy

History of Australian Sport Policy Series: Part 10

By Greg Hartung AO

Heart and soul of sport

The Australian sport system is built around independent and vibrant sporting clubs which work within a sports network defined by their state and federal organisations. These, in turn, are linked to their international governing bodies. It is estimated there are some 60,000 sports clubs throughout Australia forming the heart and soul of the sports system providing opportunities for people, at all the stages of their lives, to engage in sport at the level of their choice or ability.

Critical to the health of the vast sports club network is the active engagement of those people passionate and committed to their sport and prepared to volunteer time and resources.  Without this the system, as we know it, would crumble.   

For the Australian sport system to work effectively, its primary agencies, and individuals, all need to play their role as part of the system.  Sport policy and delivery is a team game, not a solo effort. At the centre of the system are the national sporting organisations.  The role of government has become increasingly important.  For their part, Ministers – Federal and State – have key policy, leadership and representative functions which are essential to ensure that sport has its champions within political parties and Parliaments. Governments provide key components to the sport system – funds and/or policies to enhance infrastructure, Institutes and Academies for high performance athletes, coaches and sport scientists, as well as support for officials and managers. 

When these pieces of the sports architecture work in harmony, the “system” is as effective as it can be.  When it fails, or when parts of the system over-reach or are in decline for whatever reason, the system, as a whole, suffers.  Every agency needs to understand its boundaries and limitations.

It has only been since the 1980s that Australia has had all the pieces of the sport system in play, underpinned by governments and politicians seeing merit in providing policy leadership and funding for national sporting organisations and peak sports bodies.

The lone voice

Individual sport leaders have also played important roles at key moments in the Australian sport policy narrative. A persistent voice for greater financial support for sport in the 1970s, especially following the change in government from Labor to the Malcolm Fraser-led Liberal Coalition in November 1975, was the celebrated Australian swim coach, Forbes Carlile.  He was passionate about creating the circumstances in which Australians could be competitive at the highest levels of sport. Although always polite in his advocacy he was nonetheless fiercely single-minded in calling for government to lift its game and support sport with some serious funding.

Carlile praised the Whitlam Government and its Minister for Sport, Frank Stewart, for getting the ball rolling on sport funding but declared it was just “a drop in the bucket – so great are our needs after so many years of neglect”.  After the election in 1975 Carlile demanded that government expand its funding and nothing short of a twenty-fold commitment would suffice. (Ref 1)

He was astute enough to realise in 1975 that the parlous state of sports funding and policy was not exclusively the fault of government: sport itself had been asleep at the wheel and the problems of sports funding was compounded by the absence of an effective lobby. At that time, Carlile was virtually a lone voice for sport aimed at government.  But it was his persistent advocacy which played a part in prodding sport into concerted action.  This was to come the following year.

The Confederation of Australian Sport          

An examination of the key drivers of Australian sport policy would not be complete without consideration of the role played by the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS). The emergence of the CAS, arising from the disappointment of the Montreal Olympics in 1976, had a profound effect on the future direction of Australian sport.  Its influence on sport policy was important at a critical time when political parties were grappling with their own engagement with the sports community.  CAS’s timing was perfect. It arrived on the political-sport landscape, picking up many of the themes of Forbes Carlile, to provide organisational clout to the arguments.  It quickly grew and prospered to occupy an influential and unique place among Australian sports peak bodies.

There were compelling reasons for national sporting organisations to join together as a “Confederation” in 1976. The Montreal Games result was a catalyst, but there was the well-founded concern that Australia was falling behind in world sport and the Federal Government’s response was inadequate. Funding, or at least the unreliability of it, was a key issue. 

There was no organisation which could present itself to government as the “voice” for sport covering the interests of a multitude of sports organisations.  In many respects the convenience of having one national umbrella organisation with which to connect was welcomed by Ministers and politicians and by administrators.  Sport was professionalising as an industry sector in its own right, and many national sporting organisations fell in behind the CAS which emerged with an energetic leadership team strong enough to have an impact in the world of politics.

Down to business

The Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA) provided the initiative to bring sports together following the withdrawal of uncommitted funds to sport by the Federal Government in 1976. The election of 11 November 1975 resulted in the Whitlam Labor Government being replaced by the coalition government led by Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.

The new government announced that all uncommitted funds to sport in the 1975-76 federal budget would to be withdrawn and returned to general revenue.  The decision decimated the popular Sports Assistance Program introduced by Whitlam’s Sport Minister, Frank Stewart, and shattered the plans of national sporting organisations which had expected funding to continue. 

Total funding under the Sports Assistance Program had dwindled to $356,000 by 1975/76. (Ref 2).  For its part, the LTAA had anticipated a $6000 grant from the sport development program to assist with the establishment costs of a new interstate competition for boys and girls under 16.  The withdrawal of this relatively modest amount of government support funds threw the event planning into disarray.

Meetings in Melbourne and Sydney 

The sudden curtailment of funding also had the effect of galvanising the key LTAA officials to take action by calling a meeting of other national sporting organisations to share their concerns and, if agreement could be reached, consider remedial options.  The President of the LTAA was Wayne Reid.  He, along with Tennis Director and Davis Cup Captain, Neale Fraser, and Executive Director, Garry Daly, decided to place an advertisement in the Melbourne newspapers as a rallying call to locally based national sporting organisations to meet to consider their response to the government’s decision.  That meeting, on 72 hours’ notice, attracted 23 separate organisations and commenced a process toward formalising the new peak sport body, the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS).  

Parallel to the Melbourne meeting, but at first not directly connected, a group of sports administrators was convened in Sydney by the President of the Australian Soccer Federation, Sir Arthur George, and the President of the Australian Rugby League, Kevin Humphries.  Although the original purpose of the Sydney meeting was to discuss sponsorship to sport, the group’s agenda was amended as it became aware of the Melbourne initiative and agreed that they shared the same problems and objectives.

Working Group

A combined “working group” of Sydney and Melbourne based sports was established with the aim of taking a united case for sports funding to Canberra. The group comprised Wayne Reid as Chair and Sir Arthur George as Deputy Chair.  Other members included, James Barry (Gymnastics), Alan Higginbotham (Golf), Kevin Humphries (Rugby League), Leslie Martyn (Weightlifting), Julius “Judy” Patching (Olympic Federation) and Garry Daly (Secretary).  I am grateful to Garry Daly for the clarification of dates and outcomes of these early meetings.

The working group represented the interests of a combined 35 national sporting organisations. It was resolved to petition the Federal Government to protest the radical change to funding policy.  The initial protest took the form of a telegram to the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, the Treasurer, Philip Lynch, and the Minister responsible for sport, Ivor Greenwood. The communication expressed the group’s dismay at the withdrawal of financial assistance and called for an immediate review. They said the Government had an obligation to continue assistance because sport had programs in place which had been operating on the expectation of financial assistance and the sudden cessation of funding had caused significant disruption.

Powerful reasons to establish a sports lobby group    

The failure to achieve a breakthrough in the federal budget became but one half of the crunch to hit sport in 1976.  Australia’s lack of gold medal success at the Montreal Olympics provided further incentive for sports to join together in a formal way and as a united group to provide a longer-term advocacy group role on behalf of sport. 

The Confederation of Australian Sport was formalised at a meeting in Melbourne on 3 November 1976 following a 10-month consultation with sporting organisations.  Initial membership was 42 sporting associations which, in turn, had a combined membership of 2.7 million.  Within three years, the membership rose to 83 plus a further 22 associate members in a separate category.  The Australian Olympic Federation and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association joined initially as Special Members although the relationship between the AOF and CAS was strained and later was to be severed.  At the November meeting, Mr Wayne Reid was elected as the inaugural President and Sir Arthur George as Vice President. Mr Garry Daly was elected Secretary/Treasurer and subsequently was appointed Executive Director and a secretariat established in Melbourne. 

In communication with the author, Garry Daly explained that CAS embarked immediately on a campaign “by letter, telephone and personal approaches”, to regain and increase Federal Government funding of sport. “…politicians at all levels of Federal Government and the Premiers, Opposition Leaders and Ministers and Shadow Ministers for Sport in all State Governments were bombarded by an unrelenting campaign.  In the first three months, 1080 letters were sent to politicians, including initial approaches and then follow-up correspondence if the recipients did not support the campaign or did not reply to the first letter.”.  There was no doubt that politicians of all persuasions were made aware of the doggedness, and growing influence, of CAS and its Executive Director.  Garry Daly was forceful and unrelenting in his advocacy — a method of operation which drew many friends, as well as opponents. There was no doubting his commitment, energy and passion. In a statement to the author, Daly further explained his tactics:

“Politicians who indicated opposition to the campaign were regarded as ‘enemies of sport’ and, where possible, electors were advised to vote against them.

“The then Minister for Sport, Mr Kevin Newman, appeared sympathetic to the campaign but was not well acquainted with the sporting community and too far down the pecking order within the Government Ministry to be effective and with the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, not showing any interest in sport as a funding priority, the task of the Confederation was difficult”

Andrew Peacock intervenes

The then Foreign Affairs Minister, Andrew Peacock, facilitated a meeting with Prime Minister Fraser to be attended by Daly and President, Wayne Reid, along with CAS Board Members, James Barry and Les Martyn. Daly explained that the representative group delivered a letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of the CAS membership declaring their disappointment with the lack of support from government and including a demand that federal Government funding be restored as a matter of urgency. 

The Prime Minister was pre-armed with the understanding, provided by non-CAS members of the Australian sports community, that CAS was not speaking on behalf of all sport.  He concluded that the CAS was unable to present a single and united voice for sport. Fraser felt confident in questioning the ability of the Confederation to represent the views of the Australian sporting community. The Prime Minister had received correspondence from the Australian Olympic Federation advising that it was not supporting the Confederation campaign.  The AOF had supported the government’s priority of restoring the overall Australian economy in the national interest before providing additional funds to sport. The lack of solidarity gave Fraser the political “wriggle room” to avoid reversing the funding cutbacks. 

Representations to Canberra were productive enough in that communication with government was opened – but they produced no tangible financial benefits to sport. The approach was positive in its own right, they still came away empty handed. However, the representations drove home to the CAS that it was essential for sport to act in a united way when dealing with government.

Daly felt the Prime Minister’s dismissal of the CAS approach was founded on the appearance of disunity in the sporting community created by the AOF letter.  According to Daly’s account, the meeting broke up shortly afterwards without resolution of the differing attitudes.

Fragmentation of effort was a very significant impediment in the way of sport achieving a better outcome from Canberra.  Differences with the Olympic Federation and diverse tactics in dealing with the Federal Government was not helping the fledgling Confederation. 

This lack of a unified voice in dealing with government was interpreted by politicians and public servants as a sign of weakness and made it difficult to get results. The risk was that sport would be sidelined in the political process. (Ref 3)  Frank Stewart, the first Minister for Sport in the previous Whitlam Labor Government summed up the manner in which sport was regarded by his Parliamentary colleagues: “They look at sport as a wonderful time to show themselves, especially when there is an international match on and there are 40,000 people.  As to the rest of it – how it is run, financed and managed – it doesn’t matter. If they can get a crowd, they will go.” (Ref 3)

CAS perseveres

The Confederation — though well intention and forthright — was struggling to get results in its early years of existence.  The government was paying lip-service to its demands.  The sports budget was still struggling to make an impact at around the $1 million mark each year to be spread thinly across the multitude of sports organisations.  “A drop in the budget bucket”, Hartung observed and claimed that CAS needed to address entrenched political attitudes toward sport as a first priority in order to be able to gain some traction with the Coalition government in policy and funding. (Ref 3) 

Hartung: “To begin to operate effectively as a pressure group, sport must start from basics:  it must mobilise support from within its own ranks as well as within the broader community and it must challenge the philosophy of the Federal Coalition government….A sports lobby must be more than simply a crusader for money.  It must learn to articulate its needs: money for what purpose? How much?” According to Hartung, the government was yet to be convinced that the pursuit of excellence in sport was at least as desirable as the pursuit of excellence in the arts.  “Very little pressure has been built up over the last three years among the government’s backbench, the Opposition or through the Party Branches to improve and regularise assistance to sport.”

Australia’s performance at the Montreal Olympics was certainly a key stimulus in the emergence of a sports advocacy group, but so too was the frustration that sport was being under-represented politically. There was a view gaining traction that sport needed to elevate itself in the hierarchy of political issues in order to be taken more seriously in Canberra.

Light but little heat

A year after the Confederation was officially incorporated in November 1976, it was not getting the political results it was hoping for, a situation which was to continue for at least another 12 months.  There was a glimmer of light, but still not enough heat, to move Canberra to action.

Politicians, accustomed to the professional and strategic campaigns directed by industry groups and other community organisations, could not hide their frustration with the lack of effectiveness of the Confederation. Both Labor and Coalition MPs vented their annoyance at the initial amateurish advocacy efforts of CAS — and in many instances offered the Confederation some advice on what it needed to do to get results in Canberra. (Ref 3)

In a series of interviews with former Ministers for Sport, Hartung found that the frustrations cut across political lines:-

Frank Stewart (ALP), Minister for Tourism and Recreation, 1972-1975: “The administration of sporting organisations is still kitchen table in most instances.  When you offer them things, they haven’t got a plan in mind…they are the world’s worst lobbyists.”

Kevin Newman (Liberal), Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, 1976-1977: “Despite the criticisms of our government by sport over the past 18 months, it appears to me that the majority of sports themselves have not really been planning their future development in any way…sports will need to substantiate their claims for government assistance by providing a properly developed four-to-five year plan which shows where they hope to go.”

Ray Groom (Liberal), Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, 1977-1978: “There is no real concern in the Australian community at the moment that the government should be spending a lot more on sport.  In the pubs they might talk about it but they are not prepared to go to their politicians and say so and I don’t think it is a voting issue.”

Barry Cohen (ALP), Shadow Minister for Sport, 1978: “There is a general attitude among Australians that says it is wasteful of government expenditure to be spending money on frivolous things like sport.  We got this reaction when in government from a lot of quarters.  People were willing to take the money but thought we were bloody mugs for giving it to them.  There is a lot of resentment from the public for spending money on sport. There is a real masochism in the Australian community which really believes that you should not have those things.”

Experts abound

The Confederation was not short on advice on how to become an effective lobby group – and it was coming from the very politicians in Canberra who would be the targets of such lobbying.  These politicians from both sides of the political fence were looking to the Confederation for a united sport approach and a coherent policy agenda. 

There were some such as Frank Stewart who regretted the “polite and gentlemanly” behaviour of sport administrators in dealing with Government. He wanted to see more aggressive tactics –admittedly promoted by a politician and former Minister who was now speaking from the Opposition benches. 

It was a view also shared by sections of the sports community itself. Confederation Vice President, Sir Arthur George, in an address at the 1978 annual meeting of CAS, issued the rallying call to the membership: “I believe that we are getting the political push around.” George declared. “If we go on politely like gentleman, cooperating, those sections of the community, those minorities in the community which are making their political weight felt, will be getting the benefits and all we have is fine speeches and lovely meetings.” (Ref 3)

George was an advocate of the ‘squeaky wheel gets the most oil’ approach — a position largely shared by Garry Daly who, by mid-1978, had been appointed Executive Director of CAS.  Subtlety was not Daly’s default position, although persistence and doggedness were. Whether warranted, or not, his style clashed with the more nuanced approach undertaken by the other major peak body, the Australian Olympic Federation. 

Whether it was the CAS style and approach, or simply a convenient excuse hit upon by the Fraser government in an economic climate of austerity, CAS was not getting the responses it so desperately sought.

There was also still the open question whether sporting organisations were sufficiently capable to handle additional government funding.  And the experience of some politicians from the Frank Stewart era onwards left considerable doubt as to whether sport was “ready” for more government assistance.  This, combined with a sense within sections of the ALP, that there was an anti-Labor bias within the sport community, made progress difficult for the CAS agenda. 

CAS was relatively new and was still learning how Canberra operated. While the road to success was difficult, to its great credit, CAS and Garry Daly were forcing politicians at all levels to take notice of sport.  The CAS general meetings provided a perfect forum for Ministers to meet face-to-face with sporting representatives and to get unimpeded feedback.  These were must attend events by politicians and sport leaders in the three decades from the mid-1970s and they had a significant impact on decision making and policy development. Sadly, such opportunities disappeared with the gradual decline of CAS in later years. Before the decline came the rise and rise of CAS and its role in shaping government responses.  This will be explored in forthcoming Papers in the History of Australian Sport Policy Series.


  1. Geoff Dowsley, The Black Tide, official journal of the Wales Swimming Club, Vol 3, No 1, 1985, p.1
  2. Dept. of Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Annuyal Report 1982-83, Canberra, AGPS, 1983.
  3. Greg Hartung,  Sport and the Canberra Lobby, In, Cashman, R. and McKernan, M. (eds.), Sport: money, morality, and the media, Kensington, N.S.W., New South Wales University Press, 1981, p. 194-215.

Author’s Background

Greg Hartung AO brings great knowledge and experience to the development of sport in Australia. He was a sport & political journalist, Member of the Interim Committee of the Australian Sports Commission (1983-1984), inaugural CEO Australian Sports Commission (1983-1988), Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission (1991-1996), 2006-2010), Chair of the Australian Sports Commission (2008-2010), President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995) and Australian Paralympic Committee (1997-2013) and Vice President of the International Paralympic Committee (2009-2013) and Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra (2014-)

Part 11 –The Sport Lobby Gathers Strength: How Confederation of Australian Sport Took Up the Fight with Canberra

Listing of articles in History of Australian Sport Policy Series

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