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

History of Australian Sport Policy Series: Part 11   

 By Greg Hartung AO

Confederation builds its influence

To be politically effective, the Confederation adopted an ambitious two-part strategy: it had to build a powerful membership base of national sport federations and it needed a challenging and convincing policy agenda which political parties could not easily ignore. The source of its political credibility came from a combination of its membership muscle and its policy ideas. By the end of the 1970s, the CAS was beginning to build both.

The Confederation’s audacious approach had its fans among sporting organisations which had for long felt that they had been overlooked, if not neglected, by government. The CAS leadership was anxious for some early results. To that end they concluded that being timid was not going to work for them. This strong, industry-wide, approach appealed to the majority of the CAS members who, at that time, felt they could not cut through with government by working alone. For them, the CAS offered a voice when they felt they had none.

There was another, albeit smaller, cohort who were less comfortable with the forthright CAS approach. The Confederation’s critics felt the CAS was too forceful in its methods and was endeavouring to overreach with its demands to government.

However, any sense of nervousness about the CAS “style” by some, was more than offset by the fast-growing depth of its support base.  For the time being, at least, the wide scope of the CAS agenda placed it in a powerful position to influence the political debate about sport policy: it was the only non-government organisation capable of bringing together the broad sweep of Australia’s sporting organisations, Olympic and non-Olympic, to distil ideas and push the case across all sport in Canberra.

The CAS strength eventually was drawn from the more than 100 sporting organisations, collectively comprising more than six million members.  In addition, the CAS leadership cultivated support and sponsorship from many of Australia’s most prominent companies.  It also secured the Governor General as Patron-in-Chief and the Prime Minister as Patron, a symbolic affirmation of its growing strength and status.

Financial emergency

The Confederation deserves considerable credit for developing a sports policy framework and capturing the attention of Government and Opposition.  It is hard to imagine many of the political decisions and programs in sport coming about without the intervention of an industry umbrella body such as CAS and the relentless advocacy of its leadership. 

As its first mass political campaign, CAS produced a status report titled The Financial Plight of Sport in Australia which was presented to the Federal Government in May 1977. (Ref 1) The document was the outcome of exhaustive consultation with sports organisations and was developed from the results of a nationally circulated questionnaire with replies from 68 sporting bodies. The report led to CAS despatching more than 1000 letters to Federal and State MPs, and media outlets, highlighting the financial crisis confronting Australian sport and calling on government for urgent assistance.

The appeal resulted in a $1 million sport allocation in the federal budget brought down in August 1977. The funds were made available through the government’s national Sports Development program.  It was a beginning which gave sport hope that more would follow.

Funding was never far from the heart of the CAS agenda.  The $1 million in 1977 was followed by $1.3 million the following year, again after CAS lobbying.  The funding was still well short of the CAS call for a baseline federal sport budget of $5 million. It was closer to reaching its target in 1979 with federal funding increasing to $2.7 million which included $700,000 to the Australian Olympic Federation for the 1980 Olympic campaign.  In 1980 the budget climbed to $2.9 million for the Sports Development Program in an overall sport budget of $13 million.  By 1981 the sport budget reached $20.1 million which included a continuation of the annual allocation of $2.9 million to the sports development program.  

Apart from the quantum of federal funding available to sport, the Confederation’s concern was that there was no certainty of continuing on-going funding. It was a battle that had to be waged each year and there was the ever-present danger that the tap could be turned off.  In order to secure some reliability, CAS campaigned for a Sports Lottery from 1978.  At a superficial level, the concept always had a positive “in principle” response from government and, later, from the Australian Sports Commission.  It was only when the idea was more closely examined against the interests of State Governments that it was quietly pushed aside. (Note: There will be a more detailed discussion of the sport lottery concept and a national sports foundation in a future Paper in this Series.)   

Sport Australia Forum

The Confederation continued to mobilise the Australian sport community and, building on the success of its 1977-78 funding campaign, took a step further in 1979 with the design and management of a nation-wide series of forums under the single banner of Sport Australia.

The Sport Australia Forum attracted more than 1500 participants to seminars held across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart to discuss the issues impacting on the development of the Australian sports industry. A central theme of the seminars was a call for reliable Federal Government funding for core programs, particularly the Sports Development Program, administered by the Federal Department.  The solution sought was a rolling three-year grant program to provide greater certainty in planning.

There was also a prevailing view within sport that the Arts community, by comparison, was more favorably supported by government while sporting organisations struggled to find the resources to send teams to national and international championships. Delegates to the seminars declared their overarching position: “The Confederation of Australian Sport is the sum total of your voices.  Its views will be those determined by the ’79 Sport Australia Forum.”  (Ref 2)

The 1979 Forum considered a range of sweeping and specific program and funding initiatives and principles.  It called on government to consider:

  • Governments, with sport, needed to work toward an agreed Master Plan for sport to ensure co-ordination and co-operation;
  • Funding to sport needed to increase from Government.  A national sports lottery would assist the development of a reliable source of funding from the private sector.  (And in an indirect reference to tobacco sponsorship of sport, CAS called on the recognition of the right of sports organisations to retain the sole right to accept or reject sponsorship);
  •  Sport and planned physical activity to be declared the right of all school children at all levels;
  • The allocation to sports of 19 cents per head for 1979-80 was proportionately inequitable to that for the Arts and needed to be addressed;
  • Committees and advisory bodies appointed, or elected, to consider any facet of sport should be under the chairmanship of a person identified with, and recognised by, sport;
  • Priority areas for Federal Government funding should include administration, coaching and international travel expenses and international standard facilities;
  • A national sports federation (presumably CAS) could provide a united voice for all sport;
  • Sports associations should plan and execute; Governments should support and service;
  • Sport had enormous value in terms of national health, as a contributor to community and to national pride.  A program to encourage sport participation was needed – such as ‘Sport – Fitness for Living’;
  • Government assistance to sport should not be limited to the resources of the responsible Department but must include those of the Departments of Defence, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs and Industrial Relations;
  • Coaches should co-ordinate their efforts and their organisations should be part of national sporting organisations.  The ultimate recognition of a coach was by his or her peers and certification of an accredited coach must be the province of sporting bodies.

For CAS, the sentiments represented the core of the matters debated throughout the 1979 Forum meetings. They reflected many of the themes, including the need for a coherent national sport plan – an initiative that CAS had identified as a key objective following a visit to Canada in 1978 to attend the national congress of the Sports Federation of Canada.  CAS also drew on examples and experiences of the experiences collected from other nations, particularly the UK, New Zealand and West Germany.

The seminar attendees supported:  a rising sport budget, agreement on the independence of sporting organisations, a central role and power to be vested in CAS itself and the recognition of the importance of coaching and appropriate accreditation.

The Master Plan 

From its inception the CAS was aware of the need for a national plan for Australian sport – not only to clearly define its own role and central place in the national sports organisational structure, but also to provide guidance to government in decisions on sports funding and programs.

The Sport Australian Forum outcomes led directly to the drafting of a Master Plan for sport. Launched on 1 April, 1980, the Master Plan was presented to the Minister responsible for sport, Bob Ellicott.  (Ref 3) Ellicott welcomed the input but stopped short of committing the federal government to supporting its conclusions and recommendations.  The government did not respond well to the CAS argument that CAS itself should occupy the central co-ordination position.  

Still, the Confederation achieved some success with the 1980 federal budget for sport increasing to $2 million – but way short of what was needed.  The Master Plan did not result an instant success — it did, however, lay the framework for future investment and policy development.

Main lobbying tool

Although not universally acclaimed by all CAS members, the results of the 1979 Sport Australia Forum did lead to the only industry-led offering to date of a long-term national sports plan.  It was boldly conceived: its usefulness, ultimately, was that it was added to the mix of policy concepts to be absorbed as Government and Opposition prepared election policy platforms.

Ultimately the Master Plan became the organisation’s most authoritative lobbying tool.  It was promoted as a document “owned” by sport – representing the views of Australia’s extensive network of sporting organisations, coaches and administrators. 

In its historical context, the Master Plan was a significant contributor to the growth of the Australian sport system. It was conceived and debated during the post-Montreal period and it was written as the Australian Institute of Sport was in the process of becoming a reality with the official opening on 26 January 1981.

Long term impact

The Master Plan was a foundation reference document for the CAS campaign for greater federal government attention toward sport policy.  In the ten years following its launch in 1980, it could legitimately claim to have at least positively influenced the attainment of a number of milestones in the Australian sport industry.

Looked at with a 10-year horizon, the CAS report card showed it had played a part in influencing the growth in the management and delivery of sport, backed by increases in government funding. By 1990, the Australian Sports Commission was supporting the positions of 56 National Executive Directors for national sports bodies, 34 National Coaching Director positions, 25 National Development Officers and five positions in sport responsible for developing officials, such as referees.  Most sports had joined the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) which was responsible for lifting the quality and numbers of coaches across sport and up the chain from children to elite level.  The Australian Coaching Council was at the peak of its influence.  There was real progress being made in raising the professionalism and performance of Australian sport.     

CAS takes stock

By 1981, the CAS story was impressive enough. It was the sole sport-driven, industry-wide sport body. It was represented on the Federal Government’s Sports Advisory Council and the Australian Coaching Council.

By July 1981, CAS was able to deliver to its membership and to politicians an impressive list of achievements in its relatively short life:

  1. A Master Plan for sport based on a national seminar program to ascertain the views of members;
  2. Established a National Sports Coaches Assembly – the Confederation of Australian Sport Coaches Assembly (CASCA) – which was invited to be part of the Australian Coaching Council and the coaching accreditation scheme established by Federal and State Governments;
  3. Established a national sports injury insurance scheme which was providing cover for 130,000 sportspeople by mid-1980.  This was managed by the Confederation through CAS Insurance Pty Ltd.
  4. Established a sport in schools committee in concert with the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) to lobby for the inclusion of sport and physical education as a core curriculum subject in all States and Territories;
  5. Campaigned for the establishment of a national sports lottery following the feasibility report commissioned by the Federal Government and received in July 1980;
  6. Established the Sport Australia Awards – an annual award program across a range of categories, including male athlete, female athlete and team of the year;
  7. Conducted a series of fun runs in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane;
  8. Hosted a meeting of the International Assembly of National Confederations of Sport in Melbourne. 
  9. Established a Board of Management for the development of the Australia Games as a national multi-sport festival to commence in 1983. (The inaugural, and only, Australia Games were held in Melbourne in 1985).

In addition to its range of lobbying initiatives, the Confederation was involving itself in a range of other activities, or endeavouring to partner with other organisations — national and international, government and non-government – to broaden its reach and influence.  Included in these activities were the Asia, Pacific and Oceania Sports Assembly (APOSA) with CAS Chief Executive, Garry Daly, becoming Secretary-General. CAS was engaged with government to produce a position paper on a sports administrators’ education program at the request of the sport and Recreation Ministers Council of Federal and State Government Sports Ministers.

As Confederation chief, Daly had an interest in a long list of sports organisations and projects:  Hall of Fame, Sport Australia Awards, APOSA, Australia Games Foundation, CASCA, Central Australian Masters Games, the first Australian Masters Games, CAS Insurance Pty Ltd, International Assembly of National Confederations of Sport (IANOS).  This began to lend weight to the claim that the CAS had reached beyond its original remit and was over-stretched.


By 1981 the CAS administrative numbers had grown to five.  It was apparent that CAS was spreading its organisational strength very thinly.  Cash and staff resources were in short supply, although administrative energy was not. As an organisation, the Confederation had become an amalgam: a mixture of advocacy group, industry body, a business enterprise and program initiator and manager.  

Despite the challenges of the formative years of the CAS, it had one overriding value of critical importance:  it was the only peak non-government sports body in the country to represent the interests of the bulk of Australian sporting organisations — from the participation ranks to high performance.

The CAS was a genuine “sport for all” advocate.  This alone gave it impact politically.  Politicians are attracted to the convenience of being able to deal with one, or a limited number, of industry bodies.  Because it was able to bring both ideas and numbers to the table in any discussion it was the most an obvious “go to” organisation for politicians. If any organisation could lay claim to be the “voice” of sport, across the board, it was CAS.

The Master Plan represented the end of the beginning for the Confederation. The 1980s would prove to be a much tougher decade to navigate.


  1. Confederation of Australian Sport. White paper : the financial plight of sport in Australia, May, 1977. Melbourne. The Confederation, 1977.
  2. Confederation of Australian Sport. 1979 Sport Australia forum, Melbourne. The Confederation, 1979.
  3. Confederation of Australian Sport. The master plan for sport, March 1980. Melbourne. The Confederation, 1980.

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 12 – The Australian Sports Commission and its political struggles: John Brown and Bob Hawke introduce a new era in Australian sport policy

Listing of articles in History of Australian Sport Policy Series

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