Sport and the 2022 Australian Federal Election

By Greg Blood

Who said sport and politics don’t or should not mix? In many ways, sport and politics has become more intertwined in recent years. This has occurred through linking political/social issues such as same sex marriage, racism and climate change, “sport-barreling” and more recently transgender issues in sport.

In 2021, Prime Minister Morrison statedA bit more focus on cricket, and a bit less focus on politics, would be my message to Cricket Australia” in relation to its decision to remove the link between with Australia Day from Big Bash League promotion.

During the 2019 Federal Election, sport was drawn into the election by the Coalition handing out $102.5 million of grants for community and professional sports facilities. The Coalition’s grants programs came to be known as Sports Rorts II and was a replica of the ALP’s 1994 Sports Rorts I – it was found that both programs favoured government or marginal electorates. The ALP also announced sport facility election commitments but not to same extent as the Coalition.

The 2022 Federal Election has had backdrop of ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With Australia now “living” with COVID, professional and community sport have continued but with restrictions, disruptions and reduced crowds at major events.

Prime Minister Morrison and Opposition Leader Albanese regularly highlight their strong association with NRL clubs – Morrison with the with Cronulla Sharks and Albanese with South Sydney Rabbitohs. Interesting during the campaign neither were spotted supporting their teams – unlike Morrison during the 2019 campaign.

I summarised the 2019 Federal Election from a sport perspective and this article will document the 2022 Federal Election in the same manner and was updated on a regular basis.

Contents

Sporting Politicians

In the 46th Parliament of Australia (2019-2022), there were three ‘sporting’ politicians –

  • Tennis player and commentator John Alexander (Liberal in Bennelong)
  • Australian footballer and coach – Damian Drum (National in Nicholls)
  • Winter Olympic medallist – Zali Steggall (Independent in Warringah)

Alexander and Drum have notified their intention not to contest the 2000 Federal election.

In 2022 Federal Election, ‘sporting’ candidates to date (22 January 2022) include –

  • Zali Steggall recontesting Warringah, NSW. Elected
  • Olympic shooter Dan Repacholi – ALP for Hunter, NSW Elected
  • Australian Wallaby David Pocock – Independent for the ACT Senate Elected
  • Australian Kangaroo Greg Dowling – United Australia Party for Hinkler, Qld Unsuccessful
  • NRL player Rod Jenson – Katter’s Australian Party for Leichhardt, Qld Unsuccessful

Political Issues

Political issues with a sporting context in the lead up to the 2022 Federal Election.

Beijing Winter Olympics

There were calls by several federal parliamentarians for Australia to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics due to China’s human rights record. The Morrison Government decided against recommending an athlete boycott but opted for a diplomatic boycott – Australian government officials would not be attending the Beijing Winter Olympics. Sport Minister Richard Colbeck stated that the  Australian government was concerned with China’s threat  to punish foreign athletes for speech during the Winter Olympics that violates Chinese law. The Australian Olympic Committee has strongly opposed any athlete boycott to Winter Olympics.

Novak Djokovic and Australian Tennis Open

The lead up to the 2022 Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the Australian Border Force’s decision to cancel world number one male tennis player Novak Djokovic ‘s visa after he arrived in Melbourne. The issue arose due to Djokovic’s decision not to be vaccinated. and relying on a medical exemption. The first court case allowed Djokovic to stay in Australia due to Djokovic apparently complying to visa processes and Australian Tennis Open medical exemption arrangements established by Tennis Australia and the Victorian Government. As Judge Kelly in the Federal Circuit and Family Court said “What more could this man have done?” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke then decided to cancel Djokovic’s visa on “health and good order grounds”. The full bench of the Federal Court dismissed Djokovic’s appeal against Minister Hawke’s discretionary decision

This sport case allowed the Morrison Government to affirm its mantra that it decides who comes into Australia and the need to for all Australians to be double vaccinated. Some would argue that the case disrupted public attention from the inadequate supply of rapid antigen tests.

Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics

The Morrison Government supported the Queensland bid for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics. During the election IOC President Thomas Bach visited Australia for AOC President John Coates farewell and met the new Organising Committee Board. There was no discussion during the election campaign regarding the Australian Government’s expected significant financial contribution to hosting the event.

Transgender Sport

Scott Morrison supported one of the Coalition candidates – Katherine Deves that wants to ban transgender women from playing women’s sports . It was noted during the controversy that Sport Australia partnered with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports to develop Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport. Conservative group Advance were threatened with legal action by Swimming Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee for using Emma McKeon, Emily Seebohm and Dawn Fraser in their election advertising on this issue.

Sports Broadcasting

ALP announced it would review “anti-siphoning” laws related to sport due to the increase in streaming services with sport content. ALP Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland stated ““The stakes are only getting higher, both for industry whose business models rely on sports rights and for consumers, who face rising cost of living pressures and who rely on free-to-air TV, particularly those Australians in the digital divide.”

Sport Policy Announcements

Greg Hartung is his History of Australian Sport Policy Series highlighted how governments and oppositions developed sport policies that they took to Federal Elections. Hartung even highlighted how during the 1987 Federal Election several sports organisations actively campaigned against the Shadow Minister for Sport over the Coalition’s policy to abolish the Australian Sports Commission.

Coalition

Prior to the 2019 Federal Election, the Turnbull Government released Sport 2030. As part of this plan, the Morrison Government doled out $102.5 million in community sports grants. It established Sport Integrity Australia which looks to have its hand full with inquiries into several sports. COVID-19 has impacted this plan since its release with community sport being severely disrupted over 2 years and leading in a decrease in sport participation. What happened to ‘Move It AUS‘ campaign ?

Towards the end of the election campaign the Coalition released Our Plan for Sport which list funded programs.

ALP

ALP’s involvement in sport policy development has disappointingly been limited to Senate Estimates – the ALP has questioned the government on aspects of their policy and implementation. ALP outlines four sport policy principles in its 2021 National Platform (pages 21-22) – local sportring clubs and infrastructure, equity of access to sport, elite athletes and pathways and integrity issues.

Australian Greens

Sport and Physical Recreation Policy as amended by National Conference May 2021

Federal Sport Policy Issues to be addressed

Prior to the election I raised the following issues that might be addressed during the campaign.

  • How the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and Paralympics will be utilised to increase sport participation – this did not occur in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics?
  • Funding to national sports organisations – what will be the distribution between high performance and participation?
  • How several sports organisations will be supported to manage the financial implications of National Redress Scheme and likely sport integrity class actions?
  • Future of the Australian Institute of Sport campus in Canberra – there have been suggestions that it should move to South East Queensland?
  • Future funding of sport facilities – community and professional sport – is this a role to be expanded or left to state/local government. This area federal funding has been politicised?

Appearances at Sports Events/Environments

During the 2019 Federal Election, Prime Minister Morrison appeared frequently in sporting environments to make sporting facility and other announcements. This was a clever use of linking the Prime Minister to local Coalition candidates and their communities. I was amazed at the number of sports “played” by the Prime Minister Morrison from table tennis to bowls during the campaign.

Below is where Coalition and ALP leaders made appearances in sporting environments.

Coalition Appearances

AAP has images of Morrison and Joyce during the campaign and includes those in a sporting environment.

  • 5 December 2021 – Scott Morrison fast lap at the Bathurst 1000.
  • 8 December 2021 – Scott Morrison throwing netball at Penshurst Girls High School – (Banks, NSW)
  • 15 December 2021 – Scott Morrison cricket bowling at Brookfield Showgrounds in Brisbane – (Ryan, QLD)
  • 7 January 2022 – Scott Morrison attended Sydney Ashes Test to make $40 million grant to McGrath Foundation. Morrison made the controversial comment “But this is Australia living with the virus, look at out there and Australians taking wickets in the virus”.
  • 24 January 2022 – Josh Frydenberg toured Redcliffe Dolphins facility upgrade where $8 funded by Federal Government – (Petrie, QLD)
  • 27 January 2022 – Morrison visit to swim at Tobruk Memorial Pool – Townsville
  • 12 February 2022 – Morrison visit to Port Hacking Little Athletics (Cook, NSW)
  • 10 March 2022 – Morrison mopping flooded basketball court in Auchenflower (Brisbane, QLD)
  • 2 April 2022 – Morrison visit to Bridgenorth Football Club. Repeating 2019 visit (Bass, TAS)
  • 13 April 2022 – Morrison visit to  Baierr Stadium , Torquay for $500, 000 (Corrangamite, VIC)
  • 18 April 2022 – Morrison visit to Wanneroo BMX Club (Pearce, WA)
  • 21 April 2022 – Morrison visited Living Gems retirement village in Caboolture where he participated in indoor bowls and visited Redcliffe Dolphins where he met Wayne Bennett and announced $15m funding for their Centre of Excellence. (Longman & Petrie, Qld)
  • 21 April 2022 – Frydenberg visit to Ryadlmere Lions for $3m announcement
  • 21 April 2022 – Joyce at Boyne Tannum Football Club for facility upgrade
  • 22 April 2022 – Frydenberg at announcement at Ryadalmere Lions Football Club
  • 24 April 2022 – Frydenberg bowling at Hawthorn Bowling Club and Kew Box Hill Brumbies Hockey
  • 26 April 2022 – Frydenberg visits Western Bulldogs Whitten Oval and kicked a sherrin
  • 28 April 2022 – Joyce at Ipswich Basketball Stadium announcement
  • 28 April 2022 – Frydenberg at Greenhill Recreation Precinct, Wallan for $8m commitment
  • 29 April 2022 – Frydenberg at Kew Rovers Football Club President’s Breakfast
  • 29 April 2022 – Morrison at Latrobe Speedway funding announcement
  • 29 April 2022 – Joyce at Freds Pass Sports and Recreation Reserve and Alice Springs Netball for funding announcements
  • 30 April 2022 – Frydenberg at local clubs – Kew Football Club and Camberwell Bowls Club
  • 5 May 2022 – Morrison at sport facility election commitment announcement in his electorate of Cook
  • 12 May 2022 – Morrison bowls at Beauty Point Bowls & Community Club
  • 14 May 2022 – Morrison announced extension of Sporting Schools program at Melbourne sports oval
  • 17 May 2022 – Morrison participating in indoor bowls in Darwin
  • 18 May 2022 – Morrison knocks over a child whilst playing soccer in Devonport
  • 19 May 2022 – Morrison playing tennis at Whitemore Tennis Club in Lyons electrorate
ALP Appearances

AAP has images of Albanese during the campaign and includes those in a sporting environment.

  • 29 January 2022 – Albanese at Croydon Primary School committing to new undercover basketball court for the whole community to use (Reid/Watson, NSW)
  • 5 March 2022 – Albanese visit to Noranda Football Club for funding commitment (Perth, WA)
  • 11 March 2022 – Albanese visit to Henson Park for upgrade commitment (Grayndler, NSW)
  • 9 April 2022 – Albanese posted on twitter photo of himself, Russell Crowe and South Sydney players after their win.
  • 1 May 2022 – Albanese and other leaders at new Perth Stadium for ALP Election Launch

As can be seen Morrison again heavily visited community sports facilities for election announcements – on the third last day of the election campaign Morrison knocked over a young boy whilst playing a game of soccer during another facility announcement. The video and images generated significant national media coverage.

Election Commitments

Both major parties made significant sport election commitments in the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election. These commitments typically were for sports facility development in marginal Coalition and ALP electorates.

Sports Rorts II had no dampening of sports facility announcements by both major parties to marginal electorates during 2022 campaign.

David Crowe’s article 15 March 2022 noted that ALP argued that its election sport commitments aimed to redress sports rorts imbalances.

After the Budget, the Coalition noted in Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2022 $116.6m in Community Development Grants for 2022-23 financial year. These grants included:

  • $15m for Frankston Basketball Stadium redevelopment (ALP marginal – Dunkley, Vic)
  • $15m million for Macedon Ranges Sports Precinct Stage 2 Redevelopment (ALP marginal – McEwen, Vic)
  • $5m for Boronia Hawks Football Netball Club new pavilion (Colaition – Aston, Vic)
  • $4m for Mount Waverley Reserve redevelopment (Coalition marginal – Chisholm, Vic)
  • $4m for Wynnum Wolves Carmichael Park upgrades (Coalition – Bonner, Qld)
  • $3.6m for Kensington Gardens Clubrooms (Coalition – Sturt, SA)
  • $3.5 million for Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex upgrades (Coalition marginal – Longman, Qld).

There was funding provided for upgrading the Australian Institute of Sport Arena that had been closed for sporting events for 2 years. This was made after the Federal Budget was handed down.

Constitutional law professor Anne Twomey expressed her view it was clear both sides of politics were making sports facility grants that were not supported by the Constitution.

The commitments listed below were obtained by monitoring news services, party announcements and the Guardian Australia’s excellent spreadsheet. Some of the Coalitions’s commitment’s have been difficult to determine as some are part of grant schemes announced just prior to the election. Many commitments were made through candidates Facebook sites so the list below may be incomplete.

Bolded electorates below are held by the party that currently holds the electorate. Commitments only above $100,000 added to list.

Coalition Commitments

Coalition’s 2022-23 Sport Budget focused on Enhancing Australians’ health through sport, Sporting Schools extension, Sporting Schools extension and Support Men’s Rugby World Cup 2027 and Women’s Rugby World Cup 2029 These funding announcements were linked to Sport 2030.

2022 election commitments included:

ALP Commitments

This list will be updated when other election announcements are discovered.

Summary

  • The transgender debate was the major sport issue discussed due to the Coalition’s candidate Katherine Deves arguing that transgender athletes should not be allowed to play women’s sport. This created some division between conservative and progressive Coalition members. Many knowledgeable sport people stated that this issue was being managed carefully and sensitively by major sports organisations and it was not a major issue in sport.
  • Both the Coalition and ALP agreed to upgrade the AIS Arena in Canberra so that it could reopen – ALP promised more funding than the Coalition. The long term future of the AIS Campus in Canberra was left up in the air by both major parties. Its role in the lead up to the Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics is still to be confirmed.
  • There were only two new major sports participation commitments – Coalition expanding Sporting Schools to include year 9 to 10 students and ALP funding Sport4All to assist those with a disability participate and grass roots and school sports.
  • Coalition and ALP made significant funding commitments to community sports facilities – there was a bias to towards marginal electorates. Interestingly there were no commitments to sport high performance centres – this was a feature of the previous election. There is a need to improve the decision making and evidence base in this aspect of Australian Government funding – if you live outside a marginal electorate you may be denied access to adequate sports facilities.
  • The impact of climate change can be seen through many of the sport facility funding commitments – improved lighting for sport to be played at night, more synthetic surfaces, improved irrigation/drainage and flood damage sports fields.
  • There was no debate regarding sport policy – Minister for Sport Senator Richard Colbeck and Shadow Minister Don Farrell did not debate the future of sport in Australia and they both rarely commented on future sport’s directions.
  • Prime Minister Morrison continues to use sport facility election announcements as part of his image. I found that he “played” AFL, rugby league, football, tennis, bowls, swimming, basketball, darts, motor racing during the campaign. Opposition leader Albanese was seldom seen at a community sporting venue.

The election campaign highlighted the importance of sport in Australia and how both parties now significantly use it to promote their involvement in the provision of local community services. It is one of the few ways political parties can directly impact a local community.

A major issue during the election was cost of living pressures – sport participation costs is part of this equation. There was no plan to reduce the costs of participation in sport particularly for low income families. Participation in sport improves the physical and mental health of the nation and improves the pool of athletes that may become elite/professional athletes. It is time that sports club membership becomes a tax deduction – after all donations to political parties are tax deductable.

Updated 22 May 2022

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