It’s Time for Participation to Receive its Fair Share of the Sports Funding Pie

Greg Blood

The cost-of-living crisis in Australia has the likelihood of decreasing participation in sport and fitness activities. This follows on from the impact of COVID on sport participation. Traditionally Federal Government funding has been directed more heavily towards high performance i.e., success of Australian athletes and teams on the international sporting arena.  Is it time to readdress this historic funding imbalance between high performance and participation ?

There is a concern that  Brisbane 2032 Games ‘Green and Gold Runway’ will mean that Federal Government sport funding will remain skewed towards high performance. For instance, the Australian Olympic Committee, a strong lobby for national sports organisations funding, has argued that a additional $2 billion is needed in the ten years leading up to the 2032 Brisbane Games. The $2 billion is again biased towards high performance – $1.5 billion (75 %) for high performance and $500 m (25 %) for sports participation. This proposal again reinforces the traditional sport funding split from the Federal Government. This proposed additional allocation may not increase sport participation which should be the primary aim of sport policy – more Australians participating in sport and fitness to improve the physical, social  and mental health of the population. Optimum international sport performances will most likely to result from a strong participation base and following talent pool.

The primary ways that the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) assists sport participation is through –

  • ASC 2021/22 budget – $14,485,00 national sports organisations participation costs   – $19,415,903  (Women Leaders in Sport, National Integrity Manager, Participation Round 2, Legacy Projects and other one-off initiatives) – Total ASC Budget to NSO’s $164,901,234. Participation was about 20 % of ASC NSO funding.
  • ASC’s Sporting Schools was allocated $79.6 million over 2 years in Federal Budget 2022-23. This program does not cover all children in Australia.

In recent years, State Governments have developed schemes to assist sports participation particularly for low income and disadvantaged families.

Most of these voucher’s schemes have eligibility requirements. The ACT currently does not have a sports voucher scheme. 2020 study into sports voucher schemes  concluded that it is  “critical that the implementation of voucher programs focus on equitable and accessible participation by the specific targeting of priority groups, including inactive and priority population, in order to reduce the gap between the least and most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.”

State and local governments also assist sports participation through the funding of community sports facilities. Evidence highlights that the lack funding for community sports facilities can impact on participation. In Canberra, basketball and other indoor sports are being held back by insufficient indoor sports facilities. Morrison Federal Government established a community sport infrastructure facility program to inject much needed funds into community sports facilities. Sadly, this program has ceased due to public condemnation regarding the government using it for sport (pork) barrelling.

In recent years,  Federal and State Governments have invested large amounts into significant spectator facilities i.e. Optus Stadium (WA), Adelaide Oval (SA), Melbourne Park and MCG redevelopments (VIC) and Allianz and Bank West Stadiums (NSW). Queensland Government and Federal Governments will be investing in major Brisbane 2032 Games facilities – redeveloped Gabba (QLD – $2.7 billion)  and new Brisbane Arena (Federal – $2.5 billion). There is also a request on the table from the Tasmanian Government for the Federal Government to provide $240 m  for a new stadium in Hobart. These proposed major stadium funding allocations will most likely mean that there is less funding for community sports facilities throughout Australia.

Government Reviews

There is the need to increase funding that can increase and at least stop the decline in sports and fitness participation. Two major government reports have looked at increasing funding for sport –

  • Sport 2000 Taskforce Shaping Up Report (1999) raised the following funding options –
    • Sports lottery – this option was doomed to failure if you look back on Greg Hartung’s article on sports lottery
    • Internet based gambling – taxes for gambling are now significant revenue bases for state governments.
  • Independent Sport Panel Report The future of sport in Australia  (Crawford Report 2009) raised similar and additional funding options-
    • Athlete contribution scheme – a type of HECS scheme but this has not been pursued by federal or state governments.
    • National sports lottery
    • Tax deductions – currently income taxpayers can claim for child care, private health insurance and donations to charities
    • Sports vouchers – this has been taken all by all State Governments

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about the legacy of the 2032 Brisbane Games. Yes, there will be some fantastic legacy stadiums and new city infrastructure. But increased and sustainable sports and fitness participation should be a major goal. This goal was lacking in the lead-up up the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Paralympics.  Keating and Howard Federal Governments provided $160 million for Olympic and Paralympic Programs over six years but failed to support cabinet proposals for increased sports participation funding programs. Due to this inaction on sports participation, the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics did not lead to an increase in sport participation. There was no or limited ‘trickle- down’ effect as it is often argued from hosting major international sporting events.

Proposed Initiatives to Increase and Sustain Sports and Fitness Participation

I would like Federal and State Governments to consider these initiatives to help increase and sustain sport and fitness participation.

  • Tax deductions – this was raised in the Crawford Report 2009 and would decrease the costs of sports and fitness participation. This should be means tested and have a limit to the amount claimed. Low-income groups that pay no or limited tax should continue to have access to sports voucher schemes. Tax deductibility would include sports registration fees, gym membership and sporting equipment. The Australian Sports Foundation (ASF) does assist with tax deductibility but it would be much easier to use the tax system for claiming back the cost of sports participation. ASF is not really designed to assist everyone participating in sport or attending a gym.
  • In my recent historical research into sport policy, the Menzies government was forced to reduce sales tax on sporting equipment in the early 1950s due to its impact in participation. Participation can be impacted by the cost of sports equipment and currently there is 20 % GST tax on sports equipment. The Federal Governments distributes GST back to State Governments – they may be able to expand their sports voucher schemes to cover cost of sports equipment.
  • Major Facilities Levy – as previously stated there is significant funding of major sports facilities by Federal and State Governments. These facilities significantly boost the revenue base of  major professional sports – cricket, rugby codes, football, AFL and tennis. These sports are therefore able to provide more assistance in the sports participation space to their sport but generally not to community sports facilities that they rely upon.  I suggest the major sports facilities funded by Federal and State Governments impose a small levy on each ticket sold and this is directed to a community sports facility fund.
  • State school facilities – all new state government schools should ensure that their sports facilities are designed to be utilised for community sport organisations outside school hours. This should mean that multiple courts and playing fields are incorporated in their design. This will particularly assist sports participation in areas where there is significant population growth.   

The current cost of living crisis and the 2032 Brisbane Games means it the time for Federal and State Governments to focus on what can be implemented to increase and sustain sport and fitness participation in Australia.

Media articles highlighting the cost of sport participation –


My current interest in the cost of sport participation stems from volunteering at a community service that assists low income earners with access to food. Most of these people struggle to survive in the current economic situation – they are more concerned with paying bills (housing, electricity, transport, food) than paying for sports registration fees.

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