At a time of COVID-19 induced struggle, uncertainty and apprehension, Ash Barty’s Wimbledon win was just what the doctor ordered. The young indigenous woman’s victory demonstrated once again the power of sport to inspire, motivate and to lift our spirits.
As parents we dream of our children achieving great things in their chosen field of focus, whether it be sport, music, art, or their school studies. Our kids dream too, it’s part of what makes us all tick.
The Ash Bartys of the world remind us that dreams can come true, and that it doesn’t happen without hard work and commitment. Amazingly, few of us chose to dwell on the odds of success or even the level of our child’s ability. The dream is enough to provide healthy motivation and happiness. Sure, you’ll find examples in which parents become harmfully overly ambitious for their children – living their lives vicariously through them – but thankfully, they are in the minority.
Every weekend, millions of mothers, fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers pack the car for the often short – sometimes long – drive to a local sports complex. It’s a ritual which serves both participant and observer well. It serves all of us well. We know it keeps our kids healthy, happy, and teaches them routine and discipline. It reduces crime and promotes social inclusion.
That’s why government investment in community-based sport is every bit as important as government investment in our elite sports men and women. Indeed, you can’t have the latter without the former. Our families are doing their bit, a 2018 KPMG study found that each year the volunteers so crucial to the success of our local sporting organisations collectively give 56.5 million hours of their time each year.
Government support takes many forms. The most obvious is its investment in sporting infrastructure: the ovals, pools, courts, and tracks. KPMG found that this infrastructure generates benefits valued at more than $16 billion each year - $6.3 billion in economic benefit, $4.9 billion in health benefits, and $5.1 billion in social benefit. In other words, every dollar invested is a dollar well spent.
Governments also provide various levels of support for sporting clubs which help them stay afloat and to purchase the equipment. This is also a good thing, as is the small grants available to help representative players travel.
The missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle is affordability. Sadly, some parents find it a financial struggle to support the sporting interests of their children. It’s time to give more creative thought to this problem.
The benefits of increasing participation are obvious: better physical and mental health outcomes, lower crime rates, and higher levels of social capital. The benefits of family support are likely to outweigh the costs.
The challenge is the delivery mechanism. Is it a means-tested tax deduction for registration fees? Is it a tax rebate for uniforms? It is easy to identify problems too. For example, if we are going to do it for sport, we would need to extend the support to other activities in music, dance and many more. Rightly so.
There are no easy answers and solutions. But nor is there a public debate. It’s time we had one.