Australian sport is poised for a golden decade on home soil – let’s not waste it | Sports in Australia
BLink and you could miss it – the latest international sporting event heading to these shores. Big tournaments are announced so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up with them. Not one but two major tournaments were confirmed this week, with rugby union’s governing body officially confirming Australia to host the 2027 Men’s World Cup and 2029 Women’s World Cup. These are just the latest additions to a golden decade on the Australian sporting calendar.
In August, Australian and American swimmers will go head-to-head in Sydney in the ‘Duel in the Pool’ – the return of an event that had its heyday in the 2000s. In September, Australia will host the UCI Road World Championships, where the world’s best cyclists will race on the scenic roads around Wollongong. At the same time, Sydney hosts the Women’s Basketball World Cup. Shortly after, the men’s Cricket T20 World Cup begins after a two-year postponement due to the pandemic.
These three major events are just the beginning. The FIFA Women’s World Cup in mid-2023, co-hosted with New Zealand, will be the biggest international sporting event of the year. It will build on a hugely successful last edition in France in 2019 and cement the Matildas’ status as one of the country’s most popular national teams.
Then come the 2026 Commonwealth Games, spread across regional Victoria, the 2027 Netball World Cup in Sydney, the two Rugby World Cups and a host of other major events (including BMX and Canoe Slalom World Cups and the British and Irish Lions Tours). There will no doubt be more to come. It all builds on the main event: the Queensland 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the third time in history that Australia is hosting the crown jewel of the global sporting calendar.
Australia has many natural advantages when it comes to attracting these major tournaments: a relatively wealthy, sports-loving population, quality infrastructure, commercial interests and plenty of government support. But it remains remarkable that so many high-profile events have been coaxed down under in such a short space of time, especially given the disadvantages of our time zone (which American broadcasters don’t like) and local sporting codes (which are uninterested in stadium sharing). .
So the coming decade will be unprecedented for Australia, a parade of the world’s biggest sporting events. let’s not waste it Because despite appearances, all is not well in Australian sport.
Sport is expensive at the level of participation – and is quickly becoming unaffordable for some families, especially as the cost of living increases. Recent data from AusPlay, a branch of the government agency Sport Australia, revealed that the average cost of participating in sport is nearly $1,000 a year. 20% of the non-exercise children surveyed cited cost as the main barrier. Previous research by Sport Australia has found a large gap between low-income and high-income families in children’s sporting participation.
While the pandemic has disrupted many sporting seasons, making year-to-year comparisons of participation data unreliable, a survey by the Australian Sports Foundation (ASF) found that 43% of surveyed sports clubs reported a drop in participation and a similar decline in volunteering. Australians are, on average, less active and more overweight than we used to be.
The federal government spends about a quarter billion dollars on elite sport every year. Depending on who you ask, this is either too much or too little. While this perennial debate will never be resolved – and Australia’s equally best showing at the Olympics last year suggests funds are well spent – structural changes are needed. The funding model is changing from year to year to more sustainable, longer-term funding, but that’s a work in progress. Money is a major problem at grassroots level, made worse by the disruptions caused by Covid-19. The ASF’s investigation found 9,000 sports clubs across Australia were at risk of bankruptcy.
The future of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), which was founded in the early 1980s and has been the source of many medals over the decades, is unclear. As its facilities age, it will require a significant boost in funding, a move (a move to Queensland for 2032 has been envisioned), or an entirely new approach. The crumbling infrastructure on AIS’s leafy Canberra campus is a poignant, if not entirely accurate, metaphor for the flagship program’s uncertain prospects.
Australian sport also has work to do to ensure safe, supportive environments and diversity among participants, athletes and leaders. Unfortunately, allegations of abuse in sport, contemporary and historical, and at all levels, are all too common. It is hard to think of an Australian sport that has not been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment, sexism, racism or abuse in recent years. At the senior level, sports codes remain male-dominated. Despite significant improvements, money and media coverage in this country still flow disproportionately into men’s sport.
The sport’s golden decade will provide Australia with ample opportunity, with increased interest and the likelihood of a significant cash injection. If we seize the opportunity, Australian grassroots and elite sport can better enter the 2030s. Just as it’s possible to miss new hosting announcements now, the decade that follows will pass quickly and opportunities will be missed if sports administrators don’t rise to the challenge.
Done well, the sports ecosystem is tightly integrated and self-sustaining. Participation sport is a pipeline for elite sport; Medal glory and Olympian school attendance inspire the next generation; Money invested in sport ensures an active lifestyle and minimizes the need for health care expenses. The upcoming golden decade can supercharge this ecosystem. But nothing in sport is inevitable.