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National Press Club speech: [sporting issues]

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Speech by Senator Rod Kemp - Minister for the Arts and Sport

National Press Club Speech Wednesday 25 September 2002

(Check against delivery)

Thank you very much Laurie.

Mr Peter Bartels, Chairman of the Australian Sports Commission and Board Members; Kieren Perkins; Mark Peters, Chief Executive Officer of the ASC; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to be here today, in the company of so many people who have done so much to advance the fortunes of sport in this country.

There are several sporting issues I wish to discuss today.

First, I want to look at the international challenge facing our sportsmen and women at the elite level.

We face a growing challenge from overseas to our sporting prowess.

More and more nations are looking to the models we have established to build their own national teams.

Second, I want to explore perhaps the major challenge facing sport today-the declining participation rates among young Australians.

As one radio talk back caller recently said: 'In the sixties, we had to demand that our children come inside, now we have trouble getting them to go outside.'

Third, I want to update you on the current status of the soccer inquiry-an issue of great interest to many Australians.

Finally I want to look briefly at current developments in the worldwide movement against doping in sport.

Before I begin, I had the honour of presenting several awards at the inaugural Australian Sports Commission Media Awards today.

If politicians can present sporting awards to the media, equally the media can present sporting awards to politicians-or so it seems.

Recently, I was presented with a wooden spoon tied with a blue ribbon.

A fanatical magpie-supporting journalist obviously was keen to remind me of the disastrous performance of Carlton this year.

One of the few pleasures we Carlton supporters can remember in an otherwise forgettable season was our 20 point win over Collingwood in the early rounds.

We were paid back five-fold by Collingwood in the latter part of season.

But let me return to the real media awards.

Nationally, the media help define us as a sporting nation, re-telling the story for each generation, with a new cast of sporting legends playing their starring roles.

But the media also have the power to affect and guide community attitudes and behaviour-and sporting attitudes and behaviour-by the manner in which they cover and comment upon things like on-field violence, the off-field antics of supposed role models, or the disciplinary processes of clubs and codes.

The media can articulate the community's abhorrence for drug cheats and the community's pride in a good fight, well fought.

This influence, and the power of the media to be a force for good in Australia's sporting life, was borne out by the breadth, depth and quality of the entrants in the Australian Sports Commission Media Awards this morning.

I offer my warm congratulations to all the winners, but would like to make special mention of the winner of the Australian Sports Commission Media Awards Lifetime Achievement Award-Mr Harry Gordon.

Among other illustrious achievements during his 60-year career, Harry has the distinction of being the only journalist to have covered both Australian Olympic opening ceremonies-in 1956 and again in 2000.

His Olympic relationship started even earlier than that-he is an honourary member of the 1952 Helsinki Olympic team-a privilege bestowed on him by the athletes themselves.

Harry's experience with the Helsinki Olympic team-a tight knit group which still holds reunions to this day-brings home to me the importance of our sporting spirit.

After all, can you possibly imagine Australia without sport?

No backyard cricket at Christmas. No Melbourne Cup. No Ashes. No City to Surf or Friday night football. No Michael Klim or Cathy Freeman. No Bradman.

Would we be the same nation? - Of course not!

Other nations also recognise the vital role of sport. Nelson Mandella extolled the virtues of sport in the following way:

'Sport is very important for building character because when you're involved in sport your individual character comes out, your determination, your ability to be part of a team and the acceptance of the collective effort is extremely important in developing your country as well as patriotism.'

Sport is one of those areas of Australian life where we take an unambiguous attitude towards excellence and an unashamed pride in achievement.

John Carroll, in his Alfred Deakin lecture said, most of our 'national conversations' about the character of men and women under pressure are sporting conversations. This is more than just an exciting communal pastime. The need for heroes is sustained in modern sport.

Through sport, we learn how to win and how to lose and how to do both graciously and with dignity.

During the Commonwealth Games Matt Welsh, a gold medal favourite, was disqualified in one of his events. The graciousness with which he accepted this blow was commented on by the British press.

Australians know how to win, the newspaper said, but they also know how to lose.

In local communities, as well as nationally, sport has been a social adhesive. We see this in country towns, where the local team is a focus of great community pride. We see the same spirit when supporters of a premier-league club rally to ensure its survival.

This week there are almost 1,000 athletes with an intellectual disability competing in the Special Olympics in Sydney.

This event demonstrates the value of sport as a community-building vehicle.

Rex Langthorne, Chief Executive of the Special Olympics Australia, recently said:

'Before their exposure to sport, many athletes in the Special Olympic movement have had limited opportunities, indeed some were institutionalised. Sport has, in many ways, opened a door to the world for these athletes.'

Sport also teaches us to understand and appreciate teamwork and cooperation.

The immensely successful Sydney Olympic Games bought home to Australians other aspects of sport -Sport is a thriving and vital sector of our economy.

Sport helps project the nation on the international stage.

And sport plays a role in our international relations.

The Australian Sports Commission, in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAid and the International and Australian Olympic Committees, has been involved in running or developing sports programs in 40 countries in recent years.

Australia's work in this area was further recognised by the appointment of the Chairman of the Sports Commission, Peter Bartels, to the Chair of the Commonwealth Committee for Cooperation through Sport.

Through this appointment, Australia will be able to assist the development of communities through sporting programs.

For some years-but particularly in the last decade or so-Australian sportsmen and women have consistently performed brilliantly at the elite level.

This country has confidently pitted itself against nations with far larger populations and bigger bankrolls, excelling at the Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games, and cementing a fearsome reputation in a number of other international sports.

In the Sydney Olympic Games, Australia came fourth in the medal count after the USA, Russia and China.

In the Sydney Paralympics, we topped the medal table for the first time.

And of course, just a couple of months ago we achieved our best Commonwealth Games result ever with a record medal haul in Manchester.

Our men's cricket team is ranked Number 1 in the world - in tennis, Lleyton Hewitt is also ranked World Number 1, and the list goes on-rugby, netball, squash, rowing, cycling-Australia is up there with the best.

Earlier this year, swimmer Siobhan Paton returned from a 20-day European tour with her 13th world record. She currently holds five world records for Paralympic events.

In some sports we continue to improve.

We returned from this year's Winter Olympics with our first ever gold medals, courtesy of Steve Bradbury and Alisa Camplin. At the subsequent Winter Paralympics we did even better, returning with six golds and a silver, thanks to Michael Milton and Bart Bunting.

Many countries are now scrutinising our approach to elite sport-and imitating our methods.

At the recent Commonwealth Games in Manchester the United Kingdom teams, and the teams from Canada and India, put in vastly improved performances following changes to their sports systems and the injection of much higher levels of funding.

Information provided to the Australian Sports Commission relating to the UK lottery is that there is 226 million pounds sterling being expended by the UK on the development of its sports system.

In Australian dollar terms this is around five times the amount annually spent by the Federal Government.

I understand that Great Britain recently analysed the performance of its swimmers at the Commonwealth Games, the PanPacs and the recent European trials and extrapolated those trends to predict what would have happened if an Olympic Games had been held this year.

In the 2000 Games, Great Britain's swimmers did not figure in the top 20.

According to the recent extrapolation, they would have finished fifth if another Olympic Games had just been held.

As host of the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese have set their sights on topping the medal tally.

And they intend to prove themselves on the way to the Games by qualifying for each event rather than getting there by virtue of being the host nation.

This means there is a huge push from the Chinese to greatly enhance their standards right across the board.

The Americans, of course are keen to remain at the top of the medal table. And to do this they are putting a more concentrated and organised effort into preparing their athletes than ever before.

What does all this mean for Australia?

Frankly, it is going to get much harder-particularly in sports such as swimming where we have traditionally battled the Americans for supremacy.

Our expertise is now a commodity the world wants. A number of the top individuals who drove our national success at the Sydney Games have since been persuaded to leave our shores

and take Australian lessons to the world.

None of this really should surprise us. It means we cannot stand still if we want to maintain our impressive international record.

Other countries are seeing the great benefits that sport has delivered to Australia, and they are clearly determined 'to get into the game'.

I am confident Australia can meet this challenge.

In fact, our national sporting organisations have already embraced the challenge and are moving ahead.

In the coming months the ASC will be carrying out an assessment in consultation with national sporting organisations, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association on how we can maximise our opportunities in a new more competitive world.

The Government has taken a number of measures since the Sydney Olympics to ensure those expectations have every chance of being met.

Of course one of the key actions we are taking is to further develop the Australian Institute of Sport, otherwise known as the AIS.

John Coates, President of the Australian Olympic Committee, recently made these comments:

'More than any other single factor, it is the AIS which is responsible for Australia's medal tally improving from 14 in Seoul, to 27 in Barcelona, 41 in Atlanta and then the record 58 medals in Sydney.'

As you know, in the most recent Federal Budget the Government committed more than $65 million to a major, capital works program at the AIS.

Indeed, since this Government came to office, record levels of Commonwealth funding have been made available for sport.

As another indication of the Government's commitment, the Australian Sports Commission will convene a landmark forum on the future of sport early next year.

Our Sporting Future 2003, will explore how we can build the robust, sustainable sporting system this country deserves. It will bring together leading administrators from national sporting organisations, from the states, regions, clubs, local government and from school sport.

The forum will examine how we can best meet the challenges facing the sports industry - how to recruit, retain and develop those who keep the machinery running.

There is one lesson that we have learnt in sport. Good governance is critical to our sporting future.

Let me illustrate.

Soccer is the sleeping giant of Australian sport.

Last season there were more than 353,000 registered players taking to the fields each weekend. Almost a quarter of a million of them were juniors.

About 150 players have risen through the club ranks to go on to international playing careers.


So why is Australia not a more successful soccer nation?

It should be.

Why is it not a regular participant in the World Cup?

It should be.

And I believe it can be-if we can get the governance of the sport right.

And that is where the Commonwealth, through the Sports Commission, has a role to play.

As you know, last month Soccer Australia agreed that the Commission would supervise a thorough review of soccer's governance and management, under the chairmanship of David Crawford.

For those of us who are fans of the AFL, there is little doubt that the Crawford Inquiry into that sport and the sweeping recommendations and subsequent restructure it produced was vital to the health of the code.

There is no reason why the same cannot happen for soccer, but it won't happen without support for the independent review.

The review is not a Royal Commission.

We are not looking to point fingers, nor lay blame.

What we are looking to do is make certain that soccer in Australia will not become a thing of the past.

And that it will have, not merely a sustainable future, but one in which it can thrive.

The Review Committee will have its first meeting tomorrow at which I expect it will decide a consultant to undertake an extensive process of consultation.

This will include key stakeholders in the sport, including the bodies affiliated to Soccer Australia.

Importantly, members of the public will also have the opportunity to make their views known to the Review Committee.

The review will examine the structure of soccer in other countries and seek advice from international experts who have experience in FIFA operations. It will draw on best practice examples of sports governance and management from other Australian sports.

It will also examine the best structure for incorporating women's and indoor soccer.

This is a major review and a serious chance for soccer to get its house in order.

The Review Committee will prepare a report for Soccer Australia, the ASC and the Government, which will be released mid next year.

I strongly encourage all those with an interest in soccer to get behind this important review and make their views known to the Committee.

I hope that the end result will be a national structure that will allow Australia to emerge as one of the most promising soccer nations of the next decade.


We have the level of interest already-a quarter of a million Aussie kids can't be wrong.

We have the talent.

All that remains is to build on these ingredients-and to provide an incentive for more of our talented players to remain in Australia.

The soccer review is just one example of the Australian Sports Commission working with sport to ensure appropriate structures and governance are in place to meet current and future challenges.

Sustaining performance is not just about money.

Often, it is about the skills of individuals involved in the sports system whether it be at the board level, coaching, or the sports sciences.

In short, we know that sports that are well managed and properly accountable have a far better chance of succeeding.

Success of our sporting system is measured not just by our international success or failures.

Indeed, perhaps a more important measure is the health of our domestic sports system and in particular the willingness of Australians to take part in sporting activities.

Our passion for sport is undiminished, but increasingly we are becoming a nation of passionate spectators, not passionate players.

In recent years the Commonwealth Government has given increasing emphasis to encouraging greater participation in grass roots sport.

On this matter, our policy states:

'There are the obvious benefits of health and fitness and the Government appreciates that sport provides valuable opportunities for people of all ages to improve themselves, display teamwork and become engaged in community activities.'

This policy is in response to some worrying statistics.

The 2000 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey on Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities found that only 28 per cent of youngsters had participated in organised sport outside of school hours at least once a week in the previous 12 months.

One study estimates that one in five Australian children aged between 2 and 17 is overweight-double the rate in 1986.

In fact Australia is now the second most overweight country in the world.

We are experiencing increasing levels of Cardio Vascular Disease, Type II Diabetes, Colon Cancer, Osteoporosis, and Depression.

Benchmarking done here in the ACT by Rob de Castella tells us that since 1985, body mass (which compares weight and height) has increased in every age group measured for both boys and girls.

It is important that we address these issues now.

And while sport alone is not the answer, it can make a significant contribution to reverse these trends.

After all, we know that the habits developed in childhood remain with us for life.

There are many reasons for the diminishing rates of participation among children.

A glimpse inside the average suburban home provides clues-television, computer games, the Internet.

Our communities now have far more two-income families and single-parent families, for whom getting children to and from sport is difficult.

Gender issues, harassment and abuse have played their damaging part.

And in many cases the attitude of schools towards sport has shifted.

Schools with past emphasis on physical activity and sport were the breeding ground for young sportsmen and women.

The move away from compulsory physical activity has not only seen fewer students experiencing the character building lessons of sport, but also seen obesity levels increase significantly among our young people.

Although the education systems give many reasons for this trend away from sport-such as crowded curriculum and lack of human resources-we as a nation must address the problem.

The ASC is helping to address many of these issues and we will continue to look at problem areas such as the decline in in-school and after-school sport.

We need to take a more creative approach. We need to package sport in a way that is both appealing and accessible.

And we need to better monitor exactly what is happening to participation rates across the states and territories, so we can learn from each other's experiences.

Some good work is being done.

In partnership with the Victorian Government, the ASC is piloting an 'Out of Schools Hours Sports Program' for primary-schoolers.

The Sports Commission, Triathlon Australia and commercial partners including Sanitarium have developed the marvellous junior Tryathalon program.

The 'Street Active' initiative is luring young people in popular street-sports like roller-blading, BMX and skateboarding.

Initiatives launched so far include the AFL's Auskick program, the Gymskools program, a golf program, the Team Athletics initiative, the Play Ball program-a joint initiative of softball and baseball-and the Tennis Over Australia program.

Other groups specially targeted by the ASC for attention, development and investment are women, Australians with disabilities, Indigenous Australians and the one in three Australians who choose to make their lives in regional and rural Australia.

Among the many ongoing programs tailored to these groups, I would like to single out a couple of major initiatives.

I am pleased to announce that in November this year the Sports Commission will convene a gathering of stakeholders to sketch out a plan for a landmark 'women in sport' forum, to be held next year.

And the ASC will soon launch Project CONNECT, a partnership with the Australian Paralympic Committee, which will develop a national targeted sports program for people with a disability.

While we are working hard to encourage more people to take up, and continue participating in, sport, the ASC has another important job.

We are starting to see some worrying trends from official statistics showing a decline in volunteers, in umpires and officials.

It is clear that a rise in the abuse of sporting officials, for example, has contributed to an alarming 26 per cent decline in the number of officials in the past four years.

The Sports Commission has conducted several forums in recent months under the heading of 'A Fair Go for Officials', in an attempt to find ways to arrest the drift.

A friend of mine whose two young sons play soccer has indicated that his club could have taken more players and fielded more teams had sufficient coaching volunteers made themselves available.

Again and again at these forums and on the streets, similar stories are being told.

Stories like that of the 15-year-old soccer referee, spat upon by the coach of an under-13 side. Stories from seasoned professional referees who have had enough of the venom-and the violence.

Fixing the problem is the responsibility of all of us, as Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett acknowledged, when he said of the role of coaches and players in combating abuse:

'We are the guardians of [the game], and if we don't make a stand now, and we don't make a change now, then [the game] won't be there for our kids in the future ...'

As Wayne says, and I repeat, this issue threatens the future of sport.

That is why the Australian Sports Commission has designated 2003 as Year of the Official.

Through the year the Commission will work with all sports to raise awareness of the pressures faced by officials, and to educate everyone-from players and coaches through to parents and spectators.

The major codes will be involved in a national campaign to change attitudes and behaviours. The AFL, ARL, basketball and netball have already said they fully support the initiative.

We have to keep sport clean-for everyone.

The Government has been, and continues to be, very strongly committed to the fight against doping in sport.

Some recent highly publicised cases have left questions in some people's minds about how positive results are handled.

This is something I will consider as part of a broader review of the Government's Tough on Drugs in Sport Strategy, which has established a whole of government framework for tackling the effectiveness, transparency, and accountability of the national anti-doping program.

One of the issues this review will look at is the merit, or otherwise, of establishing a single independent tribunal to conduct hearings in relation to positive drug tests.

The Australian Sports Drug Agency will be consulting widely on this proposal.

Australia is at the forefront of international anti-doping efforts, playing a leadership role as Co-Chair of the International Intergovernmental Consultative Group on Anti-Doping in Sport.

I also represent the region on the Board and Executive Committee of the World Anti-Doping Authority (otherwise known as WADA).

WADA is currently drafting a World Anti-Doping Code, which will harmonise approaches to the issue of drugs in sport across the spectrum of stakeholders including governments, the Olympic movement and the sports movement at national and international levels.

Australia strongly supports the intent of the Code, in the belief that it will be a cornerstone for a more effective global anti-doping movement.

It should serve to further level the international playing field and is therefore of critical importance to our athletes who are exposed to one of the most comprehensive anti-doping regimes in the world.

In addition, a harmonised international anti-doping environment will have a greater deterrent effect on those contemplating doping.

Australia has been a major contributor to the initial drafting of the Code and to the development of the International Standard for Doping Control.

Australia fully intends to continue high level involvement in the Code development.

Both the new World Anti-Doping Code and the next phase of the Government's Tough on Drugs in Sport Strategy will present opportunities for improving the consistency with which these issues may be dealt with in the future.

We must never give up the energy in our fight against the illegal use of drugs in sport - to do so would destroy the value of sport to our community that I referred to earlier.

Let me conclude today where I began-with the role men and women of the media play in securing the future of sport in this country.

As I said earlier, at the most basic level the media act as gatekeepers, deciding what sport makes it to the back page, or indeed the front.

The media therefore has a potentially powerful role to play in promoting and advancing the notion that sport is for everyone-including those from the many target groups I have referred to today.

On Monday night I attended an Awards Dinner for the Special Olympics, which as I mentioned is currently under way in Sydney. Particular emphasis was given to the role of the media in encouraging greater acceptance of athletes with an intellectual disability.

There is no doubt that the media have a great capacity to set agendas and help shape attitudes and behaviours.

There once was a time when pitch invasions by streakers received saturation media coverage. After a time, however, the media began to see streakers as wreckers of the game.

The publicity declined. The result-fewer streakers and, arguably, greater respect for the game.

Don't be silent on the abuse of officials.

Acknowledge the role played by the thousands of volunteers who make sport possible.

Encourage young people to get active and involved in sport.

There will always be a place for uncompromising exposure, when sport slips up.

But equally, there is a place for confirming and strengthening the things that are fine and noble about sport, and continuing to celebrate our sporting heroes.

The media are in a position to do both.

I thank you for coming today and would be happy to take questions from the floor.