Sport New Zealand manages a community sport budget of $93m (as at 2013-14). These funds are distributed to partners including national sports organisations, regional sports trusts, territorial authorities and many others.
The purpose of community sport funding is to “advance the values of sport”, defined as:
- sport contributes to healthy bodies and minds
- sport is a part of our way of life
- sport enhances communities
- sport benefits the economy
Relative to other social services that contribute to healthy bodies and minds, enhancing communities and benefiting the economy, community sport receives relatively low levels of funding; think health, social development, police, justice and economic development.
Are the current levels of community sport funding ‘reasonable’ given the impact that well funded sport and recreation could have on individuals, communities and the economy? Are we effectively measuring this impact (in and of itself, and compared to other government funded activities)? Can sport demonstrate sufficient evidence to support significant funding increases?
The bulk of public funding is directed towards ‘bottom-of-the cliff’ activities. Supporting people when things have gone ‘wrong’ be they crime, health, emotional or physical harm. Much of this is unavoidable, however all the ministries and organisations providing these services have objectives related to prevention and/or rehabilitation. To what extent does sport and recreation support these objectives directly? Much of what Sport NZ sees as the value of sport speaks directly to these organisation’s objectives.
We recently saw youth line funding cuts, yet plans to increase spending on prisons… why? Is it really that hard to measure the positive impacts of necessary social services?
NZ Police are seeking ‘safe communities ’, the Corrections Ministry wants to reduce re-offending through rehabilitation programmes, education and job training, the Ministry of Justice has a desire to work with sector colleagues to help make sure New Zealand is a safe and just society.
Sport and recreation can create safer communities by providing positive opportunities for young people at risk. An environment where they are wanted, accepted and a part of something bigger than themselves.
The Ministry of Health aims to improve, promote and protect the health and well-being New Zealanders. Sport and recreation can (and does) play a major role in health promotion and protection, but there are more opportunities that could be exploited with better resources.
To demonstrate the impact requires both a seat at the table and evidence of impact. Does sport and recreation get invited to the table, possibly sport more than recreation? What is needed for sport and recreation to demonstrate evidence?
And where does education sit in all this. Schools participating in a recent Sport in Education initiative report improved retention and attendance. In a University of British Columbia study, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. In a Georgia Health Sciences University study, researchers found people aged 11 to 17 years who committed to 20 to 40 minutes of vigorous play everyday exhibited enhancements in brain activity after three months, all of the students showed “remarkable” improvements in their math skills and the students that exercised the most showed an increase on standard I.Q. tests. So, why is it so hard to institute consistent, regular exercise in the classroom?
What does sport and recreation need to do realise its potential in positively contributing in the way Sport New Zealand states? The mix is likely to include:
- An evidence base that is sound and relevant.
- A professional and knowledgeable face to stakeholders, including politicians and policy makers.
- A seat at the table from the start, not as an after thought.
- Great relationships between partners internal and external to the sector.
Playing the infinite game means recognising what your organisations purpose is, how it can make a difference and being able to change your approach, your players, your rules to remain relevant and continue to achieve your purpose. The sport and recreation sector needs to take a solid look at itself, work out what’s its purpose is and change the rules, behaviours and players to achieve this.