by Karen Lovatt
For decades Australians have become used to the idea that we are a very successful nation in the sporting arena. Cricket, rugby league, rugby union, swimming and hockey were all areas where Australia was often considered the best in the world.
So when the entire first week of the 2012 London Olympic Games passed with just one gold medal, it is not very surprising that panic buttons were pressed all over the country. From primary school children to the top politicians, it seemed everyone had an opinion about Australia’s “bad” performance at the games.
Now in Australia’s Winning Edge, recently launched in Canberra, CSIRO scientist Stefan Hajkowicz and his team address the issues that contribute to the perceived loss of sporting dominance, and provide suggestions for the future course of sport.
From extreme to mainstream
Six key areas, dubbed “megatrends” are identified in the report and Dr Hajkowicz analyses the long-term direction of each trend.
The first megatrend is called the Perfect Fit. It focuses on the swing towards personal training and other individualised sports, such as walking or running. The trend revolves mainly around time constraints and personal fitness goals and reflects the common move from organised sports to fitness regimes.
The second trend is called From Extreme to Mainstream, and focuses on the rise in extreme sports (such as snowboarding, skateboarding and ski jumping) that are popular with young people.Dr Hajkowicz noted that the International Olympic Committee is responding to these popular sports, by including BMX and almost including kiteboarding at Rio.
The third megatrend More Than Sport examines the increasing use of sports to better society. There is increasing evidence to support the idea that participation in sport can improve mental health outcomes, as well as providing unquestionable physical health benefits.
Sport is already being used to promote inclusion and multiculturalism. The AFL’s Indigenous football programs and the NRL’s Learn Earn Legend program are just two examples of sport being used in such a way.
The trend Everybody’s Game refers to the increasing popularity of sport across generations and cultural groups. As Australia’s population grows older, it wants to stay connected to the sports that it has have grown up in.
As sporting preferences differ among cultures, the book observes the fluctuations in popularity of traditionally popular sports as a result.
This segues neatly into the fifth trend New Wealth, New Talent, which focuses on the improvements other nations have been making in the great sporting race.
There has long been a visible correlation between a country’s economic performance and its medal tally at the Olympic Games. Emerging economic powers are now providing tougher competition on the world sporting stage, and they are here to stay.
Suits running sports
The final megatrend Tracksuits to Business Suits focuses on the increasingly corporate nature of sport. Codes are now run by boards of businessmen rather than sportspeople – boards of sporting clubs have little experience in the sport.
This leads to communities feeling less involved with their local sports. As society reacts to greater demands for our time and attention, sports are struggling and volunteers are under enormous amounts of pressure. The same tiny core of people struggle to put on sporting events, where before many volunteers may have been helping.
This section addresses the rising costs of becoming involved in organised sport. As some family budgets grow tighter, sport can become an unjustifiable cost.
The report will undoubtedly make for uncomfortable reading for those who still live in the glory days of Australian sport. But such analysis and honest soul-searching is necessary for the country to move forward.
We may not ever be able to reach the glorious heights of yore, but we can ensure that Australian sport remains stable and strong for generations to come.