With the ABC exploring the financial hurdles in children’s sports journeys, the National Indigenous Sports Foundation (NISF) is concerned over the persistent rising costs for families to participate in sports.
Sarah McGovern, a dedicated mother, understands the importance of keeping her children engaged in sports. However, she often finds herself overwhelmed by the associated costs and logistical challenges. This year, the soccer registration deadline caught her off guard, and although she intended to pay on time, she ended up being late. The registration fees alone amount to $300 per child for MiniRoos, but on top of that, she also needs to budget for boots, shin pads, and uniform kits each season due to her kids’ rapid growth. Sarah, living on a lower income in a regional town in NSW, has to carefully plan and search for second-hand items closer to home since the local club doesn’t offer subsidies or have second-hand soccer boots available.
“This year’s soccer registration was two weeks earlier than usual. We were going to pay the rates, but I put them off and thought, they can just be late,” she says.
“I keep an eye out on buy, swap and sell Facebook pages. The club doesn’t offer subsidies, and they don’t have second-hand soccer boots,” Sarah says.
“It might not seem like a lot to other people, but we’ve got to plan for these things.”
To add to her financial burden, there are additional expenses such as fuel costs for transportation to training and game days. Summer swimming lessons are also a factor in the budget, but Sarah recognizes the importance of keeping her children safe around water, especially since their father, Aaron, works long hours as a skipper. Despite the financial strain, Sarah believes that witnessing her sons, Jasper (6) and Charlie (8), develop lifelong skills and self-confidence through soccer is worth every penny. In fact, Jasper has even been offered a spot on the representative team for next year, but the family is unsure if they can afford the increased travel expenses and higher soccer fees associated with it.
The Australian Sports Commission’s AusPlay survey reveals that the cost and time commitments associated with sports are significant barriers preventing many children across the country from participating. The data shows that only 43 percent of children aged 14 and under participate in organized sports activities outside of school at least once a week. Children from low-income families, those living in remote or regional areas, and those who speak languages other than English at home are less likely to participate. The survey also indicates that Australian families spent an average of $600 per child on sports in the previous year, compared to $520 in 2019.
In response to these challenges, the Australian Sports Commission has formed a steering group consisting of 17 diverse experts from across the country to develop a strategy to increase general participation. Cameron French, the ASC’s general manager of participation, acknowledges that affordability and time commitments are significant issues. He emphasizes the need to ensure that all families have access to sports, including those from diverse backgrounds. The steering group aims to identify solutions and implement practical projects on a national scale.
“We’re hearing that travel costs in regional and remote areas, as well as the time it takes for families to take kids to sport certainly factors in,” he says.
“We want to work together to find solutions,” he says.
One member of the steering group is Jacara Egan, an ex-VFLW player and a Muthi Muthi and Gunditjmara woman. As a national manager at Headspace and an assistant coach for the Essendon VFLW side, she is deeply passionate about the health and well-being of young First Nations people. Jacara recognizes the sacrifices her own family made to support her sports aspirations and believes in the importance of investing in supporting children to participate at all levels.
“Sport was a really significant part of my life growing up. It’s given me many gifts,” she says.
“We know sport gives life and leadership skills. Since the beginning of time in our mob there’s been sport.”
“My family had to make sacrifices to allow me to play as a kid,” she says.
“Some days I’d see mum crying, wondering how we were going to pay the bills. But to her credit, we never missed out on one thing we wanted to do in sport.”
She suggests that increased funding for grassroots sports and commitments from major sporting codes, such as Football Australia and the NRL, to make club-based sports more affordable could make a significant difference. Jacara is committed to building a strategy that addresses the day-to-day challenges faced by families and increases overall participation, particularly for young athletes from diverse backgrounds.
“When I think about my boys, or any young person or athlete, I think they deserve to have people around them that understand and can coach them, whatever level they’re at,” she says.
“I think we are challenging ourselves [with the strategy] to build something that will have an impact on the overall goal — increasing participation — but focusing on families experiencing this day to day.”
In both metro and regional areas, the logistical challenges and expenses associated with ferrying children to sports activities can be significant. While in metro areas it may feel like a part-time job shuttling kids across suburbs during the weekends, in regional and remote areas, it can take an entire day just to attend a local game. Madeleine Gooda, a Bidja, Iman, and Ghangulu woman from Rockhampton in central Queensland, understands the dedication required to support her daughter Lily’s rugby league aspirations. Lily plays rugby league locally and has also been selected for the under-14 regional team. Madeleine describes her family as fortunate, but she still invests considerable time and energy into providing opportunities for her three children to play sports.
“We come from a family of rugby league players. League is what we live and breathe here,” Madeleine says.
“Where I come from, there’s a lot of people with their children making all these representative sides. There is so much untapped talent out there,” she says.
“It’s so great to see these kids excelling. But [their families and community] are working hard to fundraise like I am.”
She fundraises within her local area to cover the costs of travel, gear, and fees. Despite the financial challenges, Madeleine’s strong community support system, including volunteers who coach, organize, and transport kids to games and training, enables her children to participate in sports. She believes that the talent and potential of many young athletes in her community can be unlocked with increased support and resources.
“We have a really strong support system in place. For us it takes a village to raise a child. And we’re very lucky we have a really big village.”
The ASC’s strategy not only focuses on the financial and logistical aspects but also considers the impact of volunteer commitment on participation levels. The commission recognizes the importance of ensuring that parents who volunteer their time and skills have a positive experience. They are exploring flexible options that require less commitment from parents or introducing “opt-in” and “opt-out” roles for families. The ultimate goal is to create an inclusive and supportive environment that allows children to participate in sports at all levels.
The national sport participation survey, which closes on June 16, will provide valuable insights that will shape the strategy to be released later this year. The ASC, through collaboration with experts and input from the community, aims to address the barriers to sports participation and provide practical solutions that will increase access and engagement for all children across Australia.
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Photo Courtesy ABC