When did a contribution to sport become a bad thing?

Last month the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) launched an attack on community clubs, headlining a media release with the statement, “Pokie Community Fund Rigged”. It included criticism of the contribution of community clubs to sport.

The community contributions scheme is not “rigged”, and the scheme recognises that clubs plough revenue back into the more than $500 million dollars’ worth of assets under management –in large part to support sport and sporting infrastructure for all ACT residents.

The Gaming Machine Act 2004 charges the Gambling & Racing Commission to approve the contributions made by clubs (they audit them) for a stated purpose that will… “have the effect of contributing to or supporting the development of the community or raising the community’s, or part of the community’s, standard of living.”

I don’t think any reasonable person would argue that spending on sport, from a grassroots level, like junior footy, all the way up to an elite level, doesn’t lift our standard of living.

Clubs make heroes.

As an example, the Tuggeranong BMX community is supported proudly by the Vikings Group, which has nurtured the likes of Caroline Buchanan who has twice now competed for Olympic Gold.

The ACT Government acknowledges that clubs do a lot when it comes to sport.

After all, the government is tasked with funding some aspects of sport themselves, and the infrastructure they maintain has substantial costs. The territory budget for sport is more than $40 million, much of it allocated to elite and high performance sport. Like clubs, the ACT Government has wage and administration costs associated with the upkeep of 300 hectares of sporting grounds, and subsequently has to pay for utilities like water. They make money available – contribute if you will – to the Territory’s budget to ensure that these important facilities are available and maintained.

That’s what Governments do.

Accepting this, the question must be asked as to why would we treat the additional long-standing benefits provided by clubs, differently from those who also provide these types of facilities.
Why would this not be regarded as a community contribution? Like the government, ACT Clubs are ‘not for profit’ and seek solely to benefit the ACT community.

Despite the significant contribution from the ACT Government, they acknowledge that government can’t do what it needs to achieve and also provide what clubs do. Last year’s Estimates hearing heard the Head of the Sport & Recreation Directorate make the following statement,

“If we were asked, within our existing budget envelope, to take on board all of the existing facilities that are operated, owned and run by clubs and perform all of the functions that they currently perform, I would have to say, in all honesty, that our budget would not extend to that.”

Clubs maintain over 400 hectares of green-space for sporting use, six golf courses, twenty bowling greens, three cricket fields, five football fields, a yacht club, a basketball stadium, the race course, bmx track, many gymnasiums… and the list goes on. The significant costs associated with the upkeep of these facilities are in large part under-reported for the purposes of the formal contributions scheme. But even accepting this significant under-reporting of benefits, the reported spend via the formal contributions scheme has amounted to over $136 million since 2000.

Another perspective is to recognise that in our community you don’t see private interests maintaining the types of infrastructure that clubs do, certainly not on any significant scale. The simple reason for that is it doesn’t make commercial sense. It’s expensive. But the objectives that drive a club are in stark contrast to those understandably driving private interests. One is ‘for-profit’ the other is not!

And yes, poker machine revenue is used as part of the funding that provides and maintains these facilities. The community contributions scheme acknowledges why clubs exist and where money is spent to benefit the broader community.

Surprisingly, some argue that the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr spends too heavily on elite sports like AFL, but I would say that is hogwash. It enriches our city, brings people together and has significant flow on effect for local business. For families, it provides their children with encouragement to participate in social activities. The Chief Minister, in supporting GWS, has laid a clear vision that contributes to our community enormously. There will be someone in our community who will dream about playing for GWS and they will get their start at a local club.
Successive Australian Governments have also funded facilities and institutions across Australia to promote sport at all levels. Are governments including the ACT Government, ClubsACT and the majority of ACT residents all wrong?

Our contribution

Ainslie has 620 registered players (400 juniors) across 25 AFL teams and was the first club in the ACT to run an indigenous pathway program, Vikings Group has 51 affiliate sporting groups with 7000 participants (3600 juniors) and the Raiders 5150 (3500 juniors) players of rugby league in the Canberra region.

The contribution clubs provide are more tangible than some numbers in an academic paper, they are also flesh, blood and bone. They run our local sport grounds on weekend, they swing on our courses, bowl on our greens, they bring friends and family together creating opportunities for social inclusion, but most importantly they are passions to be pursued and make for a healthier and happier community.

Gwyn Rees
Chief Executive
ClubsACT

22 June 2017