The Great Australian Sporting Club under Threat

By Gregory, Peter | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, July 2007 | Go to article overview

The Great Australian Sporting Club under Threat

Gregory, Peter, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Despite our sporting culture, international sucxxss, temperate climate and abundance of space, community sport infrastructure in Australia is sub-standard and expensive because of ill-conceived government intervention. To get the full benefits of a healthy, high-quality and cheap community sports system, governments at all levels must hand over much or all of the unconditional authority they currently wield to the private sector.

Though it is pleasant to simply bask in the reflected glory of the Australian cricket team as they terrorise yet another hapless opponent, we must ask ourselves why our international sporting success is not translating into a healthier population and a higher standard of amateur sporting infrastructure. As numerous suburban football and soccer clubs approached this winter season wondering whether their grounds would be playable, many politicians were content to enjoy the electoral boon of shaking hands with (or have their heads kissed by) the latest set of champions.

Sporting clubs of many descriptions occupy a prominent place in Australian life. In 2003, 31.4 per cent of Australians aged eighteen and over participated in organised sport. The fact that these organisations provide a vehicle for interaction, physical well-being, a sense of community (particularly in rural areas) and, of course, the odd world champion vindicates this state of affairs.

The Insurance Debacle

If governments are to have any role in sport, at the very least they could help remove the impediments which prevent people from reaping the benefits of becoming active. Nevertheless, this is unfortunately not the case, as shires and councils regularly require local sporting organisations to adhere to all manner of cumbersome health and safety rules and regulations. Seemingly fearful of litigious consequences, local governments forget that local clubs are generally not-for-profit bodies which are administered by volunteers. As a result, councils' strictures make sporting clubs unnecessarily complicated and costly to run.

This is best exemplified by insurance laws. A requirement of all participants in local sport, public liability insurance is always amongst the highest costs of local sporting clubs. By forcing clubs to take up these insurance policies through law, governments are making the decision to shackle them to the insurance market. In recent years, that market has seen a dramatic rise in prices-a development that has had a devastating effect on many clubs.

The sports hardest hit by the insurance crisis were invariably adventure sports such as skydiving and skiing. For example, the Greenhill Adventure Park in South Australia found that its insurance costs increased by 520 per cent between 2000 and 2002, from $13,950 a year to $72,600. Many sporting organisations have been forced to increase their fees as a way to cover the cost of rising premiums. For instance, South Australian Skydiving had to raise its prices from $240 to $315 a jump in the early part of the century just to cover the increase in insurance. As a study published in The Journal of the Geography, Environment, Oekumene Society found, the end result of this increase was a predictable drop in membership of Greenhill's Adventure Park, SA Skydiving, and SA Skiers Association. Moreover, these cost increases weren't experienced just by so-called 'adventure' sports, but also by more traditional sports such as football, cricket and soccer.

There are many plausible options with regards to insurance. Clubs can choose not to have insurance. They can choose to leave insurance matters to the discretion of individual participants. Or they can enter into any number of different policies or packages that would provide better tailored, cheaper insurance outcomes for their members than the current One-size-fits-air system.

Regardless, local governments should not presume to be able manage and minimise the risks involved in participating in local sport better than the local clubs and associations themselves. …

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