One man’s ‘audacious’ $1bn crusade for gender equality reaches nation’s highest office

SAM DUNCAN, THE AUSTRALIAN

Former Western Bulldogs chief executive Campbell Rose has called on the federal and state governments for $1 billion in additional funding over five years to boost female participation in sport.

Women’s sport had come a long way since Rose was in the yachting team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, particularly in the decade since he left the Bulldogs in 2010, but he said one of the biggest barriers to girls participating in sport was inadequate changing facilities at local sporting clubs. The necessary upgrades, said Rose, would cost more than $1bn.

It is an issue that if fixed could enable women’s sport to achieve equality with men’s sport, in media coverage and supporter numbers, inside 10 years, he said. It wasn’t the only barrier, but it would bring about the most significant change in the most cost-effective way.

“If you want elite athletes, you need a strong base; the cream will always float to the top. We also need access to female coaches and female mentors, but that will all come from this, ’’ he said.

A Cricket Victoria audit last year found 81 per cent of facilities across the state were not suitable for girls and women, and in some cases there were no female change rooms at all. Rose, who is now responsible for the state’s railway and tram lines as chief executive of VicTrack, said that was just one example, but the issue affected sporting clubs across the country.

The average cost to upgrade a typical club’s facilities was $150,000, he said, citing an upgrade project at Newport Junior Rugby Club in Sydney. In just five major sports — soccer, cricket, AFL, NRL and rugby — there were about 12,000 clubs, Rose said.

“If you took just those sports and drew a very conservative line down the middle and said 50 per cent would need to be upgraded … that’s 6000 clubs … you’re at $900 million without a blink.”

It’s a “big, hairy, audacious goal”, he said. “If you said to anybody, ‘we need to inject a billion dollars in upgrading facilities to bring about parity between boys and girls, men and women’s changing facilities across this country’, anybody would look at you sideways and say, ‘that’s an impossibility’.”

But the target could be achieved if the federal government invested $100m for five years and each state government contributed $20m for five years, Rose said.

“$100m isn’t even a rounding error in the defence budget. I think this is a really logical, digestible way forward which is not that expensive in the scheme of the wider federal government and state government budgets.”

If the $1bn goal were realised, he said the federal government would likely need to work through one of its existing agencies, possibly the Australian Sports Commission or a task force with a five or six-year time frame to rebuild change rooms across the nation.

“Investing in grassroots sport is probably one of the greatest investments with bang for buck that any government can get in terms of bringing about a shift in behaviours and the overall mental and physical wellbeing,” Rose said.

Rose was chief executive at the Western Bulldogs between 2002 to 2010. When he left, he didn’t foresee the success the women’s team would have, winning the AFLW premiership this year, coming so quickly, he said.

“(Women’s AFL) was being advocated for by a minority of people but it wasn’t being given the due respect it deserved. But once it got out of the bag, boy did it roar and I think we’re beginning to see that with women’s cricket,” he said,

Fundraising is something Rose knows a lot about. When the club had been on the brink of financial collapse in 2004, he convinced former Prime Minister John Howard to commit $9m so it could revamp its facilities. In total, $32.5m was raised, and it shifted the environment from a hopeless and hapless one to a place of pride and success.

This challenge was different from saving the Bulldogs, which was specific and regionally focused, he said. But the success of that and the impact it had on the local community gave him the insight to develop the idea for the Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration, the vehicle Rose will use to kickstart the funding debate.

The inaugural event is set for later this month, when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard will deliver what he hopes will be a stirring oration. Rose, PMSO organising committee chairman, wants to bring together corporate and philanthropic Australia with politicians and policymakers who can shape the direction of investment in grassroots sport.

“I’m hopeful we’ve floated an idea that is a solution to a problem, that is achievable, it is digestible, and it’s within reach,’’ said. “We just need the policymakers and the decision-makers of our country to be bold enough to … take a risk, and I think this is a risk that’s worth taking.”

The Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration 2018 will take place on November 21 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

NewsAnna Poulos