Invest more in sport: Gillard

SAM DUNCAN, THE AUSTRALIAN

Julia Gillard has called on all levels of government, philanthropists and businesses to do more to foster investment in grassroots sport.

Doing so would be “an investment in our collective national future”, Ms Gillard told an audience at the inaugural Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration dinner in Melbourne last night.

The former prime minister opened her address in lighthearted fashion, saying the next natural step for the AFL, now we have women’s AFL teams, would be the creation of an all-star team of redheads known as “The Rangas”. Entertainer Rhonda Burchmore could sing the anthem and then line up in the forward pocket, she said.

Addressing the four key areas the event was raising funds for — women’s and girls’ sport, physical activity for all, leadership and decision-making, and diversity and inclusion — Ms Gillard said that in a world with “politics of division” and “us and them debates”, sport held some of the answers. “One of the best ways to build bridges across any cultural divide, and create a shared sense of purpose, is with sport,’’ she said.

Ms Gillard, a staunch Western Bulldogs AFL fan, welcomed the rapid growth seen in female sports participation but said challenges remained.

“Local clubs are struggling to keep up with the demand and provide appropriate facilities,” she said. “Things like female change rooms (are) important, but including women takes more than that.

“Many mums are reluctant to get involved in sport themselves because they are usually the primary childcarer and do not have the time to train or play.

“Right now there are clubs fundraising for childcare to allow parents to also enjoy the health and social benefits of playing sport.”

As chairwoman of Beyondblue, the former PM also used the platform to draw attention to mental health concerns and the potential of community sport to be a place without stigma “where it’s also OK to talk about mental health”.

Comparing the public scrutiny elite athletes faced to that of politicians, although the latter had “less Tiger Balm and Lycra, unless (they were) Tony Abbott of course”, she said the research showed they were not more or less susceptible to common mental health issues than the general population.

The dinner is planned as an annual event that will draw on the influence of a former prime minister to raise funds for grassroots sport. It is the vision of former Western Bulldogs chief executive Campbell Rose and auspiced by the Australian Sports Foundation.

Chairman of the Australian Sports Foundation Mark Stockwell said: “The good news is we’re getting more and more past prime ministers to pick from.”

Four-page Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration special in The Australian tomorrow

NewsAnna Poulos