Time to speed up the slower generation

SENATOR BRIDGET McKENZIE, COLUMN IN THE AUSTRALIAN

As a child growing up in regional Victoria, I watched my dad play AFL and mum playing Netball for the Marysville Mustard Pots. Sport and physical activity became an everyday part of my life. To me there is nothing better than pulling on a jersey, jumping in the pool for a couple of laps or joining my local community Parkrun on a Saturday morning.

Nothing better captures the Australia spirit, our values and pride than sport. We have an extraordinary passion for it and are known across the world for our competitiveness. For many Australians, it is the ethos of who we are, and helps to shape our identity.

Whether it is success on the podium at the Olympics or a win at the Albury bowls club, Australians take their sport very seriously. Sport and physical activity is about including, inspiring, invigorating and creating pride. The power of sport can change lives and communities.

However, our society has changed. Alarmingly, 56% of Australian adults – or more than 10 million people - lead sedentary or low-exercise lifestyles. Even more concerning, 81% of Australian children aged 5-17 do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. As a result, 25% of Australian kids are overweight or obese, and that figure could reach 33% by 2025.

As a former physical education school teacher, these statistics are quite startling.

Research has shown that the average child in 2015 would finish 250 metres behind the average child from the 1980’s over a 1.6 kilometre run – we are truly creating the Slower Generation.

Physical inactivity is the fourth-leading cause of chronic health problems in Australia and if the trends of increasing inactivity and growing obesity continue, studies predict the extra health and social costs will climb to $88 billion over the next 10 years.

As Minister for Sport this is not acceptable to me which is why earlier this year the Federal Government launched Australia’s first ever national sport plan– Sport 2030.

Sport2030 is the Government’s strategic plan that charts a clear path to demonstrate how we will continue to excel in elite sport, maintain sporting integrity, support grassroots sporting organisations, and increase participation levels for better health and wellbeing.

Sport2030 aims to ensure that Australia has a diverse and inclusive sport and physical activity sector where as many people as possible see and feel the benefits of sport and physical activity through every stage of their lives. That our future generations will be more physically active and better prepared with the skills and knowledge to live healthy, active lives.

We want Australia to be the world’s most active and healthy sporting nation, known for its integrity and success.

We need to encourage more Australians to become more active more often. We need to break down the barriers which are stopping women and girls from participating in sport at the same rates as men and boys. We need to welcome more indigenous Australians and those of different ethnic backgrounds into our sports clubs, and we need to encourage those with a disability to enjoy the benefits sports participation provides.

This is why initiatives such as the Australian Sports Foundation’s Prime Minister’s Sporting Oration are so important. This initiative seeks to highlight the importance of grassroots sport, reverse our increasing sporting inactivity and instigate a high-level focus on the need to increase ongoing philanthropic, corporate and community support in order to drive societal change.

I often say that teamwork makes the dream work. Key to this teamwork is leadership of Sport Australia and the Australian Sports Foundation.

Sport Australia lead the physical activity, participation and high-performance sport in Australia, empowering sports to embrace and engage more Australians.

The Sports Foundation has a unique charitable and tax-deductible status, meaning donations to sport are tax deductible. It aims to raise $100m a year from philanthropic sources for community sport by 2021, and this plays a critical role in the Government’s funding plans as set out in our National Sports Plan, Sport 2030.

This investment will boost the opportunity for every child to participate in physical activity so Australia can, once again, become the world’s most active sporting nation.

Quite simply, we cannot hope to celebrate Australian successes at an Olympic or Commonwealth Games, or at World Cups if we do not have a fertile grassroots sports base to produce the stars of tomorrow. That is exactly what the Sports Foundation does. It connects back to our grassroots sports. It recognises that clubs like the Marysville Mustard Pots are the heart and soul of many communities and that success in achieving many of the priorities of Sport2030 literally start in the backyard or at the local club.

NewsAnna Poulos