Philanthropist Alberti donated millions to sport in hope others will follow

SAM DUNCAN, THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN

The 2018 Victorian of the Year and philanthropist Susan Alberti made a significant donation to the Australian Sports Foundation at the inaugural Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration dinner in Melbourne on Wednesday evening.

The PMSO, under the auspices of the ASF, was raising funds and seeking to shape the direction of investment in grassroots sport.

Alberti, who has donated millions of dollars to medical research, said she had contributed in the hope others would follow.

Donating to the ASF was the only way to make a tax-deductible contribution to sport, she said, and it was needed now more than ever to fix the nation’s health.

A pioneer of women’s AFL, Alberti said she’d seen many of the barriers to participation that needed to be addressed.

“I see change rooms and young girls putting up with facilities that are appalling,” she said. “But there’s more to it than that. Some kids’ parents can’t afford to send them to play sport.”

Alberti, patron of the PMSO, developed a passion for medical research when her only child, Danielle, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the 1980s.

Danielle died in 2001 from complications of the disease, her mother by her side, on a flight back from New York after which she was due to undergo a mother-daughter kidney transplant.

Alberti’s commitment to raise funds for better prevention, treatment and to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes became a mission.

“I have been on a mission for almost 40 years to help treat and prevent diabetes,” she said. “I’ve helped raise over $170 million for research.”

Although Danielle’s death was not related to physical inactivity, Alberti said diabetes could be avoided if people lost weight through being active.

She said it was disgraceful that in a country of about 25 million people, there were about two million people with Type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented with good exercise, diet and some medication, and probably another 1.5 million who were prediabetic.

“It’s about education, and it’s about getting people off their backsides, getting them off the couch and outside,” Alberti said. “It’s about getting them off some of this electronic stuff that they’re on all the time. When I was a kid, you couldn’t get me inside, and now you can’t get them outside.”

Team sports held the key to so many things, she said, and getting young girls active could go a long way to helping those struggling with body image issues.

Sport was great for physical health and it could also give young people a lifeline that would help them beat adversity.

“I came from a very poor background, and my dad was a policeman, and he said to me, ‘Susan, I want to get you into sport. This is the best thing to keep you on the straight and narrow’. It was a tough and rough environment and I played team-based sport. I swear to God it saved my life and I didn’t finish up a juvenile delinquent.”

More recently, physical activity once again saved her life and gave her the energy to be twice as productive as she had previously been.

She said she had become obese, and on June 4, 2014, she left her doctor’s office having been told she would be dead in six months or permanently on dialysis.

“I rang my research friends and said, ‘what do I do about exercise?’. I said, ‘I’m too fat for the gym; I’m not a Lycra girl; I’m too embarrassed’, and they said: ‘Start walking’.

“That’s what I started doing, and the weight started falling off. My kidneys had been functioning at about nine per cent and I was going on dialysis. Now I’ve got a kidney function of about 60 per cent, which is fantastic and quite normal, and life’s good.”

Alberti, who stepped down from the role of vice-president at the Western Bulldogs after their AFL premiership win in 2016, said raising the profile of the ASF had been an essential part of the PMSO event.

“The ASF has been around for a long time now, and so many people in the sporting world don’t know about it and the benefits of being involved,” she said. “I do because back in the good old days with the Bulldogs, I gave a lot of money for the redevelopment which was channelled through the ASF, and there was certainly an incentive because it’s the only way to get a tax deduction.”

At the PMSO on Wednesday, Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie and opposition sport spokesman Don Farrell heard the organisation’s case for change, and Julia Gillard’s oration.

Alberti said: “Having politicians from both sides of politics (is) something you don’t often see and all with the same interests of supporting our kids at grassroots.”

She said there was interest from new major sponsors wanting to come on board for next year.

From funds raised by the PMSO dinner, community sport organisations will be invited in next year to apply for grants through the ASF to support programs that address one or more of the organisation’s cause areas.

The ASF will then select recipients based on objective criteria, including the number of people helped and the proposed cost-benefit. Grant recipients will report back on the impact and outcomes.

The PMSO is set to be an annual event. The next dinner is planned for the third week of November 2019, in Melbourne.

NewsAnna Poulos