User:MBrown/Grass Roots Sport vs. Elite Development: Decided by Government Sports Funding

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The catalyst for government involvement in sports policy and funding came in the late 1970’s, particularly after our nation’s poor performance at the 1976 Montreal Games. What followed was the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport , Australian Sports Commission and the governments obvious preference to fund elite sports development over grass roots sport.

There have been numerous government sport funding policies released throughout the years, however none have managed to create a balance for funding between elite and grass roots sport. Grass roots generally ending up the loser.

Grass roots sports have been forced to branch out and find their own funding by forming partnerships with companies to compensate for a lack government funding.


In Australia when government funding of sport is involved there are two types of sport; grass roots and elite. Grass roots is defined as people across all ages participating in sport at a local level, ‘sport for all’ (Burton 2009). Elite sport however is not for all. As its title suggests it is only for the top of the spectrum athletes, those competing at a national and international level.

Success at the grass roots level is demonstrated by high participation levels. Many elite athletes state that their motivation to participate in sport came from watching other famous athletes. So, does the government need to fund mass participation programs to motivate the community to become involved in sport (Kavetsos & Szymanski, 2009)? At the elite level, athletes could hold full time jobs to support themselves and still be elite athletes. Elite athletes are now professional and need to train full time and require support from coaches, sports scientists, trainers, administrators plus medical and clinical assistants. Is the government responsible for supplying the funding to ensure Australia’s elite athletes maintain high levels of success nationally and internationally (Green, 2007)?

In terms of funding does the government treat grass roots and elite sport equally or do they tend to place more value on one compared to the other?

This report will look into the government’s stance towards sports funding over the past 40 years, the main parliamentary inquiries, policies and commissioned reports into funding and whether government funding is necessary for the survival of grass roots sport.

An Australian History of Government Funding in Sport[edit]


In 1941 the low level of sport funding by the federal government was channelled into recreational sport through the National Fitness Act. In the 1950’s local governments provided minimal funding for basic recreational facilities in their communities.

Throughout the 50’s and 60’s the governments remained indifferent to sport funding policy (Embery, 2000 and Toohey, 2010). The only exceptions came with the minimal funding assistance from the government to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and the 1938 and 1962 British Empire Games. Athletes and teams funded trips by raffling chickens and selling lamingtons(Green, 2007 and Embery, 2000).


The 1970’s were the defining moment for Australian sport. In 1972 sport was acknowledged as a significant area for federal intervention when the Whitlam Labour government established a federal ministry of tourism and recreation. The department’s main objective was improving mass participation in sport. The development of elite athletes was considered a secondary concern as only 11% of the Department of Tourism and Recreations funding was designated to assisting elite athletes (Green, 2007).

Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal party in 1975 abolished the department of tourism and recreation. Federal sports funding was reduced from $11.4 million in 1975-76 to only $5.8 million in 1978-79 (Embery, 2000 and Green, 2007).

The downgrading of the importance of sports funding was lessened due to the following key factors: the government realised that sport was popular with voters; Australia’s poor performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics; and Bob Elliot’s (minister for sport at the time) push for the establishment of a national elite sport institute following this poor performance (Green & Houlihan, 2005). These factors influenced the governments shift of preference for funding from grass roots sport to elite development.


The connection between money, sport and politics came to the forefront when the Liberal Government backed the Moscow Olympic games boycott. To prevent athletes and teams from going, the government funded those who did not attend with greater sums of money than had been allocated for attending the games (Embery, 2000).

In 1981 the Australian Institute of Sport(AIS) was built confirming the government’s determination to improve international sporting performances and increase focus on elite development (Green, 2007; Embery, 2000 and Green & Houlihan, 2005). The AIS was primarily funded by the Federal Government and was the primary focus of their sports policy.

In 1983 the Labour party returned to power and showed a strong committment to sport by doubling funding to $50 million. They established the Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism and founded the Australian Sports Commission(ASC) in 1985, which managed the two main areas of sport; grass roots and elite development. At the same time 75 community leisure centres which had been promised were quietly abandoned (Embery, 2000 and Green & Houlihan, 2005).

Sport was forced to transform into a business when the stock market crashed in 1987 as the government placed restraints on sports funding. In 1989 the ASC was restructured and given greater independence but as it was federally funded its policies closely reflected federal concerns (Green and Houlihan, 2005) .


The defining moment for elite sport and government funding was the decision in 1993 that Sydney would host the 2000 Olympic Games. Federal Government funding swung firmly in favour of elite development with the creation of a $418 million six year elite development program in the lead up to the 2000 games (Toohey, 2010 and Green & Houlihan, 2005).

‘Encouraging Players.... Developing Champions’ was the Liberal parties sports policy when elected in 1996. They believed that hosting the Olympic games would inspire more Australians to participate in sport and from this Australian sport and health would benefit. This however was not the case and no evidence has been found to prove that grassroots participation levels significantly or permanently increased (Embery, 2000 and Toohey, 2010).

Winning at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic games was crucial to justify to the government that funding for the elite athlete development program should be maintained. The government cut funding from non-Olympic sports focusing on sports which had low participation rates. The next round of cuts deemed ‘reallocation of funds’ targeted sports which had won an insufficient number of medals in Atlanta. Debate against funding cuts to non Olympic sports was voiced because in Australia, our major sports which have the highest participation numbers and draw major crowds plus media coverage are non Olympic sports such as netball, football, cricket, Australian rules, lawn bowls, rugby league and rugby union(Green & Houlihan, 2005).


There was uncertainty after the 2000 Olympics regarding government sports funding as the shadow minister for sport reduced the number of full time athletes at the AIS. This uncertainty did not last long as the 2001 sports policy was released and once again elite development was the priority.

ASC grant allocations during 2005-06 provided elite sport with just under $18 million compared to grass roots sport which was allocated $1.168 million. The 2006-07 funding allocations followed the trend of the year before. Grassroots received $67 million, just over half the amount received by elite sport ($125 million). In case grass roots sport didn’t already realise it was second best to elite sport, the federal government announced that its main aim was to deliver sporting excellence and to help the institute keep its position as a world leader in elite athlete development.

Sports Policies, Parliamentary Inquiries and Government Commissioned Reports into Sports Funding: 70’s- present[edit]

• In 1973 John Bloomfield was commissioned by the government to write a report on the place of elite sport in Australia. His report claimed that greater international sporting success would result in greater grass roots participation. Nine of his twelve recommendations for financial support were aimed at elite development. Bloomfield’s main recommendation was the establishment of an institute of sport.

• Dr Allen Coles was commissioned in 1975 to investigate the viability of Australia having an institute of sport. His report backed Bloomfield’s recommendations for an institute of sport. However the government was still hesitant to fund elite sport at a federal level (Toohey, 2010 and Green & Houlihan, 2005).

• In 1989 a parliamentary inquiry into sports funding was held. It’s report ‘Going for Gold’ focused on the elite level. ‘Going for Gold’ recommended increased funding for sport and the targeting of specific sports plus establishing talent identification programs.

• Another parliamentary inquiry into sports funding ‘Can sport be bought’ was undertaken in 1990. This inquiry asked the ASC to provide results on how it met its two objectives; elite development and grass roots participation. The report confirmed that increased funding for elite development resulted in international success and justified financial support for elite sport by the federal government. A negative for the government from this inquiry was that it failed to find adequate data on the ASC’s grass roots participation objective (Green & Houlihan, 2005).

• In 1992 the Federal Government announced its sports policy for the period of 1992-6 called ‘Maintain the momentum’, to assemble a national approach to elite development. Sport and recreation was allocated $293 million of which the ASC received $236 million. $17.5 million was allocated to approximately 100 national sporting organisations per year over the four year period (Aust. Federal Government,1992).

• The Sport 2000 Task Force was created in 1999. Their report ‘Shaping Up’ recommended the government change its priorities to focus on health and social benefits from sport. The report acknowledged that by emphasising elite sport, grass roots participation objectives had been overshadowed.

• The sports policy released for 2001-05 was ‘Backing Australia's sporting ability: a more active Australia’. The centrepiece of this policy was to increase participation in sport. However funding allocations did not mirror this. Sports funding reached an all time high ($547 million) during this policy yet grass roots only received 20% of the amount designated to elite development (Green & Houlihan 2005).

• In 2008 the Minister for sport Kate Ellis ordered an independent inquiry into Australia’s sporting system and future challenges to the system. David Crawford and his independent panel produced the report ‘The future of sport in Australia’ ( the Crawford Report). The report looked at both grass roots and elite sport (Independent Sport Panel 2010). Community members were asked to submit reports and attend forums to express issues of concern. The primary finding from the independent sport panel was that since the government began providing support to sport, the main focus was winning and success at an international level. Therefore grass roots sport had been underfunded compared to elite, resulting in the neglect of our ground level of sport. Recommendations made included a HECS style system for sport called the Athlete Contribution Scheme, the induction of qualified physical education teachers into primary schools, and increased funding into sustainable sporting facilities for grass roots (Independent Sport Panel 2009).

Grassroots: can they go it alone?[edit]

There are numerous funding opportunities in the form of grants available for grass roots sport. However because the government tends to view grassroots sport as a means of preventing obesity and other health related issues, these grants more often than not have a heath message attached to them. This health message then has to be advertised through the sport as a condition of the organisation receiving the grant. Such health messages include Tap into water, find thirty, smoke free and sun smart initiatives (ACT Health)

Competition for these grant is fierce. Without funding the organisation can not promote their sport to ensure its growth by attracting participants, volunteers and staff. Lack of growth results in a lower level of funding.

Does grass roots really need government funding? In the UK companies are realising the benefits of investing in grassroots sports from a corporate responsibility view (Terry, M 2001). Companies are also investing in grass roots to test products on target markets. For example Milo is not a mainstream product in the UK, so Nestle invested £5,000 a year for 3 years to enable them to ‘sell’ Milo to the UK public. Examples of companies which have already initiated this in Australia include Nestle through the promotion of Milo and Schweppes through their product Cottee’s.

NESTLEsponsor the Milo children ski programs in the Australian snowfields. Milo has also formed a great partnership with Cricket Australia and sponsors its junior programs such as; Milo in2Cricket, Milo Kanga Cricket, Milo Super 8’s and the Milo Summer of Cricket (Nestle Milo, 2009).

Cottee's have formed a partnership with Football Federation Australia and now fund member federations to run school clinics or hold multiple school gala days at local sporting grounds with the message that ‘sport should be about having fun’. This enables football (soccer) member federations to advertise their sport to their grassroots target market (Cottee’s 2011).

The forming of partnerships with sports by both these companies allow cricket and football to run fun focused clinics to school aged children and further promote their sports at a community level without having to worry about government funding.


The government has not always played a role in funding sport. In the early years it took quite an impartial stance to sports policy, that is until Australia’s inadequate medal tally at the Montreal Olympic Games. This was the defining moment for governmental sports funding. The tide changed and government funding followed, with the creation of the AIS and the ASC, and the governments obvious preference to fund elite sports over grass roots sport. The government believed that putting funds into elite sport would result in an increased interest in grass roots sports and higher participation levels. However this has never been proven and, grass roots sports are forced to rely on health grants or to form partnerships with companies for funding.

Grass roots sport is the base from which elite athletes evolve. The government needs to focus more strongly on providing funds to the grass roots level to allow sports to continue to grow and create talented athletes, without increasing registration to cover the costs. Partnerships with companies are a fantastic source of money but it is the government who controls the facilities i.e. sports grounds and courts where grass roots sports take place almost every weekend of the year. The government needs to place more value on grass roots sports and look to ways in which it can sustainably improve facilities and support grass roots sport to ensure it flourishes.

Grass roots is where future elite athletes begin their sporting journey and without government funding to assist clubs to survive these athletes will not be sticking around to cross the finish line.


ACT Health, ACT Health Promotion Grants Program: sponsorship support strategies, ACT Government Australia, viewed 16th September 2011 <>

Australian Federal Government, 1992, Maintain the Momentum: Australian government sports policy 1992-96, Australian Sports Commission, viewed October 5th 2011 < >

Burton, E. 2009, Organisation effectiveness in selected grass roots sport clubs in Western Australia, Thesis, Edith Cowan University, viewed 5th October 2011, < >

Cottee’s 2011, Cottee’s Australia, viewed September 25th 2011 <>

Embery, L.. 2000. Sport for all? The politics of funding, nationalism and the quest for gold. In: Schaffer, K. and Smith, S. The Olympics at the millennium. Power, politics and the games. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p272-286.

Green, M.. 2007. Olympic glory or grassroots development?: sport policy priorities in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, 1960-2006. The International Journal of the History of Sport. 24 (7), p921-930

Green, M. and Houlihan, B. 2005. Elite sport development policy learning and political priorities. Oxon: Routledge. p30-39.

Independent Sport Panel. 2009. The Future of Sport in Australia. Australia: Australian Government. pp1-347.

Independent Sports Panel 2010, Commonwealth of Australia, Australia, viewed 23rd September 2011 < >

Kavetsos, G & Szymanski, S. 2009, From the Olympics to the grassroots: what will London 2012 mean for sport funding and participation in Britain?, Public Policy Research, pp129-196.

Nestle Milo, 2009, Nestle, Australia, viewed September 25th October 2011 < >

Terry, M 2001, Grass roots sports: marketers playing for quantity not quality, Sports Marketing, December 2010, p12.

Toohey, T. 2010, Post-Sydney 2000 Australia: a potential clash of aspirations between recreational and elite sport, The International journal of the History of Sport, 27 (16-18), pp 2766-2776