Sports talk should be bigger than a game | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

FUTURE INVESTMENT: New change rooms at White Flat will allow East Point's female footballers, like under-12 Sienna Weyburg, a chance to feel more comfortable and engaged in sport. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

FUTURE INVESTMENT: New change rooms at White Flat will allow East Point's female footballers, like under-12 Sienna Weyburg, a chance to feel more comfortable and engaged in sport. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

WE ARE talking about sports funding all the wrong way.

Sport should be right up there with the status of healthcare, education and foreign affairs in policy talk.

But public debate on where to channel sports funding always becomes pot-holed. 

Each time this news outlet writes about Eureka Stadium construction, social media comments inevitably throw up a concerned resident claiming money would be better spent fixing pot holes before bringing AFL to town.

This is bigger than AFL and this is bigger than just a football ground.

Consider. Bigger, better stadium attracts high-quality sports, entertainment and forums. More people in Ballarat increases spending and money in town, which can then be injected back into better infrastructure (like your potholes).

Fixing potholes are important but if that was all council did, we would have a lot of nice smooth roads leading us nowhere.

Investment in sport can play a key role in holistically improving big community issues like health and youth engagement. New studies come out each week detailing the need for people to move more to ease the burden on our health system and improve mental well-being. To feel part of a club and engaged in the community.

THINK BIG: Eureka Stadium will offer an elite standard for the likes of Western Bulldogs' AFL Women, but will also grow city tourism and infrastructure. Picture: Kate Healy

THINK BIG: Eureka Stadium will offer an elite standard for the likes of Western Bulldogs' AFL Women, but will also grow city tourism and infrastructure. Picture: Kate Healy

This is why it should not just be all about awesome stadiums either.

Public debates on where to pour sports funding tend to spiral into a continuous chicken-versus-egg style conundrum. Grassroots or elite? Pour money into our top level sports so wins and medals channel grassroots participation from inspiration; or, lay strong foundations to develop pathways and true sporting talent?

Both are incredibly important investments on their own merit.

Grassroot sports and unorganised exercise need to be accessible and affordable with modern, appropriate facilities to keep people moving and engaged. 

Elites need the funding and high-class facilities and staff to be competitive and at the top of their game. They are role models, driving development in the game and aspirations.

Essentially, it comes down to opportunity.

The boom in females taking up Australian Rules football is a prime case study.

Victorian Sports Minister John Eren this week declared $100,000 for new purpose-built change rooms at White Flat, where East Point concentrates its full female football program.

Women’s football is prompting all grassroots clubs to really think about how female-friendly their facilities really need to be. It is another huge step in allowing women and girls to feel more comfortable in the game – a demographic consistently proven for declining rates of exercise.

This comes in a week when Australian Sports Commission boss John Wylie renewed his push for a “game changer” lottery to fund elite and community sports. Wylie also supports the Grattan Institute’s call for a tax on sugary drinks, if proceeds were pumped into community health and sport.

Because sport matters. Rethinking how we talk about sports funding matters, more than most might think.