SPORT has become a luxury for many Ballarat families doing it tough, with new statistics showing that people in lower-income households are less likely to participate in physical recreation activities.
It’s a trend that has dismayed health experts, who say sport is vital to a healthy lifestyle, while Ballarat welfare agencies are hardly surprised it comes second to the basic necessities such as food, rent and utilities.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics data released this week shows a relationship between the rate of participation in sport and physical recreation and levels of socio-economic disadvantage.
Of those in the lowest economic bracket, 63 per cent of people participated in sport or physical recreation activity, compared to 84 per cent of those in the highest bracket.
The same survey found a link between sport and general health.
People with the lowest levels of participation had the highest levels of self-assessed poor health.
With registration under way for some of Ballarat’s most popular winter sports, families under financial stress will struggle to pay the kind of money required for their kids to participate.
In the Chaffey household of Athol, Vikki and their four daughters Kaden, Tarryn, Keria and Brylee, sport has been made a priority within the family budget – and for good reason.
Kaden, 17, plays netball, while for Tarryn, 15, it’s netball and outdoor and indoor soccer. Twins Keira and Brylee, 12, take part in netball, soccer and gymnastics.
As well as registration fees, there’s petrol, uniforms, coaching and accommodation to consider.
Vikki Chaffey estimated a cost of about $20 per child per week.
“I’d probably be gobsmacked on how much we spend if we totalled up all we spent on sports each year,” she said.
Ms Chaffey said the cost was significant, but so was the value her daughters derived from sports.
She said while these costs affected her own household’s two-income budget, she is worried that single-income families would be locked out of sporting activities all together.
“My husband and I have talked about sport and the cost of it – it’s priced out of a lot of families’ budgets,” she said.
Another ABS study released this month shows low economic resource households spend 10 per cent of their income on recreation, or $50 a week.
This is less than half of the $108 available for recreation in other households.
The same study found 6.3 per cent of low economic resource households were unable to heat their homes and 31 per cent could not pay their utility bills on time.
Uniting Care welfare and support services manager Maree Drennan said it was common knowledge in the welfare system that people on lower incomes were struggling to make ends meet without being able to afford sport and uniforms.
“With the amount of people we turn away who come for assistance, we can’t meet the demand,” she said.
CAFS CEO Kevin Zibell said it was not only participation in sport that financial hardship threatened.
“I think it’s generally community activities,” he said. “People feel they can’t afford to get involved.
“One of the consequences of low income is that feeling of being excluded, alienated and not joining in community activities.”
University of Ballarat School of Health Sciences research fellow Meghan Casey was disappointed to hear the statistics, given the physical and psychological benefits of involvement in sport.
She said research showed that people who were active sport club members were more likely to achieve levels of physical activity required to prevent heart diseases.
“Physical inactivity is a high risk factor for a range of cardiovascular diseases,” she said.
Ms Casey said while exercise could be achieved without club membership, organised sport had added social benefits.
The good news is help is available.
Ms Casey said Central Highlands Sports Equipment Library was one local initiative assisting low income earners to get into sport.
In addition, many individual sporting clubs went to extreme lengths to help new recruits.