Leveling the playing field
Australia is known as a sporting nation, but migrants, refugees and indigenous Australians are often left out of the picture. Natalie Mueller reports.
People from non-English-speaking backgrounds are far less likely to play sports and have fewer opportunities to be involved, latest figures show.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 70 per cent of migrants from European countries participate in sports while only 30 per cent from North Africa and the Middle East participate.
“Sport has almost become a middle class past time now to the exclusion of social disadvantaged people,” Chairman of Sports Without Borders, James Demetriou, says. “They’re discriminated against possibly I think for issues of race and colour.”
Money and time are the other issues that yield low participation, says Mr Demetriou.
This week, not-for-profit organisation Sports Without Borders held a conference in Melbourne to look at further ways of empowering disadvantaged groups to get active.
Since 2006, they have helped 5,000 young migrants get active, providing them with proper resources and venues to engage them in sporting activities.
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“Sport is actually seen as a gateway to engage people rather than an end in itself or an opportunity to compete,” says Dr Brett Hutchins, a senior lecturer in Communications and Media Studies at Monash University.
“In other words, it’s a way of bringing people together that are feeling unattended or unfamiliar in their new surroundings. And as a result, it develops a sense of inclusion and participation.”
Earlier this year, the federal government initiated a Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership Program to provide grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 for people from culturally diverse backgrounds.
But Dr Hutchins says that far too often, funding is channeled towards elite sports rather than community sports programs which disinterests young migrants because of its competitiveness.
“The problem starts of course when you introduce a heavily competitive element and an emphasis on winning without actually thinking through who’s playing, why they’re playing, and what they want to take from this activity.”
Participating in sports is particularly important for young people as it helps them form relationships, trust, and communication skills.
Indigenous AFL player for the Melbourne Football Club, Aaron Davey, says that team sports also provide younger kids with vital life skills.
“With the AFL indigenous programs, we talk about cultural identity a lot,” he says. “So they’re certainly transferrable skills to broader community activity, the education system, moving into the disciplines around employment and then becoming a provider for your family.”
Natalie Mueller is a reporter on The Wire.