Off the Wall

The leadership of rugby league in Australia needs to grasp the key recommendations made by the Crawford Report on Sport Funding and run with them in the public arena and in private discussions with government.

As one who has been campaigning for years for greater public funding for rugby league, the recommendations are to be applauded - but there is no guarantee they will be adopted.

In running with them we don't need to even have apposition on the debate over Olympic funding. As Lyndon Baines Johnson used to say "we don't have a dog in that fight!"

One of the reasons why rugby league and other football codes have not been receiving adequate government funding is that they have allowed the debate to be hijacked by the funding of Olympics issue. We need to stay right out of that debate - and focus totally on what rugby league deserves.

The key recommendation of the Crawford Report is that the major participatory sports - such as soccer, AFL, league, union, cricket and hockey, should get additional funding as part of a national programme to improve fitness, lifestyles and so on. They could have added -" and to make communities stronger and more united".

In arguing for additional ongoing taxpayer funding for rugby league, the games administrators need to undertake to get its structures in order, and then give a commitment to do even more at the grass roots community levels, and especially in communities with social and other challenges. And these communities are in regional and rural areas as well as the major cities.

Rugby league, along with soccer and the AFL in particular, is more than pulling its weight when it comes to provide healthy sporting competition in schools and in communities.

It is costly - and the capacity of all sports to fund these programmes is not unlimited and is in fact under growing pressure. It is especially so for rugby league where the dependence on licensed club revenues and sponsorship is greater than for any other code.

There are those who will contest the very idea of government - taxpayer - funding for the football codes. One wonders if they also contest public funding for the opera, orchestras, and the art galleries?

The existing funding for all sports - including Olympic funding - pales into insignificance when compared with the total outlay by federal and state governments on the arts.

The millions poured into art galleries, opera and orchestra facilities and the like don't have the same "economic return" that is demanded of the majority of sports. The ground hiring charges that the Broncos and other clubs using major government-funded venues have to meet are tied to repaying the cost of the stadiums and funding their maintenance. If the arts was subjected to the same conditions then we would have more "opera in the park" and art exhibitions in tents!

Rugby league needs to regard the Crawford Report as an opportunity to stake a long term claim for Government funding - under partnership arrangements that not only allow the game to expand, but allow it to deliver even more at the community level.

In doing so it should not be reluctant to work with the AFL, Soccer Australia and the peak bodies of other major participatory sports.

The whole thrust in the Crawford recommendations is to focus on developing "participatory sports" - and on government funding to assist the major sporting bodies do so.

This is an opportunity the game cannot allow to pass by!