Regional Communities and Sport: A Comment

by Bill Walker

One only has to only look via any of the plethora of mediums for sourcing, processing and transferring news to see that the basic values and foundations of sport today have been swept up and pummelled by fast and diversely evolving business tsunami.

Either through design or chance the status quo has managed to deflect our attention away from the true spirit of competition: the grass roots stuff, non elite just-having-a-go bit.

By laterally reflecting on the values of biodiversity it can be seen that every one and everything not only belongs but contributes to the entire system’s well being, not just the big high profile predators, both in nature and human nature.

Why do the greenies constantly espouse the virtues of, and threats to, wetlands within the physical environment? Because they know they are the breeding grounds, the foundations of the biota. Without them the top end of the food chain, not only within aquatic but terrestrial environments, would simply collapse. Understanding the importance of building blocks and the need for balance at big picture level is crucial. Nurseries need supporting.

It has been said that the only thing that remains constant with change is change itself. It would be considered naïve to try to swim against this tide of change in any discipline that underpins any community’s cultural norms. The energy of change is simply too strong. But we can find ways to manage.

In this information saturated world we hear that the best way to escape a rip and avoid being dragged out to sea and drowned is stay calm, swim sideways and when clear of the current make your way to the safety of the shore.

What does this have to do with the evolution of sport you may ask? The answer is everything.

The undertow is big business sport. Big profile, big money, big marketing, big coverage, big players, big issues, big controversy: big deal.

However it is an ill wind that blows no good. It may not be generally accepted at the moment but the counter revolution in gaining momentum. Throughout this great brown (and green) land the partisans are fighting back. We are managing it.

No longer fooled, ordinary people are beginning to separate the real (local sport played by all ages, sizes, skill levels and capacity to commit) from the euphoric (out of reach and control juggernaut), that is elite professional sport.

Community based sport, the fertile breeding ground, is alive and well albeit threatened. People are starting to wake up to the fact genetically enhanced evolution of sport has created a beast that is too big and removed from the one they would prefer to graze in their modest back paddocks. They see the need to look more towards home grown.

Along with a diversity of cultural activities local sport is an integral part of any community dynamics. It is a crucial vector for ordinary people from across the demo graph to integrate into their community(s). Benefits to participants, although not always obvious, include belonging, leadership, self discipline, mentoring, competition, achievement, physical health and general well being.

Community sport is a vehicle for cross generational relationship development. Kids are too cool to listen to old ‘wrinklies’, but the coaches are different. They are legends and know heaps of stuff. They aren’t boring old parents that are so five minutes ago.

Young ones (and not so young) play sport. Parents transport and support, while grandparents just tag along. It is a tangible distraction from the rat race. It is real, not some far away mirage that is totally removed from reality and inaccessible through any but the sanitised hard sell forms served up.

People can be members of local sports clubs and have access to the players, many of whom they share close relationships. Sport also provides an often under estimated economic contribution to local communities.

And who supports local sport? Local business people and individuals do, often because they, their family members, employees, or clients are all directly involved.

Further, what is the most effective medium to bring sport information to the local communities? The local newspaper is. Although most contemporary regional newspapers are business units of larger media conglomerates, allowing them access to a greater geographical catchment for information, many of their readers subscribe to keep up to date with what is happening around them. They are generally staffed by people who reside in the community. Their children grow up there and thus are involved in community activities.

Relationships develop and people have ownership. Everyone who wishes to, is involved. The nursery is sustained. Sport is developed. Those who are able achieve elite status do. The huge majority who don’t hit the big time find satisfaction through achieving at their own level. Sport wins. The community wins. The system works.


  1. Very thoughtful piece, Phantom. (What’s gotten into you?)

    A lot of what you said rings very true to me. Two events of the last couple of years sprung to mind as I read your thoughts. One was the weekend of the most recent “State of Origin” game in 2008. With no AFL being shoved down my throat, I took a walk down to the Brunswick St Oval. By chance I happened upon Fitzroy playing South Melbourne in the D-grade ammos. Being a Fitzroy local, I immediately sided with the (original) Lions. I was there only for the last 10 minutes but saw Fitzroy come from 17 points down to win by a point with a post-siren long bomb. I was swept up in the euphoria and have a distinct memory of thinking to myself that I couldn’t have enjoyed myself any more had it been my beloved Dogs doing the same at the ‘G. (From memory a certain J.T. Harms was also there that day.)

    The other event occurred last November. Having not played cricket for more than a dozen years, I walked in off the street to the Clifton Hill Cricket Club and asked them if they had room for one more old hack. Not only was the answer an immediate and welcoming “yes” but over the following few months I re-learned the value of the local sporting club, in terms of exactly the sorts of things you mentioned: friendship, leadership, mentoring etc.

    I’m glad you mentioned the local papers. I’m worried that the “local” factor is being slowly diluted as the big papers gobble up the little ones. Hopefully the local papers will remain just that – local.

    Great stuff.


  2. Ian Syson says

    Gigs. I was there that day too. We must live near each other.

  3. Ian, might have to get Mr Weldon to facilitate an introduction between us. I think we might have lots to discuss.

  4. Phantom – lovely thought provoking piece. Local sport is sport you can touch and feel. The big time is, as you say, so far removed from us now. Even if you sit on the fence at an AFL game the layers feel like they’re miles away. But if you want to watch the best that’s where you go.

    Must go – off to the kids’ local sport this morning.

  5. Pamela Sherpa says

    Lovely piece Bill and a reminder about where it all starts and what most of us relate to.

  6. A lovely example of biophilia within the regional leagues.

    It is true that we relate to movement.

    Would definitely endorse the local media, wherever it is.

    We did all start in a swamp, and nurseries are worth supporting.

    (Plan those gardens well!)

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