The Importance of Being Relevant

When contemplating our modern-day sports clubs and their increasingly challenging role in fostering grass-roots participation, a reader of a recent missive (‘Money, Money, Money’), commented that the grass-roots has lost its voice.  I would go further and say that many grass-roots sporting clubs are at risk of losing relevance to a large degree.  There are two reasons why I think this.


Firstly, grass-roots may have lost relevance to their own sporting bodies.  As we have seen in recent bitter crises, the boards of national sporting bodies have become battle grounds of divided egos rather than a collective force to guide their sports forward.  The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has been pushing a nationalised agenda administered by increasingly independent corporatised boards, and one can see some merit for this on paper.  But let’s face it, the incentives and KPI’s of the ASC are not geared towards grass-roots participation and the health of our local sporting clubs.  It is quite reasonable to expect that they are charged with ensuring sporting success on national and international stages (and of course the reflected glory for their political masters that comes with this).  I am not saying that this is irrelevant, as there is a tangible benefit to the nation for sporting success.


However, increasingly corporatised boards are doing what they do best – drive revenue to create shareholder value in the shortest feasible timescale.  This works when the key metric is cash flow and balance sheet, however the scorecard for a community wide sport is much more complicated.  Of course we need corporate savvy directors with the right spread of skills and knowledge on our sporting boards, but I think grass-roots sports can regain its voice and relevance by understanding and insisting that leaders have the right values, as opposed to noise or star value.


Secondly, I think sports are at risk of losing their relevance to the communities that they once served so splendidly.  No longer are community sports clubs an important social platform, they are now just one of many, and often a poor one at that.  They now complete for facetime with a generation who, from the phone in their pocket, can instantly post the most intimate detail of their social lives to the world.  Too slow or unwilling to react, shackled by heritage and tradition, or chasing their own form of reflected glory, the tireless but aging leaders of these clubs are lamentably looming as the cause and not the solution to the problem.  We may well have lost a large chunk of the current generation of young adults and teenagers, and things will get worse before they get better for participation in our community sports clubs.


If we desire a renewed focus on sustainable grass-roots participation, I consider that we need to pass a relevance filter over everything we do when it comes to sports and sports clubs.  We need to work with some urgency towards making them relevant to the next generation of kids, as well as our local politicians, businesses, and residents.  In doing so, they will also reclaim their relevance to their national bodies and regain their voice.

To quote Steve Jobs;

Create relevance, not awareness

About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. You raise a lot of important issues Robbo. I agree that relevance is the key to a productive future more than money or tradition.
    I am an active participant in a small community organisation of about 50 (mostly male) members. We are entirely self funding, with an informal governance structure maintained by principles rather than rules or a constitution. We go through peaks and troughs, but have always maintained our sense of mission. It has been notable how many young men have gravitated toward us in the last couple of years and we are thriving (almost overwhelmed) again.
    One of the keys has been flexibility and adaptation in how we responded. We meet together but the Under 30’s developed their own informal leadership/participation group that has strong communication between meetings. Us older members keep a gentle eye on their functioning and offer the occasional advice, but their interests and communication style are far removed from ours. They give us old blokes a lot of energy and vitality that keeps us going and reassures us of our relevance.
    Dunno how you adapt all that to a sporting organisation but I suspect that flexibility and adaptability in maintaining relevance (developing young players) and mission (winning games and flags) are the most important. Those who rely on structure and tradition or who are waiting for the resources from above are doomed.
    A mate who works in the oil industry says he thinks they are the 21st century version of 19th century whalers. Same for sports. Long form cricket is about to find out that nobody cares enough to pay much to watch them (on TV as much as at the ground).

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