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Cosgrove: Leaders in Sport Conference

Hon Clayton Cosgrove
Minister for Sport and Recreation

3 April 2008 Speech

The challenges ahead – speech to open the first Leaders in Sport Conference in New Zealand

Venue: Sky City Auckland
Time: 9.30am, 3 April 2008

Good morning and a very warm welcome to you all, to the first Leaders in Sport Conference to be hosted by New Zealand.

I especially welcome our overseas guests including the Indian Minister of Sport, Youth and Local Government, Mani Shankar Aiyar; representatives from the Australian State and Federal Governments; and delegates from India, Malaysia, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.

I would like to acknowledge the members of the Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport; Sir John Whitmore, the founder of Performance Consultants; representatives from the sport and recreation sector; special guests; ladies and gentlemen.

This conference is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is because it is focused on leading change. The conference theme - “Winning Strategies in the Fast-Changing World of Sport”- sums up what I believe to be one of the most significant challenges currently facing the sport and recreation sector.

Change is occurring on many fronts – in terms of the relationship between sport and business, in terms of our society and how we spend our leisure time, at both elite and grassroots levels, and even with how we see sport at an environmental level.

As the saying goes, there is nothing permanent except change. The success or otherwise of many organisations has been determined by their ability to adapt to change. This is no different for sport and recreation organisations.

It can be argued, however, that the pace of change has never been as rapid as it is today. An explosion in electronic media and communication over the last decade has enabled us to connect to each other and the world almost instantly, from wherever we are. This has impacted on the way we do business; how we communicate with friends and family; and on how we use our leisure time. Technology means our relaxation is now often sought in front of a television or a computer screen rather than on a football field, and our commuter lifestyles see us driving our children to school or taking a train, rather than walking or biking.

All of this feeds into some of our biggest societal problems, such as the prevalence of obesity. The impact of our activities on climate change and an emphasis on creating sustainable communities and practices have also been highlighted as global issues that we must all take account of at a local, national and international level.

Sport and recreation organisations operate in an environment where there are many complex and challenging pressures that may be economic, political, societal or environmental. But regardless of the nature of the challenge, organisations can negotiate their way through these pressures with good leadership, both at management and governance levels.

So this conference, and its emphasis on leading change, creates an opportunity to discuss, debate and collectively find ways through the many challenges presented to us today. And while it is the success or failure of our high performance athletes that usually captures the headlines (and with it our national pride), let us not forget where the seeds of our sporting heros are sown. It starts at the grassroots.

One of the most significant and pressing challenges for organisations today is to meet the changing sport and recreation needs of their communities.

At the heart of sport and recreation are ordinary, everyday New Zealanders and Australians for example, participating at the community level in activities of their choosing, supported by volunteer coaches, officials and administrators, of whom there are never enough. Children who want to emulate their heroes and who have dreams of wearing the black or yellow jersey; mums and dads who want their children to learn how to be part of a team, to make new friends and strive to be the best they can; and people who want to live healthy and active lives. These people are all part of what keeps the heart of sport and recreation beating.

But societal changes such as changing work patterns, including more young people working after school or on weekends, mean that the traditional delivery of sport and recreation services may no longer be appropriate or match peoples’ lifestyle. Yet most traditional sport and recreation organisations still rely on the regular commitment from members to keep going, at a time when discretionary time is under pressure from other commitments.

These organisations must also compete for people’s time with a wide range of alternative leisure pursuits. And while traditional sports organisations are still in demand, people are increasingly looking for alternative ways to participate in sport and recreation. A growing number of commercial providers such as gyms may provide activities and opportunities that are more suited to current lifestyle patterns.

These kinds of trends have consequences, and we are seeing the impact at the local level. With limited resources and their traditional membership base shrinking, some sport and recreation groups are only focussed on their short-term future, without regard for their long-term survival.

Contrast this with the other end of the spectrum where sport and recreation have become commodities in a world-wide business market. Think of globalisation, commercialisation, television rights, sponsorship, athlete endorsements and marketing plans.

In the modern sporting world, competition can be as much in the chequebook as on the field, with wealthy franchises able to invest in the players they want. Then there are the unseen challenges such as drug cheats, who seek to win medals at any cost and through any means. New Zealand considers it to be a privilege to work alongside other sporting nations through the World Anti-Doping Agency, to rid sporting world of these cheats who try to steal the glory of true, clean athletes.

The challenges are clearly there – from our elite players who may struggle to compete on a level playing field, through to our grassroots sports teams, who may be struggling to find enough participants and volunteers for our traditional Kiwi sports.

Despite these challenges however, there is no question that we must, and will, continue to ensure that sport and recreation continues to be a top priority in our society. For a sporting nation like New Zealand especially, the benefits of investing in this sector are clear to see.

Sport and recreation activities are important contributors to the international tourism market providing a platform for marketing New Zealand goods and services and encouraging tourists to visit this country.

Much of New Zealand’s tourism industry is anchored in the outdoors, whether it is as a backpacker destination or as a niche market for activities such as heli-skiing and guided climbing tours.

Hosting major sporting events is another important way to attract more international visitors here. For example, more than 28,000 British and Irish visitors were here during the 2005 Lions Rugby Tour.

The spin-offs from these activities are significant. Major events can inject significant funds into a region and can also have long term infrastructural impacts, such as urban renewal, while generating significant opportunities for the tourism industry.

Next year New Zealand will also host the first Winter Games, a 10 day event that is expected to generate more than $40 million in economic benefits. Two years after that New Zealand will host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which alone is estimated to generate over $500 million in tourism income for New Zealand and attract around 60,000 visitors here - a compelling reason to continue to bid for future events as a means of promoting New Zealand internationally.

Clearly the incentives are there for us all to keep sport and recreation growing in our communities – from a health perspective, a community and environmental perspective, and an economic perspective. Change can bring uncertainty and change can be difficult, and the sport and recreation sector is not isolated or immune from this. However the challenge is about leading people. To enable the sector to continue to flourish and contribute to the wellbeing of communities, strong leadership and a willingness to embrace change is needed.

The New Zealand government has been working hard to help provide the leadership needed by today’s sport and recreation sector. In 2001 a New Zealand Ministerial Taskforce on sport, fitness and leisure found a fragmented sport and recreation sector, lacking in coordination and good governance, and struggling to effectively lead and manage their activities.

The findings in the Taskforce’s Report led to the foundation of the government agency, Sport and Recreation New Zealand. This agency has a strong focus on developing capability and the quality of leadership in the sector. Part of its response to the taskforce findings was the creation of a Leadership Development Programme.

The programme is designed to train and mentor senior sport and recreation administrators, to improve governance, and provide management resources, particularly in strategic planning and stakeholder management.

Many sport and recreation organisations have taken up the opportunities provided by the programme. To date 25 sporting organisations have been worked with to develop their governance capability, and 50 capability assessments have been undertaken with 35 organisations. We are seeing some great results from this work.

There are no magic tools to quickly grow capability in the sector; however substantial progress is being made, across many sport and recreation organisations, to build the capability needed to meet today’s challenges.

One such example is Bike New Zealand, the national sport organisation for all forms of cycling in this country. Five years ago it was restructured with the government’s help. The restructuring brought the various cycling disciplines, such as BMX, mountain biking, and track, under one umbrella. While this merging of disciplines was not without its difficulties, Bike New Zealand has taken a long-term strategic view of cycling, and the government is currently assisting Bike New Zealand to develop a new membership model and revised governance structure.

The successful Australian model, Bike Victoria, provided a best practice template. It was designed to broaden influence into recreational cycling and cycle commuting. Adopting this model, Bike New Zealand is now exploring new funding opportunities as several government agencies and territorial authorities recognise cycling not only as a means to improve wellbeing, but also as an alternative transport option that can contribute to achieving environmental outcomes.

Tennis New Zealand, the national body responsible for tennis in this country, has been working with the government to restructure itself at all levels of the game. There was a lack of integration between districts, clubs and the national body and uncertainty around the value being offered through tennis. In this environment, two regions dominated tennis in this country, thousands of casual players were beyond the reach of Tennis New Zealand, membership was stagnating and the sport had an indifferent and variable standard of coaching.

We are working with Tennis New Zealand to develop a new constitution; to make improvements in how the sport is governed; to ensure a co-ordinated, national approach across the sport, and to improve management and human resource systems.

New boards are being constituted at the national and regional level and a new chief executive and national director of coaching have been appointed. The structural change is nearly complete, the strategy is being finalised, and a network of development people is being put in place.

These are significant challenges and it takes a lot of time and energy to change, but Tennis New Zealand is making good progress.

These are just two examples of the ongoing work the government is undertaking to ensure New Zealand has a world class sport and recreation environment. These examples also highlight the importance of supporting leadership development, so this sector can attract and retain the skilled managers and support staff it needs.

As well as providing leadership programmes, the government also helps clubs and organisations to lift their game by learning from the best in the sector. Publications, online resources and templates for best practice are among the tools available so that sporting organisations can ensure they are running their clubs as efficiently as possible.

The government also encourages leaders in sport through its Sports Ambassadors programme which enables our high-performance athletes to work with, and inspire, younger people to achieve their sporting goals.

More support is in the pipeline. In the near future I will host a seminar for business leaders and sports leaders, to enable them to identify approaches and opportunities for working collaboratively together to achieve greater success.

By bringing these two groups together, we hope that sports leaders may better understand the benefits of engaging with the business sector and to improve the value propositions they put forward to businesses; and that business leaders may further explore the opportunities to add value to their businesses through partnering and engaging with the sport sector, beyond simply sponsorship.

I do not think it is possible to overstate the value and importance of the sport and recreation sector to a nation. I believe that there is nothing that brings a nation together quite like the love of sport. It is a source of great enjoyment and excitement, it can harbour a healthy competitive spirit and unify a community and a country. It provides us with common ground through shared goals and the pride we take in achievement, and is part of the cultural fabric of the nation.

This conference provides an important opportunity for international sports leaders, academics, politicians and business people to identify issues and challenges, share advice and experiences, and discuss strategies to ensure that sport and recreation remain relevant in the future.

I hope you take full advantage of all that is on offer over the next two days and I wish you every success in leading change in your respective organisations.


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