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Cosgrove: Sport and Recreation Sector Conference

Hon Clayton Cosgrove
Minister for Sport and Recreation

23 June 2008 Speech

Cosgrove speech to open the Sport and Recreation Sector Conference 2008

Venue: Heritage Hotel, Auckland
Time: 9:50am (following Powhiri at 9:15am), 23 June 2008

Thank you John Wells, the Chairman of Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) for your introduction.

Good morning and welcome to the Sport and Recreation Sector Conference for 2008. This is the second time this annual event has been held, and I am sure that everyone here, our presenters and participants in the upcoming discussions and working groups, will make this a very worthwhile and productive conference.

I would like to extend a special welcome to Australian Sports Commission Chief Executive, Mark Peters, for coming across the Tasman to address the conference this morning. Your presence here today exemplifies the important, ongoing close relationship between our countries, and our willingness to work together to improve one of the things we hold most dear – our love of sport.

I realise you all have busy schedules and I thank everyone for taking the time to come here and participate in the next two days. This conference will be a great opportunity to listen, share, debate and connect with each other.

The sport and recreation sector faces new and emerging challenges, which make it even more crucial that it has the capacity to work cooperatively and strategically.

Last year’s inaugural sector conference was a good start but the challenge for all of us is to build on the progress made to date and take collaboration and cooperation to the next level.

To that end we have assembled a wide array of facilitators and speakers who will be presenting some cutting edge ideas. They will challenge you, and most importantly engage with you. For as much as the government plays a supporting role for the sport and recreation sector, the onus is on the quality people you attract and retain in your organisations. It is these people who lead the charge in exchanging information and upon whom we rely to be innovative, to connect with our communities, and ultimately, to make a difference.

We often talk about the importance of having a connected sector. One of the key priorities for the government (through SPARC) this financial year is to look at how organisations within the sector can connect to have a stronger impact on sport and recreation.

For example, how can a territorial authority work more effectively with a national sport organisation or a regional sports trust to achieve shared outcomes for a healthy sport and recreation sector in their region? Today’s panel discussion involving local authorities in the session entitled ‘Plucking the Golden Goose’ should be fascinating and I welcome the strong involvement of territorial authorities at this conference.

Connections are just as important in the recreation sector. Outdoor recreation offers significant benefits to New Zealand through national identity, health and fitness and the environment. SPARC is working with the sector to improve coordination, strategic direction and to enhance leadership with a review of the sector currently under way.

This conference aims to be a catalyst for making the connections between various organisations possible, but it is the work that happens following these two days that really creates the change and makes a difference.

The programme has been designed to build on the work done at the sector conference in Taupo last year. While SPARC is facilitating the conference, the themes and content have been organised by a working group from the sport and recreation sector along with SPARC.

There are three key areas this conference will address.

Firstly it will be looking at the lifeblood of sport in this country – the grassroots network of clubs, members and volunteers who make the sector tick.

Secondly, the conference will address the capability of sport and recreation organisations and their capacity to meet the numerous challenges they are facing.

And thirdly: the crucial sport and business relationship. I believe it is an area where we have only scratched the surface of potential mutual benefits.

On the topic of grassroots sport and recreation, I want to congratulate the national sport and recreation organisations, regional sports trusts, and the territorial authorities for all the work you do with the most important people – ordinary kiwis who participate in their hundreds of thousands through clubs, schools and various events.

There are an estimated 15,000 clubs and gyms at a local level. A staggering half a million volunteers support grassroots sport and recreation. These people are all part of what keeps the heart of sport and recreation beating.

But there are challenges. There are changing working patterns, such as more young people working after school or on weekends, which means that the traditional delivery of sport and recreation services may no longer be appropriate or match peoples’ lifestyles. Yet most traditional sport and recreation organisations still rely on the regular commitment from members to keep going. The discretionary time of New Zealanders is under increasing pressure from other commitments.

Pressures on time and finances are putting the squeeze on the volunteer and participant base, so new strategies need to be developed. As outlined in SPARC’s latest Statement of Intent, more energy will be put into developing the next tier of sport and recreation organisations below the national level. Regional sport and physical recreation organisations have stronger connections with club and grassroots sport and play a vital leadership role in the sector.

This afternoon’s session, ‘Volunteers – heart of sport’, which is being facilitated by Matt Cooper of Sport Waikato, will address many of these challenges faced by local and regional sport and recreation organisations alike.

The government also has a strong focus on developing capability and the quality of leadership in the sector at all levels. This includes SPARC’s Leadership Development Programme which trains and mentors sport and recreation administrators and provides 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 SPARC has worked with 25 sporting organisations to develop their governance capability, and 50 capability assessments have been undertaken with 35 organisations. We are now seeing some great results from this work. Tomorrow’s ‘Change for the better’ session being facilitated by Steve Walker of New Zealand Tennis will be canvassing some of these.

Tomorrow I will be opening the ‘Business of Sport’ session, a topic of particular interest to me, as Minister for Small Business. The government is committed to improving the linkages between the business and the sport and recreation sectors.
By bringing these groups together we hope that sport and recreation leaders may better understand the benefits of engaging with the business sector and improve the value they can bring to businesses; and that business leaders may further explore the opportunities to add value to their businesses through partnering and engaging with the sport and recreation sector, beyond simple sponsorship.

I am also pleased to see there are representatives here from the gaming sector. Tomorrow’s panel discussion in the ‘Getting Grants – now and in the future’ session is an opportunity to consider how gaming trusts can improve the efficiency, effectiveness and transparency of grants to the sport and recreation sector.

While the format for this conference clearly shows we are focussed on taking sport and recreation to the next level in this country, for a moment, let’s take stock of where we are.

I am proud to say that New Zealand continues to be an extraordinary country that punches well above its weight on the international sporting stage. While the grassroots is crucial, how we perform on the world stage is often what captures our hearts and minds as a sporting nation – and it captures the media headlines.

It has been great to see the All Blacks winning again with the recent victories over Ireland and England. But our successes and quality extend well beyond the rugby field.

Just weeks out from the Olympics, research done by the SPARC High Performance team shows that New Zealand is superbly positioned to do well in Beijing.

I am not going to make any predictions of how many medals the kiwis will collect as those sort of forecasts can come back to haunt you. As I read in sports pages of The Herald the other day, “predictions bring either minor gain or loads of pain. The good ones are expected, but they’ll beat you over the head with the bad ones.”

However, what I can say with confidence is that we head into these games with an astonishing 29 athletes or teams ranked in the top eight in the world. And among them, we have nine teams or athletes who have picked up medals in world championships since last year.

Of course we have the likes of the fabulous and inspiring Valerie Villi ranked number one in the world in the shot-put and a top chance for gold in Beijing. There are our world champion rowers Mahe Drysdale and the men’s coxless fours. And would you be betting against Rob Waddell and Nathan Cohen in the men’s double sculls getting up to grab a podium finish? We can’t forget some of our Olympic greats like Barbara Kendall who will be competing in her fifth Olympic Games, and Mark Todd who is coming out of 8 years’ retirement to compete in his sixth.

And there are many others I could talk about who are right up there and in with a shot in Beijing. I am excited about our chances and I hope you are too. You have all played a part in helping create the culture to have things looking so bright for these Olympics and for that I thank you.

So it is time to get underway with the first session. This morning we are fortunate to have Mark Peters, Chief Executive of the Australian Sports Commission, providing us with the challenges and changes in sport and recreation from an Australian perspective. This will be a fascinating and stimulating start to the conference.

I wish you all a successful and interesting two days. You have got some great sessions ahead of you which I’m sure you will find enjoyable and rewarding.


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