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Sport for young Kiwis: a National priority

John Key MP

National Party Leader

30 June 2008

Sport for young Kiwis: a National priority

Speech to Waitakere Electorate Lunch, Henderson

Thank you for being here today. I'd like to acknowledge my caucus colleagues Murray McCully, Paula Bennet, and Tim Groser.

In recent months my speeches have focused on my vision for New Zealand, National's economic plan, our plans for fighting crime, for increasing education standards, for improving our health system,and other key issues. Those are very important themes and I will continue to address them in the next few months.

Today, though, I'm going to talk specifically about sport, and the vital role it can play for our young people.

This is a subject I feel strongly about and that I raised in my first State of the Nation speech as National Party Leader.

Most New Zealanders would probably say this is a sporting nation. And though that may be open to debate, what is not debatable is the fact that if New Zealanders can increase participation in sport then we have the capacity to significantly improve their lives.

The results, in terms of healthier, fitter people, who are less of a cost on our health system, are obvious.

Less visible is the improvement in our attitudes, our spirit, and our culture that an increased engagement in sport can bring.

I think playing sport is an important part of growing up in New Zealand. Kids who are out there playing rugby or netball or soccer or cricket, or any other sport, aren't just getting fitter and healthier. They are learning about teamwork and co-operation, about playing fair, and about winning and losing.

Regular involvement in organised sport is habit-forming. The kids who play sport through their childhood and teen years are much more likely to be the adults who keep fit in later years.

I also see participation in sport as one of the ways in which we can improve our national attitude to competition.

I want Kiwis to see themselves as a nation of winners, prepared to do what it takes to compete with the rest of the world and win.

I want to put the word "winning" back into the national vocabulary. And I think we can make a significant difference to troubled young people if we can get more of them playing sport.

Those involved in youth justice tell me that young people who are in organised sport are much less likely to get mixed up in criminal offending. Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has said that 'a kid in sport stays out of court'.

For kids with difficult home lives, sport gives them something constructive to do, to fill the void they have in their spare time. Otherwise, the temptation is to fill this void by hanging around the streets, drifting into drugs and getting into trouble.

For that reason alone, a greater investment in getting young people playing sport is justified.

I am not going to talk to you today about National's policy on high performance sport - although that is important. Having medal winners as role models is a critical part of motivating young people to participate themselves.

National has been doing considerable thinking about the area of high performance sport, and we will have something to say closer to the election.

For today, let me say that as a government, we intend to take very seriously our responsibility to support those who participate at the very top end of international competition. That's because National views their success as important, not just to sport, but to our country as a whole.

Kids' declining participation in sport

Today I want to focus on where it all begins: with Kiwi kids.

It's no great revelation that New Zealand school children could do with a bit more sport in their lives. Research shows that one in three of them are obese or overweight. While more than a third of them are inactive.

I talk to a lot of parents who are worried that their child is, or might end up in, one of those unhealthy categories. They tell me their kids would rather sit in front of a computer than practice down at the nets.

That's a real worry. It's something our country has to change.

Labour's approach

Labour's response to this emerging problem has been to create a large number of strategies, interdepartmental working groups, social marketing plans, and initiatives.

From this tide of paper and bureaucracy has emerged a series of programmes and campaigns. I've counted at least eight. Be it 'Push Play', 'Mission On' or 'Healthy Eating, Healthy Action', every campaign has come with its own 'brand', its own series of meetings, its own action plans.

Many of these programmes have been based on expensive advertising campaigns telling parents things like 'make sure your child eats fruit and vegetables.' As if that makes it easier to convince your five-year-old to eat her broccoli!

True, in among the marketing-speak there's been a few sensible ideas. Ideas like putting water fountains and sports co-ordinators in schools. It's hard to argue with those ideas. It's also not surprising that those ideas didn't come from advisors sitting in Wellington. They came from schools and sports clubs at the coalface.

And for every good idea there have been at least two fairly dubious ideas.

I'm thinking, for example, of the 'Mission On' website that the Prime Minister launched in February. Kids who log on to this website are encouraged to play a series of animated computer games.

One of these games is Cool Moves. It involves a child using six keys on the keyboard to move an animated character through a series of hip-hop moves on screen. All of this while sitting in their chair and twiddling the fingers of their left hand. How that can possibly be seen as making kids more active is beyond me.

Other ideas have been bureaucratic in the extreme. For example, there's a 'Mission On' initiative to get Wellington officials to develop nutrition and activity plans for their workplaces. Work on these plans has apparently started with baseline questionnaires, organisational audits, and evaluations of those questionnaires and audits.

I'm sure all of this seems very worthy to someone tucked away in an office in Wellington. But it's a very long way from kids getting a ball and kicking it around a field or throwing it through a hoop. It's a classic Labour case of resources being tied up in the back office and not making it through to the front line.

A National Government will have a much more straight-forward approach.

We will focus on a simple goal: getting more school kids regularly participating in sports teams and clubs. We will meet this goal by working with the community organisations that are already in regular contact with these kids - schools and sports clubs.

The role of schools

Schools are the catchment zone in which we can ensure all young New Zealanders are introduced to participation in sport.

Students get involved in school sport in three main ways.

1. Activity as part of the school day

The first is as a casual part of the school day, whether it's kids throwing a Frisbee around at lunchtime or going for a nature walk during science class. Those things are great and schools should encourage that kind of activity.

I'm not convinced, though, that the government should spend a whole lot of money telling schools to do more of this. I can't see why, for example, taxpayer dollars were spent on delivering schools an 'Active Schools' CD with "seven funky tracks for classroom use" and a CD Rom with "interactive ideas and options for physical activity".

I think teachers are smart enough to encourage physical activity without using that sort of guff. I'd suggest that if we really want to help schools get kids running around at lunchtime then we should apply some common sense and make sure they have decent sports equipment.

2. Physical Education Classes

The second way schools encourage kids' sport is through designated physical education classes.

The Government requires schools, particularly primary schools, to give priority to regular physical activity for their students as part of their core teaching curriculum. That's as it should be and National will support that requirement. We will work with schools to ensure physical education classes are valued and of a high standard.

But, again, I'm not convinced that schools should be forced to fill the school day with more hours of PE. Schools have limited time to teach their students and every extra hour of PE has an opportunity cost.

National does not want to weigh schools down with ever-more teaching responsibilities to fulfil during the course of the school day. So we won't be advocating an increase in core physical education requirements.

3. Extra-curricular sports teams and clubs

Instead, National wants schools to encourage more of their students to take part in organised sports teams and clubs outside school hours.

Schools are a unique gateway for kids wanting to get involved in a sports team or club. Sometimes, particularly at secondary school, those teams are run by the school itself. Historically, these teams have played an important role in the character and pride of many of New Zealand's schools.

But there are real challenges confronting this kind of school sport in 2008. Factors like dramatically increased paperwork, a falling number of male teachers, and changing teacher attitudes to managing and coaching school sporting teams have made it more challenging for schools to deliver sport for students.

Some schools are able to pay for sports co-ordinators and coaches. Others are constantly struggling to find the coaches, referees, and volunteers needed to support a range of teams in the school, let alone promote those teams to students. This creates a barrier between kids and sport. It's time that barrier came down.

National will, over time, give schools additional resources to ensure more students can take part in extra-curricula organised sport.

Unlike Labour, we won't make schools apply to multiple funds and fill in copious forms to access these resources. And we won't tell them how best to spend the money.

We will, instead, give them sports funding to use as they see fit - be it buying equipment and uniforms, hiring sports co-ordinators, or paying for service contracts with local sports clubs. We will simply ask schools to ensure that any extra dollars we give result in more students actually taking part in organised sport.

The role of sports clubs

But schools aren't, and never should be, the only players in the delivery of sporting programmes. Even large secondary schools can have difficulty providing the whole range of sporting options students might be interested in.

Instead, the school's role can be to give a friendly shove in the right direction - perhaps by introducing students to a local squash, swimming, or gymnastics club, or encouraging them to join the local league or hockey team.

At primary school level, in particular, many schools just don't have enough students and teachers to support a range of sports teams.

This is where sports clubs have an important role to play. New Zealand's sports clubs occupy a proud place in the history of our country. They have long-standing traditions and extensive networks in their communities. They bring together people of different ages, abilities and walks of life.

In many sports codes and many schools, clubs are the chief mechanism by which sports teams are engaged in local competitions.

Despite this vital role, many of our sports clubs are struggling. They are beset with challenges - not just the constant need to raise funds, but the need to find coaches, administrators, and other officials required to keep sport alive.

Some clubs are able to cover funding shortfalls by leaning more heavily on their communities for help or raising subs. Others simply don't have that option.

For many families, taking part in a sports club can be prohibitively expensive: football boots, netball uniforms, and transport all cost money. It can be hard to find a coach to take the team. In my own electorate, and around the country, many people come up to me with the same observation.

A couple of years ago, after-school sport for children in Otahuhu collapsed. The suburb's five decile-1 primary schools stopped organising sports at a local recreation centre because families couldn't afford the fee increase from $2 a head for each game to $4-$5 a head.

Too many kids in our poorest communities are being excluded from sport because their parents can't afford it. These are the kids who need it most. I am determined to turn that around. We can't hope to see sport thrive in this country without healthier sports clubs.

National will ensure that more of the government's sport spending makes it through to the sports clubs at the front line.

National will be flexible in its thinking about how that funding is best delivered and distributed. Our guiding priority will be to make sure the dollars spent result in a measurable increase in the number of kids taking part in regular sporting activity.

In some parts of New Zealand, regional sports trusts may be a significant player in this process. We do understand the important role they play. However, we will be asking the trusts, too, to buy into our central strategy of moving as much resource as possible to the places where sport is actually played.

New funding priorities

The two pledges I have made today will require taxpayer investment. National will make that investment because we believe getting more Kiwis playing sport will support the well-being of our families and will reinforce the values we believe in.

You might ask "where will the money come from?" I am confident the funding can be found from within budgets currently tied up in anti-obesity and physical activity promotion programmes.

A National Government will bring about a significant shift in emphasis as to where this government funding is spent.

For Labour, fighting obesity is a complex business. It's a business that seems to be spawning an industry of policy analysts, communications managers, human resource consultants, and book-keepers, all built around highly expensive advertising and promotional programmes.

Examples of poor priorities

Every dollar we spend in those areas is a dollar we could spend on codes, schools, and clubs that have bats, balls, sports facilities, and gear ready to ensure more New Zealanders can take part in sport.

If I am Prime Minister, I will give my Ministers a clear sense of priorities about how these funds should be spent: I want more sports coaches and equipment and fewer advisors and reports.

My team has already had a careful look to see what scope for savings exists. The results, even given the limited amount of publicly available information, reveal a skewed sense of priority.

The first thing that is striking is the number of overlapping programmes and initiatives. It's hard to understand why we need at least eight different government programmes in pursuit of what are essentially two goals - encouraging people to eat healthier and exercise more.

The other thing that is striking is how little of the budgeted millions actually manage to flow through the bureaucracy and into the schools and community organisations working with young people.

Take Sport and Recreation New Zealand (Sparc). This is the government agency charged with promoting physical activity and supporting elite athletes. Last year, Sparc had 86 full-time staff. Fourteen of those staff were paid more than $150,000 a year, while 47 of them earned more than $100,000 a year.

You would hope those staff were busy putting funds directly into regional sports trusts, clubs, and national sporting bodies. But no, almost a third of the money Sparc receives - $35 million in fact - never makes it outside the Wellington office.

Instead it gets spent on internal costs associated with running Sparc, and on supporting and developing programmes and social marketing campaigns.

One big cost for example is the Sparc website. This year Sparc will spend $5.5 million on its website. And between 2006 and 2010, Sparc will spend $11.5 million on its website. That's enough to give almost $6,000 worth of sporting equipment to every primary school in New Zealand. Or to buy a decent cricket set for every family in Waitakere City.

Even the money that is designated for sports clubs doesn't come in the form of direct grants. Some of it is, instead, spent on "capability development". Sparc kindly provides, for example, reports for people in sports clubs to spend their spare time reading. These 'capability resources' include a web link to purchase a book on "Winning the Red Tape Game". That book is available to clubs at a cost of $44.

Sparc also commissions research. In 2006, for example, they funded a study into volunteers. This report came up with a series of recommendations that can only be described as patronising, stating, for example, that "Organisations with Maori sport volunteers should value this group orientation and take note of the need to build relationships", and "Organisations should not underestimate the power of asking someone to volunteer. Included in an organisation's recruitment strategy should be an 'asking' strategy".

Sparc certainly has a fondness for strategies. They have, for example, invested financially in the development of 33 regional and district strategies, numbering 1,330 pages in total.

Much of Sparc's funding is delivered through a lengthy selection process designed to pick projects that "meet Sparc's vision". While there's no doubt some of this funding ends up in worthy initiatives, I'm sure people in sports clubs can think of better things to do than constantly filling in funding applications for Sparc.

That passion for form-filling is reflected in other government agencies - the Ministry of Health's $32 million 'Healthy Eating, Healthy Action' programme, for example. Much of this funding is distributed to district health boards to spend on physical activity and nutrition programmes, a huge amount of which is soaked up in project management, communications, and co-ordination.

By the time the money has gone through the merry-go-round it can end up being spent on tiny projects such as a $1,300 worm farm, garden and puzzles for a Wellington school, $5,000 for café equipment for a Manukau school, or $4,000 for a dishwasher and kitchen equipment for a school in Northland.

It's hard to see why projects of that type should require an exhaustive application and review process. And it's also hard to see how they will actually prevent kids from becoming obese adults.

An incoming National Government will have a look at all these programmes, regardless of which portfolio technically funds them, to ensure we get the balance right between funding promotional programmes and telling people to lead healthier lifestyles, and funding actual sports organisations with actual facilities at which sport is actually being played.

It's clear that with a firm sense of priorities, and a disciplined approach to taxpayer funds, National will be able to free up meaningful additional funding for schools and sports clubs.

We must all play our part

I am not trying to signal here that an incoming National Government can or will solve all of the problems of schools, clubs, or sports codes. Clubs, regional sports trusts, and other sports organisations will have to play their part in meeting the challenges ahead.

We must improve the efficiency of our sporting expenditure through a willingness to look at amalgamations and the sharing of facilities. New partnerships between sporting organisations, schools and local authorities will need to be considered if we are to get the best sporting bang for our buck.

Local and regional councils will have a role, especially in ensuring communities have adequate facilities where sport can be played and practised.

Parents have an important responsibility here, too. Whether it's encouraging their child to play sport, helping them get to the game, coaching a team, or asking how the game went, their involvement can make a huge difference to young people.

Kids' sport relies on a base of adults prepared to volunteer their time and expertise. That spirit of volunteerism should be supported and encouraged. I would like to see more Kiwis putting their hand up for a role in the sporting lives of our young people. And I'd like to see further business support for sports codes, and teams.

I hope National's leadership on this issue, combined with our suite of charity policies, will encourage more organisations and individuals to donate their resources and time to kids' sport.


But even after all this has been done, it's clear that government has a significant funding role to ensure more Kiwi kids get hooked into sport.

Labour's approach to these issues has been top-down, government-knows-best. Their programmes have been flush with bureaucracy and patronising messages. They want to regulate and control.

National will take a far more practical approach. We will focus sporting dollars where they make the difference - at the front line in schools and sports clubs.

We will, over time, give schools additional resources for ensuring more students can take part in extra-curricula organised sport. And we will ensure that more of the government's sport spending makes it through to the sports clubs at the front line.

We will do this by carefully re-prioritising government funds currently dedicated to a host of bureaucratic anti-obesity campaigns.

In doing so we will ensure that more Kiwi kids take part in sport. And that is something we think all Kiwis will be happy to support.


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