Kids’ sport may fail to get across the family budget line as cost of living soars

Australians love their sport, but as families try to rein in their day-to-day costs, extracurricular activities are being booted and forcing more children to sit on the sidelines.

Almost $13.5 billion was spent by Australians on fees for participation in sport or physical activity over the past year.

More than $3 billon was spent on fees for children’s participation in sport, and more than $10.4 billion for adults.

That is compared to $2.3 billion for children and $8.4 billion for adults in 2016.

The average cost to participate in sport is about $970 per year, with more than half of that chewed up in basic membership costs, a recent AusPlay survey found.

With fuel, grocery, and other living expenses going through the roof, parents are reconsidering spending money on their children’s organised sport.

Leah Cooper’s two teenage daughters Lalitha and Elainia are talented netballers in Mitchell in south-west Queensland.

They pay at least $1,790 a season in combined membership and representative fees, and necessities like shoes, but have made their uniforms last as long as they can.

Saturday game fees are extra, and then there are the travel costs, which for regional Australians are nothing unusual.

The nearest, higher standard competition is in Roma about an hour away, so the increase in fuel prices has left the Coopers feeling the pinch.

Two girls smiling at the camera in front of Aboriginal rock art.
Sisters Lalitha and Elainia Cooper sometimes take a two-hour round trip to play netball. (Supplied: Leah Cooper)

“It’s representative netball, as well as the Saturday school netball in Roma. So not only are we travelling away to carnivals, but we’re also going into training, which is an hour away, a two-hour round trip,” Ms Cooper said.

“I think the last carnival we attended was a Toowoomba carnival, and that was when the price of fuel just skyrocketed. So it was over $200 just to get down to Toowoomba and back, which is crazy.

“It’s not only fuel, but also the running cost of the car as well. The more kilometres you do, the more services you need to do to keep the car up to scratch.

Two kids in soccer uniform one holding a soccer ball smiling at camera.
The University of Southern Queensland Football Club has provided options to help families with the cost of sport. (Supplied: USQ FC)

Ms Cooper’s burn in her hip pocket is also being felt at the club level.

A survey by the not-for-profit Australian Sports Foundation in September last year found about 50 per cent of clubs were seeing a decline in membership due to financial burden.

The president of the University of Southern Queensland Football Club, Tiffany Burstow, has seen the strain on club members.

“I had a new family come and one of their big deciding factors on whether they were going to register their children for sport was how many away games they would have to go to because of the cost of fuel.

“We have had a fair few families ask us about payment plans because of the costs of working out the registration fee all in one go.”

Health impact

The Australian Sports Foundation’s survey found the biggest decline in participation was among children aged 11 to 18.

CEO Patrick Walker said the dropout rates were alarming.

A man holding a soccer ball smiling at the camera.
Patrick Walker says more needs to be done to close barriers to sports participation. (Supplied)

The long-term ramifications are serious.

One in four children and adolescents aged 2-17 were overweight or obese, according to 2018 statistics by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

“Physical activity has a direct link to physical health and obesity levels,” Mr Walker said.

Cutting the cost

Governments around Australia are trying to reduce the disparity between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to participation in sport.

A report by Sport Australia in 2018 found 58 per cent of children from low income families participated in sport, compared with 84 per cent of children from higher income families.

New South Wales has an Active Kids program which provides two $100 vouchers for parents, guardians, and carers of school-enrolled children to use towards sport and recreation costs each year.

To be eligible, applicants need a Medicare card.

The Queensland Government offers FairPlay vouchers up to $150 per child to help with the cost of membership or registration fees.

The eligibility criteria says a parent or guardian needs a valid Services Australia health care card or pensioner concession card.

Those who are not eligible, like the Cooper family, are doing what they can to cut costs.

“If we can stay with family wherever we go, we try to.

“It all adds up.”

The University of Southern Queensland Football Club is recycling equipment for members who need it most.

Multiple pairs of football boots with Indigenous artwork lined up.
Some clubs are recycling old equipment as a way to cut down on the cost of sport. (ABC News: Bindi Bryce)

“Soccer boots, because of the supply, have been a lot harder to come by, and because of that they also have gone up quite significantly in price,” Ms Burstow said.

“We’ve started a little program where we’ve got people who drop in their old soccer boots, and then we’re able to pass those on and donate those to families who are struggling to afford boots for their kids.”

Patrick Walker said despite everyone’s love for sport, it remained severely underfunded.

“More needs to be done, but it’s certainly good to see some of the state governments stepping in,” he said.

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