As children, many of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s will recall playing sport on the street. Deserted suburban roads were often turned into make-shift tennis courts, cricket wickets, or football pitches. Balls were treasured commodities, bats were often held together with gaffer-tape and PVA glue, while racquets more often than not, had strings missing or broken. Representing the local community club on the grass athletics track or rugby field was a rite of passage for most children, with many home sewing machines churning out athletic singlets or repairing scarce football jerseys, which were worn with community pride.

Last week, Wellington City Mission, with the support of the Association, organised a free-of-charge “Play Day” for primary school children at the National Hockey Stadium in Wellington. The concept, developed by Association Board Member and City Mission Community Development Manager Ray Tuffin, was to provide children from all backgrounds with an opportunity to experience a number of traditional Kiwi sports in a relaxed, fun environment, in many respects harking back to the era when community sport was about being "part of the game" and cost was not a barrier to participation.

Over 80 children from around Wellington City took part in "Play Day", with many parents stating how happy and moving the experience was for their children. However, for some the “pay-to-play” environment of organised community sport today is a serious issue. A number of parents said they’ve pulled their children out of all sport due to the cost as they, or their partner, have lost their job or have had their hours reduced. A number of parents have also taken themselves out of sport due to cost. Some were tearful as they are just finding it so difficult to explain to their children why they cannot play sport with their mates.

The increasing commercialisation of community sport as an integral part of the elite-sport development eco-system, has meant that for some children there is an increasing social-stigma attached to participation without the "right gear", let alone their parents being able to pay for the costs of accessing the coaching and facilities provided by their local community clubs.

This Association has spoken to the Minister for Sport and Recreation and the Opposition spokesperson for Sport and Recreation about the need for direct financial support for Kiwi sporting families. (You can read more about the Association’s proposal here). As noted in an earlier blog post (here), making funding "available" is one thing, making it "accessible" is quite another. In addition, National Sporting Organisations need to re-consider whether the costs imposed on community clubs which support their code (e.g. national affiliation fees) and the expenses they support, could be better utilised at the grass-roots of their game.

As a sporting nation, we can do better.