Children’s sport proving too costly for some families as financial pressures mount

Aug 9, 2023 | 0 comments

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As nine-year-old Amelia Ellis and her father James peer through the fence at her old netball courts, they reminisce on when she used to play.

“I just miss my friends,” Amelia said.

However, Mr Ellis can no longer afford his daughters’ netball registration fees, leaving them both disappointed.

“Amelia also has a few neurodivergent issues, in which sport has been recommended as a therapy, in a way, for her,” he said.

The single dad began studying at the start of this year which meant he had to reduce his work hours. This, coupled with the rising cost of living, meant netball had to be sacrificed.

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been definitely feeling the pinch with things beyond, I guess, necessities … even necessities like rent,” Mr Ellis said.

“[Sport] was kind of one of the first things that got dropped when we started feeling the pinch.”

A group of people waiting kids sport sitting on the sidelines.

Australian Sports Commission data shows the ACT has the highest median cost of children’s sport in the country, with families spending on average more than $1,000 on activities per year.

And as the cost of living continues to bite, more families like the Ellises are struggling to pay sports fees.

Elite level price tag too hefty for some

It’s not just at a community level where sporting families are feeling the pinch.

Kylie Higgins is the registrar of a local National Premier League soccer club — the highest-level competition in Canberra — where her two kids play.

Playing at the elite level comes with a hefty price tag; one that she said had become too much for some families despite their child’s talent.

“I know that there are children whose parents say, ‘look, that’s not an option, Premier League is not an option for us at this point’,” Ms Higgins said.

“So, they then look for a more community-based club, which is potentially 10 per cent of the cost.”

Woman with long hair wearing puffer jacket.

But the club is doing what it can to help attract and retain talented young players in the competition by implementing payment plans.

“We’re very fortunate that we are able to be flexible [with payment], but at the same time, we’ve got bills to pay,” Ms Higgins said.

“I think the general assumption about Canberra is that it’s a public service town that’s full of well-off people and that is true to a degree.

“But there’s lots of regular people here too, that have kids that want to access sport.”

Charity giving kids every chance to play

In other jurisdictions, including Queensland and New South Wales, the government has a voucher scheme which helps parents pay junior sports registration fees.

A similar scheme is missing in the ACT.

“If there was a voucher thing it would definitely make us feel a little bit better and able to do something,” Mr Ellis said.

Canberra father Michael James discussed the cost of sport with his friends a few years ago.

“If you’re balancing putting money on the table for dinner and paying to get your children to turn up to junior sport, it’s a tough gig, it’s a really tough gig,” he said.

After identifying a need for a voucher-like scheme specifically for disadvantaged families, he, with a group of other parents, took matters into his own hands and created Every Chance to Play to make sports more affordable.

The charity — which is backed by the ACT government — has a trusted referrer scheme, which identifies and provides money for children who would otherwise not participate in sports.

A man standing in front of a playing field.

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, the organisation will start putting kids like Amelia back on the sporting field this summer season.

“I think we could be realistically looking at putting 4,000 to 5,000 kids through in three or four years’ time,” Mr James said.

“It doesn’t matter, if it’s one kid that gets out there that otherwise wouldn’t do it, it’s worth it.

“You’re going to have mum helping out on the bench, dad may be running the sidelines, someone doing the barbecue … it’s really that integration of the child in the sport, and try and bring the family along.”

Free activities helping more kids access sport

A woman giving a thumbs up in the middle of a cardboard sign that is cut out like a frame.

The financial barriers faced by families have been recognised by the Physical Activity Foundation.

Its Game on Canberra series — which is also supported by the ACT government — will visit eight suburbs each year for the next three years, bringing four physical activity events to each suburb.

Physical Activity Foundation CEO Lucille Bailie said the aim was to address as many of the barriers to sport participation as possible.

“We are stripping away as many of the barriers as we possibly can; we want to make physical activity as accessible as possible,” Ms Bailie said.

“You don’t have to look great, you don’t have to have expensive clothing and sporting goods, you just need to turn up and participate in physical activity for free and have some fun.

“People really value free and accessible physical activity opportunities, and what we know is that can spark an interest in ongoing physical activity.”

Abubakarr Fofanah standing in front of netball court.

Abubakarr Fofanah says initiatives that provide free sporting options are wonderful as his son can benefit. (ABC News: Anthea Moodie)

For father Abubakarr Fofanah it’s made all the difference, with his son recently enjoying one of the free sporting events in the north Canberra suburb of Amaroo.

“Now [with] the way things are, sports are very expensive, especially for us as a family,” Mr Fofanah said.

“So, initiatives like this, I think are wonderful.”


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