Game on: the future of sport
New research from CSIRO and Australian Sports Commission has identified a number of significant sports trends and megatrends likely to occur over the next three decades.
8 April 2013
Glen Paul: G’day, and welcome to CSIROpod, I’m Glen Paul. Sport is a fundamental part of the Australian experience – we play sport, watch sport, bet on sport, and talk sport, more than anything else and it’s been this way since colonial times. When Australian Edward Trickett won the world sculling championship on London’s Thames River in 1876, over 25 000 people lined the Sydney dockside to welcome him home. But the types of sports we watch and play evolve over time. Would the sculling victory generate as much fervour if it happened today? Will we in 30 years time be as keen on Aussie Rules football, or rugby league, as we are now?
To find out, CSIRO and the Australian Sports Commission collaborated on a research project aimed at identifying sports participation over the next three decades, breaking it down into trends and megatrends. Principal Scientist of the report, CSIRO’s Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, joins me on the phone. Stefan, what led you to undertake this project?
Dr Hajkowicz: Well the Australian Sports Commission wanted to have a look at trends and directions in the future of Australian sports, so ultimately they can make better decisions about investment policies, and how to build the sporting future that the nation actually wants.
Glen Paul: So there’s six overarching megatrends in the report, and the first looks at the rise of extreme sports, and is aptly titled From Extreme to Mainstream, is this suggesting that slipping into a wing suit and jumping off a cliff will become more popular to do or watch than a game of cricket?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah, not for me until my old age. But I think we are likely to see adventure sports on the rise, because the thing that we’re trying to get at in this one is the increased importance of self expression through sport and a lifestyle element. We live in a highly safety conscious culture, and we have safety drills at work, we have safety briefings on the airline, we’re thinking safety all the time, and a large part of society has moved into office space jobs in white collar sector.
So a counter reaction to this, that we think is happening, is that especially Generation Y, the younger generations, are really connecting to extreme sports and lifestyle sports, such as skateboarding, BMX, kite boarding, wing suits as you’ve mentioned probably a smaller part of the population, but we’re seeing these sports on the rise. We saw BMX cycling get into the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and there’s a big debate underway about whether or not skateboarding, for example, will find its way into the Rio Olympics in 2016, as kite boarding has been.
It’s interesting that inside those sports fraternities we’re seeing a bit of a split in those parts of the sporting community that really want to get skateboarding into the Olympics, and they think it would be great, but there’s also another counter reaction against that, and some skateboarders saying it’s not really what skateboarding is about, you know it’s about a lifestyle and a culture, more than a formalised Olympic event. So some of those discussions are interesting, but we’re seeing those rise.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that Australia’s best winter Olympics ever was 2010 in Vancouver, where we won gold in the women’s aerial skiing and snowboard half pipe, two sports which are probably more towards the extreme end variances of alpine skiing and snowboarding. So we’ve seen Australia connect to these quite heavily, and I remember on the research we were actually looking at YouTube videos about all the extreme sports, which was a pretty fun way for the team to spend the afternoon, but they have a little map on those YouTube videos about where they’re all getting watched, and Australia was always very intense in watching a lot of the extreme sports videos. So it may be that we have a bit of a natural advantage in that area, or that for some reason Australian’s are connecting more heavily to them.
Glen Paul: Hmm. So do you think those YouTube videos are inspiring people to go jump off a cliff, or do something like that?
Dr Hajkowicz: I think there’s got to be an element of building new communities and engagement around sports. I think some of the extreme surfing videos have several million worth of hits in only one year. Now, only a small fraction of those people might actually want to pick up surfing as a consequence of watching that video, but because there’s so many people doing it, that’s still a significant impact.
I certainly do think social media, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, has created a mechanism via which sports can get communicated and adopted, and people can get engaged around a sport. It’s more so than it has in the past. It’s easy to logon, have a look at the sport, look at other people doing it, and that’s enough to prompt interest. I reckon they are having an impact.
Glen Paul: And you mentioned there the YouTube map showing up Australia as being a place that engages in these kind of sports, but what of other countries that are now on the rise, with the next megatrend relating to wealth increasing in these countries, such as China, and the desire to be competitive, so what does that mean for the rest of the world?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah, look one of the other big megatrends or big shifts in the Australian sporting sector that we picked up is called New Wealth, New Talent, and this looks at the rapid income growth across Asia, but that’s been married by a rapid growth in sporting capabilities. So first of all, you know, we see the Chinese gold medal tally rising very sharply, and no reason why it shouldn’t keep going, they’re performing extremely well at successive Olympics, and sports participation rates are going up in Asia.
A lot of it is associated with income growth. As people get wealthier they have more discretionary expenditure, and part of that expenditure is allocated towards sporting activities, so we’re seeing sports participation and competition definitely on the rise throughout Asia, and it may create opportunities for Australia to market and sell our sports into Asia as well.
Glen Paul: And then there’s the next megatrend, Everybody’s Game, which deals with how Australia and many other OECD countries deal with an ageing population and cultural changes, the report says Fourteen percent of the Australian population is currently over 65 years of age, and is forecast to reach between 23 and 25 percent by the year 2056, so do we go beyond traditional sports such as lawn bowls in the future?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah, I think we do go beyond lawn bowls in the future, but I think what we are seeing is demographic and cultural change, the indicators are that old people aren’t just giving up and stopping playing sport, there’s plenty to suggest that old people are very much wanting to keep playing sport as they get older, and one dataset we’ve got here in front of us that shows that a bit is the attendance at the World Masters Games, they’re like the Olympics for older people, you’ve got to be over 35 to be in it, and each successive year it’s gone up. But in Australia is where it peaks the most in terms of the number of participants that come along, so and all of the times it’s been held in Australia it’s got higher on each successive event, which is I think one indicator.
But there’s a lot of other data that we’ve got that shows that older Australians are still wanting to stay engaged in the professional world, but also the sporting world, so that’s one change we’ve got. We’re also facing cultural diversification in Australia, which is a great thing, but it’s changing the sorts of sports that people might be interested in, because different cultures have different sporting preferences. And some of the icons of the Australian sporting sectors, such as rugby, cricket, aren’t connecting so heavily to diverse cultures we’ve got, as say soccer, or aerobics fitness sports.
Glen Paul: Hmm. And what sort of sports can you see emerging through cultural diversity?
Dr Hajkowicz: Well soccer is the one that seems to be most on the rise. The Australian Bureau of Statistics looks at different sports played by people from different backgrounds, and soccer is one that seems to appeal and connect to a wider variety of cultures, than some of the other sports. That’s one that does seem to be on the rise.
Glen Paul: OK. Then there’s More Than Sport, which looks beyond just playing the game with sport as a mechanism via which Government and industry can attain policy and business objectives. How does that work?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah, we think that there is a big shift, both in the corporate and Government world, to start using sport to achieve health and other social policy objectives. So one of the big challenges in front of Australia, there’s no doubt about it, is the overweight and obesity trend, and all the graphs are pointing upwards, and it’s a major crisis, and I think it’s something that everyone’s keen to see turn around.
Now, sport is being shown, childhood sport especially has been linked to improved health outcomes and better health status in older age. You know, one study done from the United States of 400 or so women looked at how much sporting activity they did when they were kids, and then their health status later in life, and there was a really strong correlation, the more sport you did when you were a kid, the more likely you were to be healthier later in life.
Now there’s cause/effect questions, but there’s enough evidence out there for us to know that physical activity and sporting activity when you’re young helps you stay fitter and healthier when you’re older, so it is an effective mechanism for Australia to start to look at how to deal with obesity and overweight trends, along with all the other programs, such as diet. So that’s one angle, but sport also features in Government policy and other spaces. Sport is something that the Australian Aid Agency used to build linkages to other countries. Sport is an effective mechanism for building international relations. That’s also being done in the United Nations.
There’s a growth in the number of international sports agencies that are using sport as mechanisms for creating peace and good relations between different countries. The United Nations created a special advisor on sport and development for peace in 2001, so that area has grown as well. Sport has also been found by the Australian Institute of Criminology as a possibly useful way to prevent crime, and they found that communities where crime is prevalent have had less crime when there are sporting facilities and sporting festivals in those communities.
Glen Paul: OK. So there’s some all round benefits there. Just getting back to the Government connections, thinking about that, would say our cricketing relationship with Pakistan and India, for example, give us a political edge when dealing with those Governments say over the United States, who don’t have that connection?
Dr Hajkowicz: Look, I mean there’s no way of proving that one way or another, but my guess would be yes, and I think that what we see in the international community is a growth in the use of sports to build those linkages. You know it is formally adopted by the United Nations and recognised as a great way to build relations between countries. I think some questions could be asked, for example, about getting the apartheid system removed from South Africa, what effect the sports ban had on that, and I think the desire to get into the international sporting community was actually quite significant.
Glen Paul: Interesting. The next megatrend is called A Perfect Fit, where people are looking to squeeze time for sport into their already busy lives. How are we going to achieve that?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah. I think one of the things that actually really stood out for me from this study is the massive growth of the fitness sector, and individualised sport. So once upon a time we were getting fit to play sport, we’re now playing sport to get fit, if that makes sense. The primary driver for what we’re doing in a lot of our physical activity is getting fit, and maybe that’s a response to the health issues that the nation is seeing, that people really do want to stay fit. So gym membership is massively on the rise, and has been. The number of gyms in Australia has gone up, and the amount of expenditure on gyms has gone up. The lycra industry has been out of control.
Whilst organised sport has sort of maintained a level, non-organised sport, like going for a run with the iPod on, or a walk, that stuff is growing quite rapidly. Sports like aerobics, and walking, and running, are the sports that have grown most rapidly over the last decade, so that people are playing sport on their own with a primary objective of fitness, and it is placing some of the organised sports under pressures.
Another thing that we talk about under A Perfect Fit is time fragmentation. If we look at statistics on how Australians spend their time, there’s evidence that our time is getting more sliced and diced. A typical day in an Australian’s calendar today has a lot more events and activities crammed into it than it use to in the past, and when our time is sliced and diced like this, we find it hard to commit to that two o’clock Saturday afternoon soccer game every week, or the sailing regatta which can take up half a day. People are less willing to do that. They want to fit a sporting activity neatly into a heavy packed agenda, which might mean that they instead go to the gym, or go for a run in the morning before work, where it fits in, and where it suits them.
Glen Paul: And the last megatrend, one we’ve become familiar with in recent times, you’ve only got to watch the news, Track Suits to Business Suits, with large sponsorship deals from sporting teams and players, business people getting involved in the formation of teams. How is this further going to impact on sport?
Dr Hajkowicz: Yeah. Look, it’s been underway for a while, and a lot of these megatrends are there, but it’s going to continue to play out for quite some time we think. The sports sector is a huge part of the economy, it’s big, off hand it employs some 75 000 Australians, sport is a major sort of generator of revenue, and sports broadcasting is where we’re seeing a lot of that happen. Corporate sponsorship deals are up, too, and if we look at data around the world, the Australasia region is one of the most rapidly growing in terms of sport sponsorship deals.
So it’s creating a lot more market power in the sports sector, and those sports that can respond to the market conditions and sell broadcasting rights are likely to do well, and elite sports people in those sports are likely to get better salaries, and those sports that can’t are going to struggle in that environment.
So the market forces are going to become more intense on sport into the future. But I think also the sort of debate we’re seeing in sport is an interesting one, about whether they adopt the AFL style governance systems, and those sorts of governance models are becoming more formalised, structured, with Boards, that’s what we’ve seen happen to quite a few sports in the past, and I think that sort of thing is more on the agenda for the future, a more structured corporate governance for sport.
Glen Paul: With that thought, do you think extreme sports may then become mainstream sports, driven by market forces?
Dr Hajkowicz: I think there’s potential for that. You now, I think putting BMX into the Olympics was an interesting one, and it helps the sport of cycling stay connected to the younger generation. And Generation Y have a lot of spending power, they have a lot of discretionary expenditure, so they’re connecting to these extreme and adventure sports, and if they do start to find their way into the Olympics more, they’re going to only rise.
Glen Paul: With that rise, perhaps the 1975 futuristic movie, Rollerball, about sport in a corporate controlled future may well end up being played out. Thank you very much for discussing this with me today, Stefan, very interesting stuff.
Dr Hajkowicz: Thank you very much.
Glen Paul: Dr Stefan Hajkowicz. For information find us online at www.csiro.au. You can like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, at CSIROnews.