It’s time the pyramid was turned upside down – why the Crawford Report has got it right

If you think of sport as a pyramid, there are us sporting try-hards at the bottom; those that do it for fun, fitness and friendship. The base of the pyramid is wide representing the large numbers of playing sport (and let’s not forget the coaches and officials and administrators) at this level. As you move up the pyramid, the level of performance gets higher and the number of people decreases. This is quite similar to organisational structures that show a CEO and executive at the top of the pyramid, middle management in the middle, then frontline staff and finally clients at the base. Contemporary management speak recommends that the pyramid be turned upside down (Bhote, 2002) so that the most important people are at the top. I think this applies to sport, and the Crawford Report seems to support this notion.

Last week it was all about Tiger. Yes, apparently Tiger Woods was in town. This week, there are reports of children filling golf lessons and driving ranges around Australia. But will the “Tiger effect” bring about a long term benefit for golf? Or a long term benefit for those children who might otherwise be playing golf on a computer at home? This phenomenon is referred to as the trickle-down or demonstration effect. It asserts that good performance at the top (assuming the pointy bit is at the top) encourages more people to take up sport at lower levels.

There is a demonstrated link between funding levels and success at the elite level (Hogan and Norton, 2000), but there is no empirical evidence to support that this success “trickles down”. The trickle-down effect has been used to justify a greater proportion of funding going to elite rather than community sport. Interestingly, as far back as the mid-70s it was suggested that “a causal connection between excellence at the top and breadth of participation cannot simply be assumed” (Coles, 1975). This concept is overly simplistic and too generalised to be universally successful (Payne, Reynolds, Brown, & Flemming, 2003). It appears that sport recognises (albeit without acknowledging) this, with elite sports now recognising that owning their grassroots participation structures will contribute to their elite success (Crawford, 2009).

Yes, elite athletes inspire and motivate us. Yes, there are more children playing tennis in February after the Australian Open each year. Yes, it’s great that Australia performs well on the international sports arena. But there is no evidence to support that this translates into a more active and healthier Australia; the current obesity figures suggest not.

Remember the Sydney Olympics? Sydney’s successful bid for the 2000 Olympic Games included a claim that, among other benefits, the event would create increased participation in sport (Sydney Olympic Games Review Committee, 1990). Indeed, the Australian Sports Commission viewed the Games as an opportunity to harness motivation and to promote grassroots sport (Houlihan, 1997). Despite these good intentions and some AUD$2.3 billion spent on the conduct of the event (The Audit Office of New South Wales, 1999), there were no programs specifically conducted for the enduring benefit of sport organisations. There were some anecdotal findings that the event created a greater interest in sport (Gordon & Hart, 2001); everyone was going to take up trampolining. However, there was no evidence that the event had any impact on sport participation or sport clubs in Australia (Armstrong, Bauman, Ford, & Davies, 2002; Cameron, 2001; Veal & Toohey, 2005).

The recommendations for physical education to be more prominent in the curriculum, after school programs and stronger sporting organisations will contribute to this strong ‘foundation’. The discussion about recreation, commercial sport and national sporting organisations (NSOs) is interesting; with the Crawford Report recommending NSOs seek to bring participants outside of their structures into their membership. Traditional sport and their structures shouldn’t own everything. Many of us would remember the Active Australia program, where the Australian Sports Commission attempted to fund a range of organisations. The program had mixed results and I believe this is due to the lack of infrastructure of many organisations that deliver recreation and physical activity. There may be room to move to an alternative structure of funding and membership in the future, but for its many flaws, the federated sports model has capacity to deliver.

As a result of the Crawford Report we may not be in the top five at the Olympics, but we may be on our way to a healthier nation. And who knows what might trickle up?

Danya Hodgetts is completing her PhD examining how major events can be leveraged to create legacies for community sport. She is not an elite athlete.

References
Bhote, K. R. (2002). The ultimate Six Sigma: beyond quality excellence to total business excellence. New York: AMACOM/American Management Association.
Coles, A. (1975). Report of the Australian Sports Institutes Study Group. Canberra: Department of Tourism and Recreation, AGPS.
Crawford, D. (2009). The Future of Sport in Australia [Crawford Report]. Retrieved November, 18, 2009. from http://www.sportpanel.org.au/internet/sportpanel/publishing.nsf/Content/crawford-report-full.
Hogan, K., & Norton, K. (2000). The ‘price’ of Olympic gold. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 3(2), 203-218.
Payne, W. R., Reynolds, M., Brown, S., & Flemming, A. (2003). Sports role models and their impact on participation in physical activity. Retrieved September 21, 2009, from http://www.sportdevelopment.org.uk/sportrolemodel2002.pdf
The Audit Office of New South Wales. (1999). Performance Audit Report. The Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games: Review of Estimates. Retrieved November 12, 2009. from http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/publications/reports/performance/1999/olympics/olympics99.pdf.

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Danya Hodgetts

Dr Danya Hodgetts is a Sport Management consultant, educator and researcher with more than 20 years experience in the sport industry. Danya specialises in developing and implementing innovative education, training and professional development programs for national and state sporting bodies, TAFE and University.

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