Ideas for a brighter future for all

Yes! I want to be a Brisbane 2032 Olympian!

Queenslanders love sport and take advantage of our wonderful environment to get out and be active. However, many people face significant barriers that stop them from engaging in sport with the most recently pressing barrier: available disposable income.

In its ten-year strategy ‘Activate! Queensland: 2019-2029’, the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport (DTIS) set a long-term vision to enrich the Queensland way of life through physical activity. As part of the strategy, DTIS is working towards increasing activity rates across the population. In Queensland the FairPlay Program has been instrumental in increasing children’s physical activity and exercise with 60% of Queensland children now active for at least 1 hour per-day. This represents an increase of 41% since the program commenced.

Introducing sport to young people has been shown to have tremendous long-term effects on fostering active lifestyles through adulthood, and FairPlay has delivered sustained and multifaceted social, health and economic outcomes.

Despite the successes of the FairPlay Program to date, the Australian Sports Commission’s AusPlay survey shows the overall participation rate for children aged 0-14 years has decreased from 76.8% in 2016 to 74.6% in 2020.

This decline was partly during the pandemic. More recently, the systemic and incremental increase of interest rates and flow-on effects of inflation’s financial pressures on households have no doubt brought about a new wave of consciously revisiting the notion whether ‘active kids’ can be financially sustained for a lot of families. As social problems shift and change so do technologies and solutions. PrezentBox, for instance, is a fascinating platform that lets family and friends contribute to kids’ activities, instead of ‘buying more stuff’, through a growing network of sport and physical activity providers.

The challenges of being a young elite athlete

Playing sport at a competitive level is significantly more expensive that children’s’ participation at a club level. As case-in-point is my 11-year-old friend who, in the past year has made District, Regional and State teams, and competed at State and National Championships in several sports. The only funding available for children who are ineligible for the sport voucher system, is $400 for 12 years and over. To be eligible for funding under the program guidelines, an athlete must be aged between 12 – 18 years old in the same calendar year as the nominated championships. However, as my young high achieving friend plays at Nationals as an 11-year-old, they are not eligible for funding! The list of prohibitive costs is long, and it comes in the form of fuel, uniforms, equipment, accommodation, flights, car hire. This young athlete works with a physiotherapist and hopes to work with a nutritionist to manage their physical and mental energy effectively. She is actively seeking sponsorship and support even at this young age, her family are seeking school scholarships to assist with fees.

Lessons from the Beijing 2008 Olympics show that finding ways to reduce costs without compromising the quality of sports program is key to making competitive sports more affordable. The Emerging Athlete Pathways subsidy, for instance, provides funding to selected athletes, coaches, and officials from 10 to 18 years-of-age ($500-$800) to help alleviate the costs associated with attending state, national or international events.

Among other key pillars to success in sport, strategies such as working with our communities, seeking out sponsorship opportunities, and optimising resources, could make competitive sports more accessible to all.

Prioritising sports for children and finding ways to make it accessible, means families can help their children develop a lifelong love of physical activity and the numerous benefits it provides. We all know increasing kids’ sport participation can have numerous positive effects on their physical health, mental health, social skills, academic performance, and future opportunities. It can also benefit the sports industry and the economy by promoting interest in sports and providing opportunities for growth and development.

Supporting future Olympians

A weakening economy can limit opportunities available for young athletes to develop their skills and abilities, potentially hindering the development of elite athletes in a country. Just like there is a call for action for facility design and development and sustainable infrastructure and transportation solutions for the Brisbane 2032 Games, Australia needs to develop a pipeline of talented athletes. This requires investment in sports programs, training facilities, and coaching staff to help identify, develop, and train elite-level athletes. Hence, alongside talent identification and development programs, it is essential that families of talented kids are identified and supported. This requires a coordinated effort from government agencies, private organizations, sports organizations, and the public.

Further to this pressing need for support, in my recent work on athlete branding and building pre-elite athlete brand congruence and strategies I know that attracting a sponsor for a young pre-elite athlete requires patience, persistence, and hard work. By building a strong brand, highlighting achievements, networking, and being professional, parents with the help of academies of sport and other stakeholders can increase the likelihood of attracting a sponsor and helping your athlete reach their full potential. As a solution, we are now working on building an AI platform to create a ‘National Youth Sponsorship Program’ where institutes of sport, and state or national associations among other stakeholders help match young talented athletes with a pool of sponsors to support the future Olympians of our nation now that it’s needed the most!


Dr Popi SotiriadouAssociate Professor Popi Sotiriadou is an international expert in Managing High Performance Sport. Her experiences span from ‘Sports Infrastructure and Facility Management’ to athlete attraction, development, retention, transition, dual careers, performance or retirement.  She’s passionate about inclusive, safe and enabling environments and venues for sports participation for children, older people, indigenous people or people with disabilities of any gender and ethnicity. Popi’s research focuses on the ways ‘Digital Innovation and Technologies’ can help sport organisations/providers to advance enabling programs, policies, and events/competitions.


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