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Do Recreation and Sport Pass the Public Good Test?

Press Release – New Zealand Recreation Association

Do Recreation and Sport Pass the Public Good Test? Local Government Changes Spark Recreation Sector Opinion29 March 2012

Do Recreation and Sport Pass the Public Good Test?
Local Government Changes Spark Recreation Sector Opinion

It’s Thursday afternoon and Wellington’s Karori Swimming Pool is a buzz of activity. Swim School lessons are keeping at least 50 children busy, while adults enjoy lane swimming or relaxing in the spa pool. Groups of happy littlies are splashing around the toddler’s pool, while their older siblings scream down the hydroslide. The local swim team is stretching on poolside, preparing for their team practice. It’s an after school scene that is likely familiar in most communities around the country. People coming together to participate in recreation – the benefits of which are many for the community, and the country at large.

Benefits of Recreation
According to a Sport NZ (formerly SPARC) report released last year (The Economic and Social Value of Sport and Recreation to NZ1), the sport and recreation sector contributes the same amount to the New Zealand economy as the dairy sector’s domestic component, with each contributing around $5 billion, or 2.8% of GDP. But the economic value forms only part of the picture. The physical and social benefits are also significant. As outlined in the report, “Physically active people have higher work productivity and better health outcomes than people who are not active. The 2007/08 Active New Zealand Survey found that 20 per cent of adults are physically active because of participation in sport and recreation. Estimating a dollar value of this group’s increased productivity and improved health, minus the costs from accidental deaths and serious sport and recreation injuries, produces an estimate of additional benefits of $1.0 billion.”

For further confirmation about the benefits of recreation, NZ Recreation Association (NZRA) turns to a recent study released in February 2012 by NZ-based UMR Research which pointed out that one way to ensure more happiness in your life is to increase your physical activity. While most Kiwis would admit that they feel better when they are more active, NZRA takes this premise a step further in stating that a population that is physically active and healthy has a trickle-down effect on the economy, creating a stronger more vibrant community. NZRA CEO, Andrew Leslie, comments, “This latest UMR research justifies our work as an organisation that advocates the importance of recreation to our health as a nation. But to go even further, we would argue that when communities of people are more active, not only are they happier, they are healthier, both physically and economically.”

Leslie goes on to link these benefits back to Local Government. “As the major provider of recreation-related activities and facilities, Local Government is also a primary influencer on the happiness and health of a community,” he adds. Leslie feels strongly about the importance of articulating the wider social benefits of recreation, especially in this new Local Government climate, in order to ensure that there is an understanding at a political level of why investment in the recreation sector is so vital.

Local Government Changes
What would you think if council support for your community’s swimming pool was threatened, resulting in fewer options for the public to enjoy the pool? Changes to the Local Government Act, passed last week, could mean just that. To avoid this outcome, NZRA believes that members of the recreation and sport sector, have a job to do. Those in the industry need to take a firm stance now to ensure that councils continue to view recreation-related activities as essential public services, recreation facilities as key infrastructure and recreation as a positive contributor to our local and national communities.

NZRA sees Local Government’s announcement of changes as a call to action for those working in the recreation and sport sector. Former Minister Nick Smith has outlined changes to the Local Government Act through the removal of the four well-beings (social, economic, environment and cultural well-being of communities); to be replaced by a new mandate of ‘providing good quality local infrastructure, public services and regulatory functions at the least possible cost to households and business’.

Leslie comments, “Whilst none of Nick Smith’s announcement was unexpected, I think it is a big wake up call for the recreation and sport sector. NZRA has been vocal in the past about how integral councils are to the provision of recreation and sport within communities and how we need to better articulate the full value that our sector provides to this country.”

He went on to observe that the recreation and sport sector is often positioned within the ‘softer’ areas of a council’s mandate, the very areas that are now under threat of being squeezed out of the Local Government world. “Our job now is to ensure that expenditure on recreation and sport is maintained – the argument being that they are producing a ‘public good’,” Leslie added, making reference to Smith’s comment that the “key new test that councils will need to apply in the way that they spend money is that there is a public good.” Leslie believes this is an opportunity for the sector to engage with local authorities and others in the industry in planning for and ensuring a strong future for recreation and sport in this country.

A closer look at some of the specific findings of the Sport NZ study makes it easier to understand just how highly valued sport and recreation are in New Zealand:

• 9 out of 10 (92%) young people and 8 out of 10 (83%) adults take part in one or more sport and recreation activities.
• There are more than 15,000 sport and recreation clubs in New Zealand.
• Over 35,000 people (36,831) work in sport and recreation industries.
• On average Local Government spends $800 million on operating sport and recreation facilities in New Zealand.
• Including the value of social and personal benefits, the total value of sport and recreation to New Zealanders is around $12.2 billion.

Granted there is much yet to be played out, but it’s a given there will be a different Local Government environment in the not too distant future. Leslie argues that those in the recreation and sport sector can debate ‘why the need for change’, and thinks that should happen, but as a sector he feels “we need to get on the front foot.” One way to do that, he reasons, is to ensure that when Councils are determining their core infrastructure, and prioritising their public services, that recreation and sport are considered essential and for the public good while demonstrating provision at ‘the least possible cost’. He points to the fact that many public services are not provided by Central Government or the private sector, as they have historically fallen short in this area. Local Government has taken up the slack in the past. If their provision of these services is now being threatened by changes to the Local Government Act, Leslie warns, then the recreation sector needs to mobilise on behalf of our communities’ rights to recreation and sport.

“These are the core issues that NZRA will be considering in the upcoming weeks and months as we continue building the arguments that prove recreation and sport infrastructure and services are vital to our communities,” Leslie adds.

Leslie concludes by commenting that, “When you strip back the discussion to its bare essence, the question becomes “what is intrinsically valuable to the individual’?”. It seems clear on the happy faces of those at this local swimming pool, in the suburb of Karori in Wellington, that recreation and sport have intrinsic value. All of the statistics and arguments aside, how can groups of delighted children, contented adults and engaged staff be anything but a “public good”?


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