Sport in Australia’s outer suburbs means long drives, jumping over fences and closed pools

Climbing over a public school fence to play a social game of basketball with friends isn’t the experience many young people living in Australia have to contend with.

But Jaber Moudir from Melbourne’s south-eastern suburb of Cranbourne describes the access to public sports facilities in his neighborhood as “very limited”.

There are better options in surrounding suburbs but getting to them isn’t convenient due to limited public transport; a trip to Endeavor Hills involves catching two buses and a train — a trip of more than an hour.

Jaber Moudir sitting beside a fence.
Jaber Moudir doesn’t understand why there aren’t enough sports facilities in his area.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

Australia’s growth areas falling behind

The fast-growing local government of Casey, where just under 60 per cent of the population is aged under 45, consistently has some of the lowest sports participation rates in Victoria.

Victoria University’s Professor of Sport Participation, Rochelle Eime, found in 2019 that approximately one in 10 residents in growth areas like Casey, Hume and Wyndham were members of sport clubs.

That number shrank during the COVID pandemic, and Casey suffered more than most.

Professor Eime said public sports and recreation facilities shouldn’t be an afterthought when new areas are being developed.

“Participation in sports should be much higher [in Casey] than some of those older suburbs of Melbourne, where they have a lot older demographics,” she said.

A woman holding a netball.
Professor Eime says limited sports facilities don’t only impact physical health but mental and social wellbeing of people.(Supplied: Rochelle Eime)

She said a number of factors were involved in growth areas like Casey having poor sports participation rates. They range from socio-economic status, availability of infrastructure, population density and actual space for infrastructure.

“If you think about all the little sub-divided blocks of land, how many you need to actually build a couple of ovals and a pavilion is quite a lot,” she said.

In 2019, the City of Casey scored the second highest out of all grant proposals in the federal government’s Community Sport Infrastructure program for a proposal to make female-friendly upgrades to Sweeney Reserve, but had its application rejected.

This and other discrepancies later became known as the sports-rorts affair and ultimately forced then Coalition sports minister Bridget McKenzie to step down.

The council has since prioritized the upgrades, self-funding the project with assistance from state government.

But Casey Softball Association president Paul Little said areas like his need more, not less, federal funding.

A man standing behind a softball bench.
Mr Little believes growth areas like Casey need more support because families are still figuring out how to manage their finances.(ABC News: Ahmed Yussef)

“Because it’s a new growth area, you move into the area, you buy your house, you really do struggle with your first four or five years in the mortgage,” he said.

Western Sydney’s CBD without a pool for five years

When Yusra Metwally was working in North Sydney, she’d often duck out on her lunch break for a midday swim. But that’s not an option now she works in what many have started calling Sydney’s second CBD, Parramatta.

In 2017, the public pool in Parramatta was demolished to make way for the new football stadium.

For Ms Metwally, it’s unfortunate an essential swimming facility has been lost in Parramatta, where swimming is the second most popular sport for people under the age of 45.

A woman wearing a hijab standing near a pool.
Ms Metwally says pools in Western Sydney on a hot summer day are jam-packed; there’s no room to go in, let alone swim.(ABC News: Duncan Huntsdale)

“It’s just been a lost community asset for a part of Sydney that’s increasingly growing, a part of Sydney that’s being portrayed as a second CBD,” she said.

The City of Parramatta council missed out on $500,000 for a new aquatic center despite registering a high score in the Community Sport Infrastructure program.

The local council was able to access funds from the NSW state government, and the process of building a new pool in Parramatta has begun, scheduled to be completed by 2023.

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