Women’s sport centre funding knockback claim amid men’s games festival

Sport SA says its bid for $25 million of State Government funding towards building a home for its new Centre for Women’s Sport on donated land has been rejected while millions of dollars was spent bringing the AFL Gather Round and LIV Golf tournament to Adelaide.

Apr 28, 2023, updated Apr 28, 2023
Sport SA is lobbying for funding to build the Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Centre for Women's Sport to raise the profile of SA  female stars like those in the Thunderbirds netball team.  Photo: Sports SA design and AAP Images/Jono Searle

Sport SA is lobbying for funding to build the Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Centre for Women's Sport to raise the profile of SA female stars like those in the Thunderbirds netball team. Photo: Sports SA design and AAP Images/Jono Searle

Key sport leaders are determined to now pursue private funds to build the new inclusive sports hub and have pushed ahead with launching the Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Centre for Women’s Sport today – without surety for a planned permanent headquarters.

The Marleston Foundation wants to donate a $10 million plot of land for the proposed Marleston Community Sport Centre which has detailed and costed plans for nine indoor basketball courts, a gym, offices and facilities for volleyball, skating, table tennis, squash, basketball and netball – catering for all genders but with a specific focus on growing women’s sport.

Sport SA chief executive officer Leah Cassidy said the land was purchased by a group of men about 50 years ago who recognised that women needed a safe place to play sport, with Cassidy saying homes had been mortgaged to buy the land and build outdoor netball courts.

The centre had been pitched as a high potential site to attract economic benefits in hosting events like the Brisbane Olympics, similar to the way Gather Round and LIV Golf attracted investment from the government, according to Cassidy.

But Cassidy said the application for $25 million state government funding for the centre – which involved bidding for a separate $25 million from the federal government – received a “firm no” from Sports Minister Katrine Hildyard.

“They told us it would cost too much and the price tag would be more like $75 million, but we had the Pelligra Group look at the plan and cost it saying it could be built for under $50 million,” she said. “At this stage, it’s a flat-out no.”

Chapman Consulting conducted a detailed business case to develop the Marleston Foundation site but if the offer to develop the land is not taken up it will be sold.

Cassidy said it was vital to tackle gender imbalances in South Australian sport as disproportionate funding, media coverage and decision-making continues to take its toll.

Despite 40 per cent of sports participants being female they received “only four per cent of all sports media coverage”, according to Sport SA, while men filled almost 80 per cent of chief executive officer seats in national sporting organisations.

“We have so much work to do to remove that sense that you have to be part of the boys’ club to succeed,” Cassidy said.

“We know even during off season who is being traded in AFL men’s football, which coach is facing the chop, and yet how often do we hear about women’s and girls’ sport?

“We still have women having to change in the men’s toilet blocks near the urinal at some of our sporting grounds as they don’t even have women’s change rooms. Some women change in the car so they don’t have to be in those rooms.”

The Marjorie Jackson-Nelson Centre for Women’s Sport is heralded as the first of its kind in Australia, and is being officially launched by Sport, Recreation and Racing Minister Katrine Hildyard and South Australia’s Governor Frances Adamson.

A media call was cancelled today to launch the centre due to “sudden unavailability of speakers” but an event is still planned for  later tonight.

Cassidy said a working group spent two years designing the centre program supported with $250,000 State Government funding annually for four years, to offer education, training and leadership opportunities for women, along with gender equity programs.

To begin with the centre, named after Olympic gold medallist and former Governor of South Australia Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, will have an office at Memorial Drive and other venues with plans for a weekend retreat for the first mentoring, leadership and training intake.

“The Centre for Women’s Sport will ideally be based at Marleston, providing a world class facility for girls and women to train, play, learn and recover together,” Cassidy said. “A home for every woman, every sport, every level.”

Cassidy said the Marleston concept “preceded the centre but we proposed it as the home in our concept pitch to government”.

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Premier Peter Malinauskas has refused to say how much was spent on attracting recent male sporting events citing commercial-in-confidence rules, but recently said if the quoted figure of about $15 million to attract Gather Round football games is true “it’s a pretty good return on investment”.

A spokesman for the Premier said today that the money came from the $40 million major event fund that is not necessarily about attracting sporting events but more about attracting people and investment to the state.

Cassidy said it was important to raise the profile of female sport, data showed high percentages of girls dropped out in their early teens, and the new centre program was designed to help close the gender gap in SA sport.

This year, for example, the Thunderbirds netball team is on “a great streak” while the South Australian women’s softball team won the national championships last year with little coverage.

Elite tennis official Marija Lentic is one of few women to reach the pinnacle of officiating at the Australian Open and other high-profile tennis events, and joined the Centre for Women’s Sport working party to encourage other girls and women to reach high levels in sport.

“At the moment we are making progress with gender equality but we have to keep following it through,” she said.

“The men have built the foundations with events like Gather Round and LIV Golf and we’re putting the roof on the top.”

Questions sent to the Premier by InDaily were responded to by a spokesperson for Recreation, Sport and Racing Minister Katrine Hildyard, who said Sport SA sought “an investment of $44.5 million from the State Government for a project that was initially estimated by Sport SA to cost $49.9 million”.

Cassidy said this figure was taken from the business case submitted for overall funding required and at meetings with the minister and in a letter to the Premier it was made clear the funding sought from the State Government was $25 million.

“Sport SA’s business case for the Marleston proposal did not contemplate a Women’s Sport Academy,” the spokesperson said.

“The Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing (ORSR) commissioned an independent review of Sport SA’s business case for the proposal, which estimated the total project cost at more than $72 million – more than $20 million above what was initially estimated by Sport SA – and advised that the funding sought by Sport SA would be insufficient to fund the project.”

It also failed to meet ORSR’s strategic priorities, the spokesperson said, and that the government funded Sport SA to deliver a Women’s Sport Academy as part of $4 million in funding.

“At no stage was the Marleston Foundation Sport and Community Centre contemplated as part of, or required, to deliver the obligations in relation to the Women’s Sport Academy,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the academy is a concept focused on education and development for women in sport including coaches, officials and others.

“This education and development can be based out of a range of facilities, including Sport SA’s own Industry Skills Training Centre at West Beach which is also advertised for hire to the sport and recreation industry on Sport SA’s website,” the spokesperson said.

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