I’ve been fortunate enough to be in and around the sport and fitness industry for many years. There are any number of significant changes occurring to a variety of sports – some good, some not so good, and some are genuinely exciting.

Perhaps the biggest change is the growth in women’s sport at all levels. At SUSF we’ve been proudly involved with women’s sport since at least 1910 – the year the Sydney University Women’s Sports Association was founded. Our women’s sports are varied, healthy and growing, but there is more to do.

To accommodate the increased volume of sports being played, by men and women (at a faster rate of growth than the men), more sports facilities are needed, right across Sydney and Australia. Unfortunately, by just about any measure, there won’t be enough facilities to accommodate the growth in Sydney’s population, let alone the increases in participation across the board. This is an urgent problem for all levels of government but what it means in the short to medium term is that existing sports facilities have to accommodate increased usage – how can the industry make that happen? One way is to increase off-peak usage – whilst this sounds like a panacea, the difficulty is that the people wanting to play sport are not available to do so during the off-peak hours – they’re at school, University and work. That’s why peak is peak…

Another method that has helped outdoor sports is to convert natural grass to synthetic surfaces. This has been done relatively well across Sydney, and increased usage has been able to be accommodated using the same land – helpful for sure. A number of public and private school grounds are being used on weekends and this also helps. But none of this is enough to cater for the demand tsunami that’s headed our way.

As we live longer, stay active for longer, and society tackles the obesity epidemic, sports facilities will become more important than ever. Eye-watering housing prices in Sydney mean land usage gravitates toward housing, so in an environment where space is already at a premium, how do we get a balance that includes sport, fitness and recreation usage?

First, governments of all persuasions can’t sell off, or convert, the sports facilities we already have. In Sydney the sports industry needs to hang on to every facility it already has, and lobby for more.

Second, when a new suburb or housing estate is opened, we need to factor in sports facilities for the next 50 years and beyond – build them as if they are surrounded by high-rise buildings, because one day they probably will be.

Third, we need the maximum amount of flexibility factored in to every new and existing sports facility – mark out courts and fields for as many sports as they can accommodate.

Fourth, the grouping, or co-location, of sports facilities is critical as the same staffing load/amenities/parking can often look after multiple facilities. This is a trend that is increasing, particularly with gym facilities often being paired with pools etc.

Fifth, we need to work out how to attract more off-peak usage. Discounted pricing won’t help – it needs people to be free during the off-peak times, and more flexibility in workplaces will assist.
Sixth, people need to understand that physical activity helps your mental health, and prioritise exercise into their routines. This will solve two of society’s problems at once.

At SUSF we have been working in partnership with The University of Sydney to build bigger and better sports facilities. We’ve been able to accommodate more participants than ever on a slightly bigger footprint.

We don’t have all of the answers, and some of the issues raised in this article require deep, long-term commitments to solve problems, but at least we’ve made a start in our own backyard.