Throughout the past few decades, we’ve seen Australian sporting bodies becoming increasingly socially conscious, making deliberate efforts to use the incredible passion for sport in this country to benefit society. The methods used have varied from raising awareness of important issues by allowing sportspeople to be ambassadors to acknowledging groups that may have been under-represented in the past, with themed days or weeks.
There are also a number of initiatives like cricket’s Pink Test—a partnership with the McGrath Foundation inspired by the death of Jane McGrath from breast cancer—that raise significant amounts of money for charities. Many sporting bodies also now have a range of programs in place to ensure that money from the top level is invested back into local grassroots clubs.
But while all this may be more visible in this age of sophisticated publicity and marketing, it’s actually nothing new. Woven into Australian sporting culture is a deeply held belief that sport should give something back to the community—that it is meant to be a force for improving lives rather than just a product.
Local clubs run on the back of volunteers who give up their time to coach, make afternoon teas, do maintenance on buildings and countless other essential tasks in the running of a sporting club. These dedicated people believe that being involved in sport makes a huge positive difference in both their lives and the lives of others. It gives them uplift and impetus that goes beyond game day into the rest of their week.
Alongside the official programs that are designed to make local clubs a positive influence in their local community, there are multitudes of unofficial acts of charity and kindness that occur every day. I’ve seen players given equipment when they couldn’t afford to buy it themselves, others have had their fees waived or paid anonymously, and club members regularly rally around to help people going through a hard time.
Whether it is sport influencing culture, culture influencing sport, or a little bit of both, this emphasis on giving back and volunteerism is part of the Australian spirit, and without it the country would grind to a halt. The Salvation Army is especially aware of, and grateful for, the impact of volunteers. This is highlighted during the Red Shield Appeal as thousands of Australians help us collect money to continue our work of transforming lives and building healthy communities. However, we also want to acknowledge that all year round people volunteer with us in a multitude of areas—giving up their time to ensure that The Salvation Army can be there day in and day out for Aussies in need.