Sport brings out the best in us—as people, and as nations. We get to see each other’s strengths, witness each other’s courage, and celebrate each other’s resilience and success. It is vivid and tangible evidence of how much we have in common: the dreams we nurture, the goals we strive for, the moments that bring us to our feet.
As Australians, we have an opportunity to engage with the world through sport, and to use our sporting passion to generate goodwill, build connections, and help create opportunities for greater security and prosperity in communities across the globe.
In 2020, Sport Exchange Australia commissioned quantitative and qualitative research with more than 2,500 people across the Asia-Pacific region to hear directly from them about the role sport plays in their own lives, and in their home nations.
In the Pacific, we sought the opinions of both sporting professionals and everyday sports fans in Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu, curious to find out more about the impact of sport in their communities, and the benefits it was delivering to young people, people with disability, and women.
This is what we learned.
What sport means to us
One of the objectives of the Sport Exchange Australia research was to understand the motivations of those who play sport across Australia and the Pacific, and to search for similarities and cultural nuances.
The word clouds at right represent the unprompted responses of participants to the question What does sport mean to you personally? The size of the word denotes the frequency of the response.
Across both Australia and the Pacific, there was a pronounced and consistent view that playing sport was about keeping fit and well. Additionally, both regions identified mental and social wellbeing as an important part of sport, referring to the social comradery, the opportunity to make connections and the sense of community.
A notable difference between the two regions was in the appreciation of sport as entertainment: something identified by Australian respondents, but not by those from the Pacific. This result was consistent with social research that found the average Australian spends almost as much time watching it on TV (2 hours, 22 minutes) as they do participating in sport or physical activities (2 hours, 27 minutes) (McCrindle Research https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/australia-the-sporting-nation/)
In the Pacific, the positive impacts of sport on the community were appreciated by respondents. Unprompted responses included how sport helps to communicate social messages, how it benefits young people, how it creates employment opportunities and how it affords the opportunity to connect with people from around the world.
Pacific respondents were more likely to recognise the life-changing potential of sport, and more likely to share their opinions about it than about religion, global issues or current affairs. Almost 3 in 4 said they ‘often share their opinions on sport’.
What sport does for our communities
The Sport Exchange Australia research validated the proposition that sport is seen as a unifying force and a power for good.
In the Pacific, the most endorsed statement about the role of sport was that ‘sport positively impacts the community’. The same statement was also the second mot endorsed by Australian respondents (behind ‘my country is passionate about sport’).
There was universal association between ‘sport’ and ideas of ‘togetherness’ and ‘community’. Strong majorities among both Australian and Pacific respondents also endorsed the statements ‘sport can help achieve positive social outcomes’ and ‘sport offers employment opportunities and pathways in the community’.
Sport was also frequently associated with young people among all respondents, and an interest in supporting young people was identified as a common trait acros Australian and pacific communities. In the Pacific, sport’s ability to combat drugs, violence and crime and keep young people on track were common themes.
While the positive perception of sport’s role in the community is clear, the perception of opportunity in sport varies greatly between Australia and the Pacific. In the Pacific, 81% of respondents endorsed the statement that ‘there are currently not enough opportunities in sport for my country.’ Many also expressed a desire for more support of sport at the grassroots level.
What we have in common
In a series of in-depth interviews, participants in Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solonon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu were asked to reflect on the characteristics that our people have in common. These were their most common responses.
= Dedicated / Passion for Sport
= Sense of Community
= Sense of Family
= Love of The Outdoors and Active Lifestyles
= ‘Bottom of the World’
= Caring About Our Young People
= Friendly and Down-to-Earth
- Sport Exchange Australia research supports the idea that sport brings out the best in all of us. Through sport, we can make our region closer and stronger.
- Pacific communities are on the look-out for more opportunities to participate in sport. Efforts to make sport more accessible and more inclusive are likely to be welcomed.
- The idea of supporting young people through sport is common to both Australian and Pacific communities. In the Pacific, the power of sport to help keep young people on track is especially valued.
- Australian and Pacific communities share common values around love of family, community pride, a down-to-earth attitude and a passionate, competitive approach to sport. When we get together through sport, we can be sure we are among friends.
- Australians readily celebrate the positive impacts of sport but may not always recognise its life-changing potenital. It is important to understand the difference sport can make to people, communities and nations.
On behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and GHD, The Friday Collective was commissioned to undertake research to test the assumption of sport’s significant influence in the Pacific and to understand whether or not the delivery of high-profile sporting activities can impact on or alter how Australia is regarded in the region.
The Friday Collective undertook research fieldwork between July and August 2020, taking a quantitative and qualitative approach to gathering feedback:
- In-depth video interviews were conducted providing qualitative insights into the views and opinions of the sporting sector across the Pacific and Australia.
- Online surveys captured the insights and opinions of the public, sports sector and government in the Pacific and Australia.