The public and private benefits of inclusive community sport

What is this research about?  
Approximately 15 per cent of people around the world have a disability and many are marginalised in their communities. In Australia, research reveals persistent gaps between people with and without disability in income, access to work, opportunities to participate in their community, safety, access to health and education, and participation in sport, recreation and leisure activities. All of those gaps can compromise the physical and mental health of people with disability, and limit their social and economic networks.

Local sports clubs sit at the heart of many communities in Australia. The United Nations recognises that sport has unique attributes that can contribute to community development, and Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability which marks participation in sport as a fundamental right. Sport crosses socio-economic boundaries, and spans business, volunteering, and leisure. Research has shown that people with disabilities involved in sport, both as players and as volunteers or employees in other roles, can benefit across social, economic, health and wellbeing domains. But significantly, those benefits are not limited to people with disabilities - they can extend to the whole of society.

We think there is scope for more research on the private and public benefits of inclusive community sport, and how inclusion policies in clubs are translated into practice, to build an evidence base for future investment and effort on that front. Our research will examine practical enablers and barriers to people with disability participating in local sport as players and in non-playing roles, and mutual benefits for people with disability, clubs and communities. Experiences and perceptions of implementing inclusion policies in local sports clubs are likely to differ from experiences and perceptions in government-run or private sector organisations. This is a sector with high volunteer involvement, regular turnover of governance and management, limited resources, and a low threshold for risk. However, sport at a community level provides important opportunities for people with and without disability to come together in a positive, local, social environment, with the potential to challenge stereotypes in both fronts.

We have started work on research into sport as a lever for social and economic inclusion in local communities, with a focus on where policy effort and investment in local sport could produce public value, capitalising on the lead-up to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane. Our goal is to synthesise published evidence of the private value and public value of people with disability being involved in sport at a local level - health, wellbeing, changing perceptions of disability, building social networks, and building employment pathways - and to build on that base with new qualitative and quantitative data. This page will be updated as our research unfolds.

Research team
Dr Sue Olney, Research Fellow, Melbourne Disability Institute -
Alexander Oswald, Intern, Melbourne Disability Institute
Campbell Message, Program Manager, Melbourne Disability Institute

Funding  This research does not have external funding.

Research Outputs
2021 - Stage 1 report

Oswald, A (2021) “Change starts with Sport”: the public and private benefit of including people with disability in community level sport. Melbourne Disability Institute, University of Melbourne