Some children in wider region missing out on school sports

Robyn Poole, Dannevirke High School prefect and sport portfolio holder played netball, badminton, and is a New Zealand ...
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ.

Robyn Poole, Dannevirke High School prefect and sport portfolio holder played netball, badminton, and is a New Zealand age-level rep for swimming. Sports is great for personal development, and meeting new friends, she said.

Playing sport at school is almost a rite of passage during school years but some kids in the wider Manawatu region are missing out because of the associated costs. 

Sport minister Jonathan Coleman announced this year that he was distributing a package of grants to address the issue, but with a reach of only a little more than 175 students nationwide.

"Participation in sport is a key part of a Kiwi childhood - it helps keen our kids active, making them healthier and happier, and teaches them valuable life skills," he said. 

"However for some kids and their families the costs associated with sport, such as gear, uniforms and membership fees, are a real barrier."

Dannevirke High School was one of four schools nationwide to benefit from the iSport fund, after applying for help to meet travel costs for away games.

Principal Dawid​ De Villiers said he was pleased to get help as "every little bit helps."

"The biggest outlay for our students is travel.

"For hockey everything is away, basketball is in Palmerston North, netball is in Palmerston North, and with rugby we get home and away games."

Players who couldn't afford team costs were not excluded from a team, but may not be able to travel. Team managers ran fundraising schemes like firewood collection days, where students who took part could have a subsidy deducted from their costs. 

Gear was largely provided by the school, and rugby players often handed down their own gear, like boots and jerseys, once they had outgrown them. 

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"Money is definitely a factor when it comes to making a decision about whether there will be sports or not for some families, and it is unfair to exclude young people from sport just because they can't afford it."

Teachers and coaches make a point of trying to let students know that there may be assistance if they are having difficulty, however this may not reach all who need it.

"You sometimes wonder how many people out there are not participating because they can't afford it. 

"These students are very astute and aware of their situations, they don't want to put their parents under pressure."

Dannevirke High School is a decile four school, though students come from a broad range of situations, De Villiers said. "I imagine there's schools where they see more need than we have." 

Sport Manawatu secondary school sport advisor Strahan McIntosh said while it had "always been the case" that some kids missed out, the trend had increased.  

A "lack of volunteerism" and increased expectation of travel contributed to the increased costs. 

"There's different sports around now that weren't back in the day, and they all have national championships, so the number of opportunities for students is just endless now."

Volunteers, schools and regional sport organisations, such as clubs, did a lot to get students involved by helping to meet costs and other logistical needs, he said. 

Massey University education and sport academic Dr Bevan Eruiti said New Zealand had a much stronger, largely volunteer-based system for sports' offerings for school children than many other countries.

But he said longer seasons for some codes were also increasing time demands and costs for parents. 

"Grass-roots sport in New Zealand is very much a user-pays system. Sport is provided to everybody, but it's not accessible to everyone. 

"It's part of our culture and identity ... we have to be careful, if we are limiting [some kids'] options, we are limiting experiences, and what they can be part of." 

 - Stuff

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