3 March 2017
Welcome to the University of the Sunshine Coast.
We are pleased to be hosting what is the seventh in the Sunshine Coast Futures Conference series, again jointly supported by the University and the Sunshine Coast Regional Council.
One of the University’s key strategic goals is to be an engine for capacity building in the Sunshine Coast region. Last year was the University’s 20th anniversary, and an independent assessment of economic impact USC has had on the region put the value in excess of $9 billion dollars. Events such as the Futures Conference series help the University play its role in the local community.
This year’s Conference is titled SportsCoast. The aim of the Conference is to assist in growing the Sunshine Coast as a preferred destination for high-performance sport. The Conference will explore the challenge from a standpoint of what is needed to attract athletes and organisations to the region – what services, support, facilities and student opportunities are needed to make the Sunshine Coast the destination. We are very fortunate to have national experts across many different sports to take part in these discussions, and to have Drew Morphett OAM to lead the conversations.
The Sunshine Coast is already renowned for major sporting events. Probably the best known of these, the iconic Mooloolaba triathlon event, will celebrate its 25-year anniversary next week. The Sunshine Coast tends to mix participants, spectators and locals together in one melting pot. Over the Christmas holiday you can battle members of the Hawthorn football team for your Thai takeaway (I have done this), find yourself filling your car with petrol next to an NRL captain, or sharing waves with professional surfers (I have not done this personally).
The University has grown into sports education, research and community engagement as it has grown into its role in the Sunshine Coast. Some of the fruits of this labour were seen last year at the Olympic Trials. The green and white USC Spartans swim team caps were seen throughout the television coverage of the swimming trails, and in the end 10 swimmers made the Olympic and Paralympic teams for Rio – more than the Australian Institute of Sport, or any swimming club in Australia. In addition to swimmers, the Sunshine Coast region placed 30 members on the Rio Olympic and Paralympic teams covering sports of swimming, cycling, athletics, archery, and hockey.
In Australia, being an elite athlete and a scholar is the recipe for success. 63% of Australia’s medals in the London Olympics were won by student athletes, and more the half of the Rio team were either currently studying or had graduated from university. However, there is more to it than simply active body / active brain.
The success of the swimmers is built on a partnership between many people, but in particular, the University sports science researchers and the Australian Institute of Sport, which has based part of the Paralympic program at the University, including coaches Jan Cameron and Chris Mooney. This successful model of partnership between the University, University experts, the Institute of Sport, other community groups such as the Council and the athletes themselves is indeed transferrable.
The most recent televised sporting activity intimately supported by USC is the Sunshine Coast Lightning, which is jointly owned by the University and the Melbourne Storm. As with swimming, the success of the team, in a competition that has been dominated by metropolitan-based clubs, will come about via a partnership of the owners, the University researchers, the Council, and the athletes themselves.
One of the critical requirements for success in supporting sports achievement is world-class facilities. The development of the swimming program has occurred over a decade or more, slowly adding infrastructure as programs allow. The University has plans to add an additional Aquatic Exercise Facility to support training and recovery activities for any sport, as well as the general community, but this will be contingent on finance. The establishment of sporting facilities that support teaching, research, training and national and international athletes’ success is inevitably balanced against initiatives in teaching and research more generally, in areas such as health and mental health, in expanding access to University education through a network of campuses in South East Queensland, in the Sunshine Coast Health Institute, in the Thompson Institute for mental health, and in Moreton Bay in a few years. The University recently invested $5 million dollars in facilities to make home games for the Sunshine Coast Lightning possible – this is the reality of attracting nationally televised sporting activities, and the cost of meeting broadcasting requirements. Even before the Lightning arrived, there were 137,000 participants per year using the courts, with another 31,000 using the athletics track, 24,000 using the pool, and 40,000 using the other sporting facilities in the precinct. Add to this several Commonwealth games teams arriving early next year.
The cost of establishing national and world class sporting facilities is high, and needs innovative and partnership-based approaches. Clearly the local population benefits when the televised events leave, as do the students and the University more broadly.
This conference is about how make the Sunshine Coast an elite sporting destination of choice. The conference looks at this through the themes I have touched on – support for athletes, many of whom will be students, necessary facilities and partnerships. The aim is to add to the momentum already in place on the Sunshine Coast, to provide an opportunity for everyone to be meaningfully involved and to share in the benefits and take pride in the outcomes.
I encourage you to participate fully and make the most of the presentations.