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Volunteers in Sport

What is volunteering

Athlete on sand volleyball court with sysytem setup

Volunteering Australia defines the act of volunteering as 'time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain'.

The term 'volunteering' covers a diverse range of activities and includes formal volunteering (which takes place within organisations in a structured way); and informal volunteering (acts that take place outside the context of a formal organisation). While the vast majority of volunteering is undertaken by individuals, organisations also donate employee time, which is included within this definition of volunteering.

Volunteering should not be exploitative, or used to replace paid employment. Volunteers can receive reimbursement for out of pocket expenses and can be rewarded and recognised as part of good practice. While this process may introduce an element of financial or material benefit to the volunteer, it is still considered volunteering. According to Australian Tax Office (ATO), volunteers can receive an honorarium, stipend, or similar payment as recognition for voluntary service or professional services voluntarily rendered.

Role of volunteering in the sport sector

Sport is part of the fabric of Australian life. It helps build strong, connected and socially cohesive communities and improves physical and psychological wellbeing. It can also help steer vulnerable young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.

This important element of Australian life and culture is generally run by small, not-for-profit sports clubs. These clubs are the backbone of many local communities and are mostly run by volunteers.

In recent years, the role of volunteers and their contribution to the sport and active recreation sector has received much greater attention, with many new programs and strategies being developed to identify, attract, retain and recognise them.

Volunteers add great value to the sector by ensuring organised activities are affordable, well run and inclusive. The popularity of volunteering, particularly within the sport and active recreation sector, remains strong in Australian society.

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Additional resources

  • Volunteers: the "heartbeat" of Olympic legacy, International Olympic Committee, (6 December 2019). Volunteers are often hailed for being the “lifeblood” of the Olympic Games, working tirelessly to ensure their success, but since their introduction at the Olympic Games London 1948, volunteer programs have contributed to much more than delivery of the Games. Volunteers have gained lifetime skills and unique experiences, promoted the Olympic spirit and created new volunteer cultures and legacies which continue to benefit their countries to this day. More than 200,000 applications to volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were submitted, a number which reflects the unprecedented enthusiasm for the Games across Japan.
  • General Social Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (June 2021), latest release. The 2020 survey was collected online or via telephone interviewing only. There was no face-to-face interviewing conducted in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Because of this changed methodology and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the Australian population, care should be exercised when making comparisons with 2019. During the time that the GSS was conducted, initiatives were in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the economy. In 2020, on average, Australians rated their overall life satisfaction as 7.2, compared to 7.5 in 2019 and 7.6 in 2014. One third of Australians (33%) reported 'Always' or 'Often' feeling rushed for time. This report also provides a breakdown of the volunteer characteristics and hours which indicate that Australians had volunteered for 489.5 million hours in 2020 and 596.2 million hours in 2019 (Table 11).
    • One quarter (25%) of Australians aged 15 years and over participated in unpaid voluntary work through an organisation in 2020, lower than the 30% in 2019 (Table 1).
    • Volunteering rates for males and females were similar at 23% and 26%.
    • The most common types of organisations for which people volunteered were those relating to sport and physical recreation (31% of volunteers), religious groups (23%) and education and training (19%).
    • The main reasons given by people who did not do any voluntary work through an organisation in the 12 months prior to the survey in 2020 were 'No time (family / work commitments)' (52%) and 'Not interested / no need' (33%).
  • Value of Sport, Sport NZ, (March 2018). A study exploring the value of sport to New Zealanders, their communities and our country. Active NZ in 2013/14 estimated that 28.1% of adults had volunteered at least once over the previous year, and these volunteers contributed 67.7 million hours of volunteered time over 12 months with an estimated market value of NZ$1.031b. 35% of volunteers state that their reason for volunteering is to contribute to their community. 25% of volunteers are also motivated by the opportunity to gain new skills (and improve employment opportunities).
  • Volunteering Australia Response on a National Sports Plan, Volunteering Australia, (July 2017). The National Sports Plan aims to guide the future priorities and approaches of the Australian sporting sector for the long term. Volunteering Australia believes that a National Sport Plan needs to acknowledge volunteering as a key pillar for sporting activity in Australia, and develop mechanisms to facilitate and enhance its contribution. They also emphasised that volunteering must be considered in policy development and workforce planning. The response also highlights the need for a sustained investment into the volunteering sector by the Australian Government to ensure long term benefits.
  • Volunteers in Victoria: trends, challenges and opportunities, State of Victoria, Ministerial Council for Volunteers, (June 2017). This report was developed to provide a contemporary narrative for volunteering. It also provides a summary of the known social benefits, economic value and current trends. Findings from this report highlight key trends, challenges and opportunities for volunteering and have informed the development of strategic priorities to strengthen and support the volunteer sector in Victoria. ;Some key findings included:
    • Most people volunteer because they want to help others and the community (66%), for personal satisfaction (62%), or to do something worthwhile (56%).
    • 75% of Victorian volunteers had a parent who volunteered.
    • Sport and recreation organisations attract the highest proportion of volunteers (32%), followed by education and training (25%), welfare and community (21%), religious (19%) and health organisations (11%).
    • In regional Victoria, the sport and recreation (15%) and church and spiritual (10%) sectors had the highest rates of weekly volunteering.
    • Over 231,000 Victorians (48% of sport and recreation volunteers) reported contributing 50 hours or more per year, which equates to a minimum of nearly one hour per week.
    • Sporting and recreation clubs are the engine room of volunteering – in 2014, 84% of people who volunteered had also participated in organised team sport as a child. This was significantly higher participation than other organised activities, such as youth groups (62%) and arts/cultural activities (52%).
  • Intergenerational review of Australian sport 2017, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for the Australian Sports Commission, (2017). This review focused on the overall sports sector, with a particular emphasis on participation in sport and community level sport. In regards to volunteering the report calculates that the sector employs over 220,000 people, with a further 1.8 million committed volunteers donating 158 million hours to sport each year – equivalent in time to nearly 90,000 additional full-time jobs and $3 billion in economic value.
  • Evaluating the volunteering infrastructure legacy of the Olympic Games: Sydney 2000 and London 2012, Leonie Lockstone-Binney William, Kirsten Holmes, Richard Shipway,, International Olympic Committee Advanced Research Grant Program 2015/16, (June 2016). Two research phases were conducted. Stage 1 involved a comprehensive review of secondary data on the Sydney and London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Stage 2 involved 27 interviews with key informants in each host city. The findings reveal limitations with legacy planning for each OCOG. While SOCOG had no specific remit for legacy planning, the voluntary sector led legacy efforts in Australia. In London there was Government-led legacy planning but the failure to engage with the voluntary sector hampered implementation. Recommendations are provided for host cities and the IOC to enable future Olympic Games host cities and countries to leverage from the Games volunteer programmes to generate wider benefits for their communities.
  • State of Volunteering in Australia report, Volunteering Australia/PWC, (April 2016). Volunteering Australia and PwC have conducted a survey to analyse the current state of volunteering in Australia, and to identify opportunities to maximise the potential of the volunteer workforce. The report investigates the following questions: Are the current volunteer engagement and management practices appropriate for the future? Is there alignment between the types of roles volunteers want to undertake, the sectors they are interested in volunteering in, and the needs of volunteer involving organisations? What is the appropriate framework to support informal volunteering? What are the necessary steps that need to be taken to future proof volunteering? Sport is included as one of the industries/areas of volunteer participation investigated.
  • Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteers, Join in, (2014). Going beyond traditional valuation methods, which use the cost-replacement model, the research investigated the true value of sports volunteering to personal wellbeing and happiness of the volunteers themselves, plus the wider benefit to their communities. Sport is the single biggest sector of volunteering in the UK. More than one fifth of the 15 million people who volunteer regularly spend their time volunteering in sport – 3.2 million people in total. Combining the emerging science of the economics of wellbeing with traditional approaches and wider industry research, we can value the contribution of volunteering in sport to society by adding the following factors: 1. The economic value of the time given by the volunteer; 2. The value of the personal wellbeing, mental and physical benefits to the volunteer; and 3. The participation capacity and benefits that every volunteer enables. If we accept the assumption that these benefits are all separate and additional to each other, then we arrive at a figure that suggests every individual volunteer in sport produces over £16,032 worth of social value to communities in the UK. This is over 30 times the old value under simple cost replacement. And with each volunteer in sport staying involved for 6.2 years on average, the profit of volunteering in sport is truly astonishing.
  • Economic Value of Volunteering in Victoria, Duncan Ironmonger, University of Melbourne, Victorian Government, Department of Planning and Community Development, (December 2012). Although anecdotal evidence suggests that the economic contribution of volunteering is great, there are limited reliable figures on the exact monetary value. While we have various official statistics about participation rates, there are no readily available official statistics to show the important contribution volunteering makes to the Victorian economy. This report estimated that by adding the value of organised, unorganised and travel together, volunteering was worth about $7.1 billion to the Victorian economy in 1992, growing to $16.4 billion in 2006. Volunteers also provided a volume of work equivalent to 260,500 jobs in 1992 rising to 359,100 in 2006. This is equivalent to an additional 13.4 per cent of the paid number of people employed in Victoria 1992 and 14.2 per cent in 2006.
  • Sport and Social Capital, Australia, 2010, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (March 2012) Final report (ceased). This report examines the relationship between participation in sport and physical recreation and social wellbeing using a range of indicators from the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS). Literature suggests that volunteering in the community is an important contributor to the development and maintenance of social capital (Nicholson and Hoye 2008). Data from the GSS show that sport participants are an important source of volunteers in the community. Over three quarters of those who volunteered their time and services to an organisation also participated in some sport or recreational activity during that same time period. The participation rate for non-volunteers was much lower.
  • Sport’s unsung heroes: Involvement in non-playing roles, Australian Bureau of Statistics (Perspectives on Sport series), Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001, (June 2011). Many local sporting clubs rely on volunteers to fill diverse roles; such as coaches, referees, committee members, groundskeepers and canteen workers. The time commitment involved, and in some cases the need for specialised skills and knowledge, makes the people who occupy these non-playing roles a valuable community resource. This article looks at the characteristics of people in non-playing roles in the sport and active recreation sector.
  • The economic contribution of sport to Australia, Frontier Economics report to the Australian Sports Commission, (2010). There are three main ways in which sport delivers economic benefits to society: (1) promotion of physical activity for public health benefit delivers an estimated saving of $12 billion in health care costs, (2) labour input of volunteers is valued at around $4 billion, and (3) the international success of elite Australian sportspeople is one of the most significant measurable positive impacts on social well-being; with a value that is likely to exceed the current annual budget for elite sports.
  • The Future of Sport in Australia, Crawford M, Australian Government, Independent Sport Panel (2009). The report of the Independent Sport Panel, commonly known as the ‘Crawford Report’, highlighted the critical importance of volunteers to Australian sport. The report noted that, "The Australian Government should develop and fund a national volunteer program for sporting and physical activity organisations that aims to attract and retain volunteers to sport through education, accreditation and recognition, and in particular takes account of the potential offered by the growing number of older Australians to become volunteers".
  • The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement, Volunteering Australia, (2015). The National Standards for Volunteer Involvement (the National Standards) have been developed in consultation with the volunteering sector to support the involvement of volunteers and act as a resource for organisations in which volunteers are involved. They provide a framework for organisations to consider the role of volunteers within the organisation and the impact effective volunteer involvement can have on achieving the strategic goals and aims of the organisation.


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