Vicsport Governance and Leadership Training programs empowering women throughout Oceania

Governance and leadership training programs created by Vicsport are being utilised by the Oceania Gymnastics Union (OGU) to assist with empowering women, creating good governance protocols and helping people with disabilities get active throughout Pacific Island nations.

As Secretary General of OGU, Brooke Kneebush has spent the past four years bringing gymnastics programs to countries throughout Oceania and combining that work with governance and leadership training.

“I’ve worked in gymnastics since I started participating at the age of six and coaching at the age of 14 so it’s been a major part of my life,” Kneebush said.

“In 2015, I was offered the opportunity by the Gymnastics Australia (GA) Participation Manager, Karen Norden, to help bring gymnastics to developing countries in Oceania and while it was a big challenge, I felt very fortunate to have the chance to bring the sport I love to more people.”

With only Australia and New Zealand members of the International Gymnastics Federation at that point, Gymnastics Australia identified Fiji, Cook Islands and Guam as countries that already had a history of gymnastics while they started from scratch with American Samoa, Tonga and Papua New Guinea. Since then, Vanuata and Samoa have become involved as well.

A constant throughout her trips, Kneebush has been able to rely upon the governance and leadership training programs developed by Vicsport which have remained relevant since their original implementation in 2016.

“Karen Norden had done previous work with Vicsport and suggested that the recently created training programs would be perfect for what we were doing,” said Kneebush.

“We have not needed to change the governance or leadership training provided by Vicsport across the several years we have been visiting Oceanic countries. The material has been ideal for many different women from a lot of different backgrounds and the fact that it has been so adaptable has been perfect for us.”

Sport Consultant for Vicsport, Fiona Jones worked closely with Norden and Kneebush in the creation of the training programs.

“Working collaboratively with Gymnastics Australia, Vicsport helped create the programs for governance and leadership training,” Jones said.

“On the governance side of things, we focused on the principles of good governance, creating positive culture and behaviour, diversity in governance, welcoming new board members, stakeholder relationships and evaluating good governance.

“We also outlined the qualities of great leaders, how to apply those qualities, strategies to develop your own leadership, understanding others and creating a brand.”

Using gymnastics as a vehicle, Kneebush first brought the programs to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand thanks to a three-year grant from the Australia-ASEAN Council.

“The first year saw us present the material, the second year we mentored presenters that were recruited in the first year and then in the third year, the locals presented the materials and we just facilitated.

“After that, we received interest from other South East Asian countries and in 2016, the Australian Government’s Pacific Sport Partnerships (PSP) program enabled us travel to Fiji where we assisted in empowering women, combating non-communicable diseases and helping people with disabilities get active.

“The original plan did not include providing governance and leadership training. However, we saw the opportunity after realising the people we were working with in Fiji had limited knowledge of those areas and a strong desire to learn.

“Via the Australian Government’s PSP program we were able to bring those teachings to Samoa and now we are hoping to continue the work throughout Oceania.”

Implementing gymnastics throughout the region has seen Kneebush face her fair share of challenges with the main obstacle being the different approaches required for each Oceania country.

“The distance to travel, even within nations, can be quite unfathomable,” she said.

“For example, the Cook Islands comprises 15 islands and each one is a significant distance from the main island of Rarotonga so it is difficult to bring the gymnastics activities out that far. The cost of travel poses problems too, especially when you compare it to travelling within Asia or Europe, as every nation is pretty much a developing country with limited funding.

“To travel between countries is difficult and if participants want to compete in international competitions it can be very challenging logistically.

“Weather events such as cyclones and earthquakes are common as well and can cause major problems for infrastructure.”

Despite those challenges, Kneebush has found her work to be extremely rewarding.

“Some countries do not even know where to start with gymnastics but we offer it as a foundation to all sports, promoting it through education departments and from a grassroots level where possible.

“Sport is a part of the culture in many Pacific Island countries. But somewhere like Samoa we found some resistance because their idea of gymnastics was tall and skinny women wearing leotards which does not reflect their culture.

“We had to help educate them that the attire does not matter. We focused on it being a positive for their health and fitness as well as a way to battle obesity and non-communicable diseases which are a problem all across Oceania.”

Kneebush continues to work throughout the Pacific Island nations, introducing gymnastics as well as governance and leadership programs and you can find more information about OGU via their Facebook page.

For information on how Vicsport can assist your organisation, contact the office at or on (03) 9698 8100.

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