Celebrating 60 years

This year marks SMA’s 60th Anniversary and there’s much to celebrate. SMA was borne from rich, passionate and well-considered beginnings that continue to underpin the strength of the Association today.

Comprised of excerpts from the 25th Anniversary book ‘A Healthy Body’ by Wray Vamplew and the 50th Anniversary commemorative edition of Sport Health written by Emma Russell, this article takes you on a journey from SMA’s inception in 1963, when the Australian Sports Medicine Foundation was born, through the first 15 years.

It’s a story that highlights perennial considerations about our identity, purpose and who we represent, immeasurable contributions from so many of SMA’s forebears, and periods of political and parochial friction.


Clinical sports medicine had long been practiced on an ad hoc basis across Australia, driven by the enthusiasm of sports mad practitioners prepared to work in an honorary capacity for clubs or who saw sporting injuries amongst their regular patients.

However, there was no formal organisation for sports medicine until the 1950s when Melbourne’s hosting of the 1956 Olympic Games loomed. The organisers of the Games elected to tap two major sources. First, they looked to the armed services with air force personnel providing the basic manning of the medical centres at the village and at the Olympic venues. The Games executive also recruited medical men from local sporting bodies [to provide further support].

The Australian Sports Medicine Association (ASMA) sprang out of these arrangements. Bringing many medical men, who were interested in sport together in Melbourne, gave rise to the opportunity to establish an Australian sports medicine organisation. A meeting was held on 14 March 1955 at which the ASMA was formally named.

Following the establishment of the national organisation, several states formed affiliated bodies to promote sports medicine at a more local level and to cater for the interests of ASMA members in their resident area. As can occur with national organisations, interstate friction produced problems.

When NSW broke away from the ASMA in 1961 to form the Australian Federation of Sports Medicine (AFSM), it was out of frustration at the perceived dominance and lack of consultation coming from the Victorian group in particular, and their inability to instigate a rotating national committee. For a few years, there was considerable disquiet amongst the VIC, SA, WA and NSW branches, and while the blame was often put on their Victorian colleagues for creating many of the problems, it was in fact the Victorian leaders who paved the way for reconciliation.

With the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962, it was suggested the event could be used to facilitate a Council meeting and an amalgamation of the ASMA and the NSW-based AFSM. The merger was unanimous, as was the name change to the Australian Sports Medicine Federation which honoured the derivation from both organisations without preferencing either of them.

The newly united ASMF had, as its aims:

“The medical supervision and care of those promoting and conducting physical activities in a sporting and recreational form to safeguard and improve their physical and mental health; the arrangement and support of the scientific study of the effects of physical activities on the human organism; to provide information to sporting bodies throughout Australia by way of the state branches; to cooperate between kindred nation and international bodies such as FIMS; to liaise with the Australian Olympic and Commonwealth Games Federations and advice on medical matters; to act as coordinating body for all state bodies; and to promote policy and undertake responsibilities and tasks in relation to the aims of the Federation”.


A crucial issue to be managed was composition of the membership. Initially, after considerable discussion, it was decided that full membership, at a cost of ten shillings per annum, should be open only to registered medical practitioners. Special membership by invitation, with equal voting rights and at equal cost, could be available to suitably qualified non-medical graduates approved by state branches. Such membership was to be limited to a 10% maximum of aggregated special and full membership, both at a branch and Federation level, a figure suggested to the 1963 Melbourne meeting by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) delegate, Dr Ross Smith.

Additionally, associate membership, costing five shillings, was open to persons not qualifying for either full or special membership on medical, educational, or quota grounds. They were not entitled to vote, to be delegates to the Council, or act as office-bearers at either state or federal level.

Jim Pannell, President in 1965 believed that sports medicine’s future lay with convincing the medical profession that sport and exercise was required for health and disease prevention, and a close affiliation with the leading medical body in Australia would provide them with the influence they needed. But there were also other senior members who felt just as strongly that sports medicine could only flourish if it was true to its disciplinary mix, which had to mean accepting disciplines in equal numbers, and allowing that same mix to vote and hold positions of authority alongside the doctors.

The debates amongst themselves, and the negotiations with the AMA went on for several years with very little ground given by both sides of the argument.

Eventually, an offer by the AMA to accept a non-medical membership of 20% was turned down at a 1969 Council meeting. The next year, it was agreed that any registered medical practitioner and graduates from an accredited tertiary institution in a discipline relevant to sports medicine, could be a member of the ASMF.

“One former SMA President considered SMA to be an organisation that nurtured the sports medicine and science disciplines, and allowed them to start off amongst the team and gradually they developed their own PD and accreditations, then branching off and cutting the umbilical cords before coming back in a more mature form. Another former SMA President believed there was a wide-spread recognition that uni-disciplinary groups couldn’t best represent their members to a broader audience. There are few SMA members who would dismiss the importance of, or the disturbance created by, the different discipline groups over the years. Most would agree that the disciplines have all contributed a great deal to SMA and vice versa”.


With the battle for non-medical members fought and won, and their numbers increasing at a greater rate than doctors during the 1980s, Sports Medicine Australia found itself with a new internal challenge on its hands. It had weathered the contest of the states, but the wider growth of sports medicine throughout Australia meant an ever-changing landscape of disciplines. The emerging interest was the growth of the disciplines as a separate entity within sports medicine.

Sports Medicine Australia had always been an umbrella body interested in any issue or activity of a medical or scientific nature that relates to health and wellbeing, particularly in a sports and physical activity context. The issue was that membership of SMA was important to members of all discipline groups but did not provide accreditation, professional development, and all the collegiate benefits that come with associating with peers who have the same professional qualifications and experiences.

As the membership body of SMA grew in diversity, an organic development of discipline groups within SMA occurred. Likeminded and leading SMA members within each discipline, banded together to form small sub-groups to cater for the needs of their discipline under the SMA banner. At one stage, SMA initiated a Council of Disciplines to foster this development and ensure the voice of each of the disciplines within SMA was truly taken into consideration. The consequence of this meant that SMA became a true multidisciplinary organisation, promoting and providing growth in all discipline areas of sports medicine and sports science.

Over the years, as the disciplines within SMA grew, these groups gravitated toward their own professional bodies to establish sports medicine key groups within those bodies and moving out from the SMA banner. In some cases, this created brand new organisations, such as the Australian College of Sports and Exercise Physicians and Exercise and Sports Science Australia.

The eight discipline groups that are currently associated with SMA are: Sports and Exercise Podiatry Australia, Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians, Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy Australia, College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists, Exercise and Sports Science Australia, Sports Chiropractic Australia, Sports Dieticians Australia, and Sports Doctors Australia.