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Time to ‘Do Sport Differently’ the survival of community sport depends on it

CLUBS, DON’T BOTHER RETURNING FOR YOUR 2020 SEASON AS PLANNED…

If you ask me, COVID-19 has really highlighted a few ‘own goals’ for sport. Running the profit/loss line way too close (but hey, we’re not for profit!), not putting the user experience front of mind (but this is how we’ve always done it), an apparent lack of care or commitment to culture and community connection (too
many clubs were far too quiet for far too long while we were all isolated and craving our previous social connection), the list goes on…

While these issues aren’t isolated (pun intended!) to the sporting sector, for an industry so reliant on volunteer efforts I worry about its ability to ‘bounce back’. Our community clubs don’t have the luxury of paid employees forced to get the ‘business’ back up and running – and with so many of the state sporting
bodies letting their development workforce go over the last few months, there’s even less assistance on offer than before!

The Australian Sports Foundation recently undertook a study that assessed the impact of COVID-19 on more than 4,000 community sports clubs across the country. Not surprisingly it makes for pretty miserable reading – virtually all revenue streams have stopped (memberships, sponsors, fundraising, events etc.) while costs (utilities, insurance etc.) have remained constant throughout (save for the rent subsidies we’re seeing put in place – great job Councils!). Added to this, is that when they are finally back up and running, they all expect operational costs to go through the roof (think introduction of hygiene measures, the need for additional equipment and volunteers for staggered training/ competition schedules to support social distancing etc.).

The ABC also reported that this research indicated that up to 24,000 Australian community sports clubs may not survive the COVID-19 period. I don’t envy their predicament at all. Now that restrictions are easing (or should I say were, if you’re a fellow Victorian), the return of sport is front and centre of news cycles, gearing up to kick start a return to ‘normality’. But it’s not all positive news. Leagues and clubs are wondering whether they even bother returning for a shortened 2020 season
that will forever have an asterisk next to it; Are any premierships this year ‘real’? (I’m looking at you, Liverpool supporters – 2020* Premier League champions). Is the cost of fielding teams for a few weeks worth it? Do we just bunker down and get on with planning for next year?

More than a dozen Victorian country football and netball leagues have already called it off for 2020. But I urge clubs and communities to keep fighting and give sport a, erm, ‘sporting chance’. I say this, because I read with interest a study was currently underway by Victoria University, Federation University, and Flinders University that has surveyed over 6,000 sport-playing Aussies to compare their health during the COVID-19 lockdown to what it was like a year ago when we were free to be and do as we please (remember those times?) – it found that a quarter rated their general health worse than the year before, 29% reported worse physical health and 31% reported worse mental health.

Now we all know the great benefits of participation in sport, but they are some significant changes for a single year! This just goes to show how much we need sport, in all its forms, to be back up and running. Let’s be honest, most children (and hopefully most adults) don’t care about win/loss stats, premierships or the exact number of games in a season. They just want to be out there enjoying themselves, having fun with friends, getting in some exercise and fulfilling that little competitive edge we all have.

But what I pose to clubs is maybe you don’t bother returning for your 2020 season as planned (I know what you’re thinking – that’s outrageous, you just said how great sport is…). But maybe now’s the time for ‘doing sport differently’ as VicHealth so eloquently put it. Do you need to train twice a week, play a game on the weekend, and be expected to front up on time, ready to go EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK? Maybe not.

By Dan Ferguson
Rec People Industry Expert

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