While we are some way off understanding the true impact of COVID–19 on community sport, it’s been heartening to see so many sports getting on the front foot and taking action to address the current situation and plan for the future, whatever that entails. As the shell shock of close down subsides there is also more and more important discussion and thinking about what the future will look like.
ABC journalist Richard Hinds wrote recently in the lead up to a special episode of Offsiders on the impact of COVID–19 on community sport. Richard posed some important questions – will parents hard hit by the depressed economy continue to pay? Will kids return after a gap season in which they have formed an even greater bond with their PlayStations and iPhones? Will senior players who already struggled to come up with their subs, return?
Rana Hussain in The Guardian also asked some important questions about the post COVID–19 world of sport and suggests that we have the opportunity now to rebuild this industry so that it truly reflects the society to which it owes its existence.
There are so many questions to be answered. Not least, and the biggest of all, is the question, is the status quo in sport broken? Should we return to the way things were? For a thought provoking opinion piece on this have a look at Ian Sandbrook’s article.
Of course, nobody knows all the answers yet. However, as Seth Godin said way back in 2011 The Riskiest Thing We Can Do Right Now is Nothing.
Encouragingly, many sports, nationally and locally are doing things already - perhaps heralding in a new era? In no particular order:
In recent years there has been a huge amount of work done to make sport more inclusive and diverse, to protect children, to safeguard integrity and eliminate unfair discrimination and harassment in sport. We’ve seen sports employ Diversity and Inclusion Officers, Child Safeguarding staff and engage Integrity experts. Women’s sport has grown exponentially in recent times. There’s a whole new debate around human rights and sport. There’s a real danger that this work could be undone in the months and years ahead as sports seek to rebuild from a much lower financial baseline and slimmer structures.
But now is a time for contrarian thinking. Rather than move away from the values that underpin sport and its sense of community, why not move head on into truly embedding these into the fabric of our clubs and associations. Into the constitutions, polices and codes that dictate how sport operates. Re-forming committees so they truly reflect the communities they are in and reimagining the way sport connects to the community.
Jak Carroll has some useful suggestions on the way sport could start doing this in A New World of Sport.
Perhaps survival in a post COVID–19 world will be less about winning and the bells and whistles, and more about getting back to core values and connections to the community?
Former Socceroo Craig Foster is driving the PlayforLives campaign. This is an incredible example of how sport can make a difference to communities and reconnect in ways it has never done before.
For the majority of people sport is all about community. About being with your friends and building long lasting memories. During this period of physical isolation it’s even more important to stay in touch and be connected. While you may be physically distancing you should not be socially distancing at this time. There are some great examples of how sports are doing this. Rugby Australia’s General Manager of Community Rugby, James Selby, recently posted an update Rugby’s work to support their community. Many state and local associations and clubs are doing similar. Vicsport have a list of sports that are creating new ways of remaining active and connected.
Social media is a great vehicle to reach out to your community - if you are looking for inspiration have a look at some of the stories on Good Sports Facebook Page.
People will have less money. Prior to COVID–19 one of the biggest barriers to sports participation was cost. Post COVID–19 this is going to be a huge issue. Low income families struggle to afford fees, transport and equipment expenses so opt out of community sport. This situation is going to get worse. Now is an important time to get together (online) with your committees and officials to seriously look at fee structures and costs associated with your sport. This is particularly important for upcoming seasons so that cost, as far as possible, is not an issue for families who are feeling the pinch and are debating whether to come back to sport or not.
If you’ve been putting off updating your policies and codes, now’s a good time to do it. Try to plan for the post COVID–19 world as best you can and be innovative. Play by the Rules, Good Sports and Sport Australia have a number of templates you can use as a starting point.
Sport may not be happening now but your club sponsors are still important. Keep in close contact with sponsors and be prepared to renegotiate agreements. Sponsors are hurting too in this situation, so an agreement you’ve previously had may not now be possible. Without compromise and understanding long-standing relationships with sponsors can fall by the wayside. The reality is that it is going to be harder to attract new sponsors so retaining your current ones is doubly important.
One of the things that the current crises has exposed is the fragility of sport. Clubs and associations generally survive on the smell of an oily rag, with little reserve or insurance for times like these. Many rely on government support or the trickle down of dollars through the system.
It is more likely our volunteer based local clubs will rebound better than the commercial centres and semi-professional associations. For the simple reason they are less reliant on big dollars for survival. But even locally, as Richard Hinds says, even the most prosperous local clubs will find themselves asking similar questions to their professional counterparts: Do they need to pay as much for that half-back or recruit the ex-first grade batsman who might have helped win a premiership?
All of this must lead to a re-assessment of what sustainability means locally. It is not only about the dollars. Again, it’s also about connection to community - if people feel connected and part of a local club they will come back and they will support a club in its time of need.
Now, and in the future, there will be (should be) greater emphasis on mental health issues. And this is everyone’s concern. This is a time of great uncertainty. Peoples routines and habits have been up-ended. We don’t know when things will resume. New, and concerning habits, are emerging.
There has been a 67% increase in online gambling (Australian Credit Bureau Illion and AlphaBeta) since the shut down began. In the UK the domestic abuse charity Refuge has reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. Alcohol sales have also increased dramatically as people stockpile and start drinking in excess to cope with anxiety, negativity, stress and our changing environment.
We should never underestimate the value of sport in peoples lives. That has been taken away. Community sport can play a role here by staying connected, being positive, providing resources to help people stay active at home and looking out for each other during these times.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has resources available that you can share and promote.
White Ribbon has a list of support lines for people who are experiencing violence and need help or support.
There are also many terrific examples of sports that are setting challenges, designing new home based activities and spreading positive messages.
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