Helping community sport tackle COVID-19

By: Patrick Walker   |   CEO, Australian Sports Foundation   |

The COVID-19 crisis has devastated our economy and turned lives all over Australia and around the world upside down. Among the many impacts has been a virtual cessation of sport at all levels, and while the suspension of the AFL and NRL and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have grabbed the media headlines, the most damaging aspect to our community resilience and mental health has been the embargo on community and grassroots sport.

It is at times like these that the power of sport to improve physical
and mental health, to relieve stress and anxiety and 
to bring communities together is most needed.

The enforced absence of community sport is therefore being keenly felt. As Australia’s peak body for philanthropy in sport, the Australian Sports Foundation is deeply aware of this and is working tirelessly to help clubs and communities survive the crisis. As a registered charity and Deductible Gift Recipient, the Sports Foundation is uniquely able to channel philanthropic investments to assist community sport, but this is only part of the way we are tackling Covid-19 head on. 


Physically distant but socially close 

We are encouraging a national movement using the hashtag #GameOn to encourage the sporting community to stay active and connected during this time, using social media campaigns and a variety of sporting and physical activities. “Game On” is our rallying cry to beat this virus together.
And we say “Game On” because we look forward to the day when people will once again be able to come together through sport when the virus is under control. 


Crisis funding – meeting immediate needs 

COVID-19 threatens the very existence of thousands of community clubs all over the land. Anyone involved with grassroots sport will know that community clubs live hand-to-mouth, relying heavily on volunteer support and member contributions to survive. The cessation of sport means even this meagre income stream has stopped – and to make matters worse, traditional forms of fundraising – such as a barbecue or sausage sizzle – are impossible. 


Crisis funding - enabling a return to sport  

When the time comes, sport will play a huge part in rebuilding community resilience. Research shows that when recovering from crisis or disaster, some of the best ways to heal people and communities include: 

  • Spending time with family and friends 
  • Embracing physical activity and healthy exercise; and 
  • Getting back to familiar routines 

Of course, community sport is a great way to achieve each of these and will play a fundamental part in the recovery as Australia returns to normal. Sadly, clubs are likely to lack the funds to meet demand – for uniforms or equipment, for travel and other costs of participating. Even worse, hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions - of Australians will now be unable to afford the costs of participation, including registrations and other fees to play. 


The role of philanthropy – and why sport? 

Traditionally sport has not been a key focus of the philanthropic community, but this is rapidly changing, as the social needs of Australia and other developed countries evolve.  

Philanthropy is about making the world a better place and addressing social inequality and disadvantage. At the Sports Foundation, we are working to tackle three key social problems through sport: 

  • Active Kids: In a generation, Australia has gone from one of the most active to one of the least active nations on earth: a recent study by respected medical journal The Lancet placed Australia 140th out of 146 nations for physical activity. This is creating an increasingly overweight and obese society (particularly among young Australians), leading to lifelong medical problems such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers; 
  • Gender Equality: women and girls participate in sport at around half the rate of men and boys, facing barriers ranging from a male-orientated club culture to a lack of change rooms, coaches or equipment. Yet playing sport has been shown to have strong links to women’s future career success. A study by global firm EY found that 96% of C-Suite women played sport; 
  • Inclusion: Australia is one of the most multicultural nations on earth, and research shows that those who participate in sport are 44% more likely to have mixed ethnicity friendships than other Australians. We aim to bring Australia together through sport, and for all Australians – regardless of culture, ability or background - to have an equal opportunity to play sport. 

When disaster strikes, the sporting community always rises to the challenge; for example sports including tennis and Australian football raised millions of dollars for organisations such as the Red Cross during the recent bushfires. Even now, sport is mobilising its army of volunteers to help support people in need through the #PlayForLives campaign, led by former Socceroo and social advocate Craig Foster. This is a fine example of the contribution sport makes to our social capital as a nation. But sport is also in need, and there has been no greater time for philanthropy to mobilise its support for grassroots sport, given the devastation wrought on our communities through the recent bushfires, and now the COVID-19 crisis. As Nelson Mandela famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.” We need to keep our grassroots clubs – the lifeblood of communities everywhere – alive so we can build a healthier, more inclusive Australia. 

Apr. 01, 2020

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