Community sport & COVID-19

Community sporting clubs in COVID-19 induced crisis

Hundreds of community sporting clubs across Australia are in a COVID-19-induced crisis that will take at least $1.2 billion to ensure they survive, according to an Australian Sports Foundation survey.

The survey of community sporting organisation revealed how deeply the pandemic has impacted thousands of sporting clubs and organisations and imperilled more than 16,000 clubs’ future. The way back will demand a deep commitment from government and philanthropy to ensure many clubs survive.

The survey shows the nation’s 70,000 sports clubs have lost about $1.6 billion because of the pandemic. Small local clubs have lost on average around $15,000 while the larger organisations have lost $37,000.

The post-pandemic future is forecast to be bleak, with on-going effects on club revenues and volunteer recruitment that are at the heart of local clubs’ existence.

A significant 43 per cent of clubs surveyed forecast a downturn in volunteering among the pool of three million volunteers across Australia who support local sport.

The role of community sport as a social good and, in many instances, as a key support mechanism for some individuals who are struggling with mental health issues is well recognised. The picture painted in the ASF survey reveals the pandemic has triggered a deep challenge to those positive community impacts.

The survey found:

  • The shutdown of community sport from March onwards has had a profound social impact on participants, with a contemporaneous research study showing around 1 in 3 respondents reported worse physical and mental health compared with previously;
  • The return to sporting activity does not mean the crisis is over - indeed, it is just beginning. Community sports clubs face multiple challenges in the months and years ahead, including reduced revenues and increased costs, while nearly 70% of small local clubs forecast a decline in active participants and 43% project a decline in volunteers;
  • Overall the combination of reduced revenues and increased costs mean that one in four respondents feared for their club’s solvency – meaning over 16,000 community sports clubs nationally are thought to be at risk of closure;
  • On average, small local clubs require additional funding of around $12,600 per club, to assist them through the return to sport, and Larger or institutional clubs require around $26,800 per club;
  • While these are relatively small amounts per club, in aggregate the funding required is significant at $1.2bn.

The Australian Sports Foundation said no single stakeholder would underwrite such a cost, so a collaborative approach was needed, involving a range of stakeholders and mobilising support from all those who cared about the role community sport played in improving physical and mental health and building social inclusion.

The situation is worse in areas that entered the pandemic carrying the burden of bushfires that had already undermined their funding and sometimes their facilities.

In Bairnsdale, the local district amateur basketball association would usually support competition from under-10s through to adult men and women’s competition but the bushfires and then the pandemic has meant many of the association’s 300 members are struggling to pay their registration fees.

Association president Dean Ryan forecast that it would never return to that sort of numbers. , “The area is really decimated at the moment, nearly every shop in town is closed so we can’t ask them for money they don’t have. We’ve had absolutely no income coming in since early March,’’ he said.

“The council has postponed our rent payments because we couldn’t afford to pay $4000 a month – even when we are playing, we only operate two nights a week to keep the cost of rent down and we rarely have enough people coming through the doors to break even.’’

Dean said the association successfully applied for the Community Sport Sector Short-term Survival grant of $1,000. The grant is expected to be used for equipment or a set of uniforms for the under 18s.

“The mental wellbeing of young members, as well as the potential loss of players who may not be able to afford to return, is weighing heavily on the club,’’ Dean said.

“I fear for the young players because they need structure, they need an outlet and that’s been taken away. It will affect their self-esteem, their self-confidence, their mental stability – they are stuck at home 24/7, it’s really hard for them at the moment.  We usually support Indigenous players by taking them to tournaments and paying for their accommodation, shoes, entry fees. They’re really talented players and we don’t want them to miss out, but they’re the ones who will get hardest hit.” 

Australian Sports Foundation CEO Patrick Walker said now that the organisation had highlighted the crisis and quantified the size of the problem, the ASF would work on a solution.

“We aim to work with Australia’s political, philanthropic and corporate leaders - and everyone who cares about the role community sport plays in our way of life - to help solve the issue,’’ he said.

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Philanthropy and COVID-19

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