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Sport needs you back: an open letter to every volunteer and participant

29 May 2020

By Rob Dalton, Acting CEO, Sport Australia

Sport has been in survival mode. For the past few months, Sport Australia has been trying to support all sports dealing with these unprecedented challenges. It’s more than the financial strain, there has been a huge emotional toll.

So it was with optimism and pride that we were able to launch the Return to Sport Toolkit this week, moving a step closer to the resumption of community sport. Sport, we firmly believe, can play a prominent role in lifting the nation’s energy and spirits again.

First up, let’s bust some myths about the Return to Sport Toolkit.

I can assure you, grandparents are not banned from watching their grandkids play sport.

Nor are we enforcing one parent to sit alone in the car instead of cheering on from the sideline.

Our intention is not to burden millions of sporting volunteers with rules and red tape. Indeed, this Toolkit is designed to give them a helping hand and peace of mind for a safe and successful return to sport at all levels.

Put yourself in this scenario, the local junior netball or footy competition has been given consent by the local state Government to resume. Children, families and communities flock to a congested local venue en masse to cheer on the kids and celebrate.

Now think about the role of sporting officials, the bulk of them volunteers, who are trying to manage everything from competition schedules, venue preparation, match officials, operational procedures. Then add the complexity of a pandemic, where they need to consider crowd management and social distancing for public safety.

As we contemplate the return to community sport, there are two key priorities. The first is supporting our sporting administrators, many of them volunteers. The second is winning back our participants.

Sport Australia’s AusPlay research conducted just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals Australian sport and physical activity has about 3.1 million volunteers.

The biggest segment is 35-54 year-olds - parents.

Sport has the largest volunteer base in this country and one study has previously valued this contribution at $3 billion per year. The reality is, sport’s volunteers are priceless. Australian sport, as we know it, cannot survive without them.

But this is no regular return to sport, like a new season. We cannot blow a whistle and just re-start play, expecting things will immediately return to normal, as we’ve always known it.

That’s why the Toolkit has been developed, with checklists that give our community clubs guidance. They are adaptable for small to large organisations, with templates that everyone can customise to their own circumstances.

We have, of course, made recommendations to try and ensure the safest sporting environments. We recommend, if possible, that one parent or guardian attend along with each child as sport resumes. In many cases this guardian may well be a grandparent.

If you happen to be at a venue where you can watch the action from the car, it may be suitable for parents and guardians to view from there.

We will all have to play a role in a safe and sensible return to sport. We may only get one shot at it this year, so we need to do it right.

Taking this approach will also give participants the confidence they are returning to safe sporting environments.

Just as we do not take our volunteers for granted, we desperately need our participants.

Many Australians have no doubt adapted their activity during COVID-19. It may be running around the block, cycling on trails, creating home gyms and following online sporting drills.

Sport offers so many benefits these activities can’t. Social connection and friendships. A sense of purpose, whether it’s overcoming your own challenges or uniting with teammates for a common goal. The thrill of competition, win, lose or draw. The euphoria of kicking a goal, the resilience of learning from an error and getting better each time.

We cannot decide when sport returns, those are the decisions for State and Territory Governments and are based on the very best health advice. Public safety is paramount.

But when sport is back, we will need you all back too. Join a team, sign-up for a membership, volunteer to help.

Let’s ensure sport doesn’t just survive, but it thrives again.


Women run onto a field ready to play football
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