2 May 2020

Covid-19 crisis gives grassroots sports an opportunity to rethink funding

12:36 pm on 2 May 2020

As New Zealand's elite sports teams and athletes grapple with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, concern is also surfacing at the community level of the sports sector.

Tukapu Rugby Football Club colts players go through their drills ahead of a game against Coastal Rugby Football Union

Tukapu Rugby Football Club colts players go through their drills ahead of a game against Coastal Rugby Football Union Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

A significant hit is already being felt by grassroots sporting organisations, who help form the fabric of so many communities across the country.

Take, for example, the Wanderers Sports Club.

A focal point of the community in Brightwater, on the outskirts of Nelson, the club serves about 800 members across six different sports and is active six, sometimes seven, days a week.

But with no sport allowed for almost six weeks, the organisation is feeling the pinch.

Wanderers' director of sport Marty Davis predicted the club's revenue this year would be cut in half.

"40 percent of our [revenue] comes from local funding," Davis said.

"We're very lucky. We're a very active community based around farming, logging, and civil construction. They get us by year to year.

"But this could go [on] for a while and I've got nowhere else to go for funding."

Like many New Zealand sports organisations, Wanderers rely annually on a substantial amount of money from gaming machine trusts.

But the flow-on effects of this crisis meant they hadn't seen any of that for two months, and weren't expecting to until September.

Sport New Zealand boss Peter Miskimmin said the support gaming money gave to Kiwi sport was sizeable.

"Typically, it's about $170 million a year that floats out, so $13 [million] to $15 million or more a month.

"That's a significant hit to grassroots active recreation and play."

It's a hole that would, at least in part, need to be filled.

For some, though, it was also an opportunity for a re-set when it came to how sports clubs approached funding.

Sport New Zealand's chief executive Peter Miskimmin

Sport New Zealand's chief executive Peter Miskimmin Photo: photosport

Paul Latham is a club stalwart and former club committee member at Wellington's Paremata-Plimmerton Rugby Club.

A former Wellington Rugby club development officer, who helped clubs become financially stable, Latham said he was proud of how Paremata-Plimmerton had rallied around and got innovative to raise funds.

He said this was a chance for sports clubs to diversify their income stream and share any ideas.

"So often sports clubs are isolated in their view and, in reality, we're not competitors of each other," Latham said.

"We might be on the field but outside of that every club actually has a duty of care to ensure that the other clubs around them are actually still there because that's the competition that's provided on a Saturday," he said.

"The real competition, it's actually people not doing anything."

While many clubs would be following suit, exhausting all options to make up for lost revenue, most would also be eagerly awaiting details of a government support package for Kiwi sport.

To help formulate that package, Sport New Zealand recently commissioned global accounting firm KPMG to review the financial impact of Covid-19 on the sector.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin admitted the numbers which came back were "pretty sobering", and said their report had been submitted to government, with a final decision expected in a couple of weeks time.

"Government has enormous tasks against them at the moment across a wide range of sectors and industries," Miskimmin said.

"From a sport perspective, we think we add enormous value to New Zealand in terms of keeping people active and the social connectedness that sport and recreation provides," he said.

"We'd like to think that we put a good case forward but we're like everyone else, we have to wait now to see what the outcome of that will be."

Those deeply involved with the sector certainly felt like they were deserving of considerable support.

Latham said the Paremata-Plimmerton Rugby Club provided not only a vehicle for people to play rugby, but a place where members of the community across all ethnicities, ages and sexes could come together to interact.

New Zealand Amateur Sports Association chairman Gordon Noble-Campbell was adamant the 6000 clubs in their database would play a key role as the country came out of this crisis.

"Community sport organisations are going to be absolutely fundamental to rebuilding the connections amongst people within all communities.

"There will need to be a specific investment in this area alone to ensure that occurs."

A Harbour junior rugby team celebrates at Moller Park.

A Harbour junior rugby team celebrates at Moller Park. Photo: Rachel Holland

That investment would likely focus on ensuring membership levels could be retained.

Miskimmin said that was a key concern for most sports clubs and organisations, with doubt surrounding how keen people would be to sign up or return when sport is allowed.

Noble-Campbell said people would be thinking very carefully about what 'safe' looked like in all areas of life.

"That's the bit that actually worries me the most, to be perfectly honest," he said.

"People are not going to automatically go back to the way they interacted previously, particularly in the area of sport."

Just when that return would happened remained to be seen.

Wanderers' Sports Club's Marty Davis said the success of a potential 'new normal' for sport lay with one group.

"The players adapt at all times. It doesn't matter if we change the laws or whatever happens," Davis said.

"It's going to be the administrators who have got to step up and take a proper lead. They've got to step up and say 'okay, we can't play this way, so how do we play?'

"Quite frankly, the only thing that holds us back is our imagination."

A burden for now - but an opportunity for the future.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.