12 May 2020

Council support crucial to community sport

1:47 pm on 12 May 2020

A former All Blacks captain passionate about grassroots sport says local government support is vital in limiting the damage Covid-19 does to community sport in New Zealand.

Former All Blacks captain Andy Leslie.

Former All Blacks captain Andy Leslie. Photo: Photosport

With many of its revenue streams drying up because of the coronavirus pandemic, the grassroots sports sector is coming under significant financial stress.

To help ease some of that pressure, the New Zealand Amatuer Sports Association (NZASA), who have more than 6000 clubs in their database, have called on councils to play their part.

Andy Leslie, who was captain in all 34 matches he played for the All Blacks during the mid 1970s, is the president of the NZASA and on Sunday sent a letter in that capacity to the 67 City and District Councils around the country.

The letter asked councils to offer a 12-month waiver to community sports organisations from "costs associated with the use of council facilities and services".

Also a former president of the New Zealand Rugby Union, Leslie said annual outgoings from grassroots sport to local government were substantial.

"Wellington Rugby, their expenses for the year for ground fees and playing of games is around $180 to $200K a year, so they're quite considerable costs.

"Gym sports, like basketball, their facilities are in stadiums which are generally owned by the local body. It's all these sort of expenses that we're looking to be helped."

The immediate response had been positive.

Several councils were already looking at measures such as rent waivers for sports clubs, while others were investigating the possibility of offering their own grants using council funds.

This was in addition to the $25 million short-term relief package announced by Sport NZ last week, with more money expected to be made available to sport and recreation organisations in Thursday's Budget announcement.

Leslie was hopeful the support provided in the Budget was sizeable, especially given the money available through the Sport NZ package was limited to $1000 for clubs and capped by region.

"Any money is great but if there's only $40,000 in an area I'd hate to be sitting on the committee that's dishing out the money when clubs 41, 42 and 43 come in and there's nothing left.

"The more that government and local bodies can assist New Zealand sport in this sort of thing I think, beauty, great."

Leslie said grassroots sport deserved that support because it held an importance place in the country's emergence from the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Sport has a hugely important role to play, particularly in smaller areas.

"In the city it's easier but when you get into the country areas it's even more important you get the kids together and get people socializing and mixing.

"Sports clubs are the heartbeat of the town. I just live 100 yards away from the football club and 100 yards away from the rugby club in my town and I know what they do and contribute to the area I live in."