The baseball players walking out of the field at the end of Field of Dreams. Return to Play. Spark Solutions.

The Return to Play on the Field of Dreams

Many industries ground to a halt because of COVID-19, and sport was no exception. In the early weeks of the pandemic, most, if not all, Canadian national sport organizations (NSOs) suspended their sanctioning of play. For sports that operate throughout the winter, that meant cancelling the remainder of the season. Sports that run throughout the spring and summer were experiencing a ‘wait-and-see’ about if and when operations could begin in the spring.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a significant drop in sport organizations’ revenue. It could potentially mean the loss of the majority of its annual income, if the winter and spring was when the majority of its participants played (such as hockey, volleyball, and soccer). It has meant the cancellation of league play, tournaments, playoffs, and championships. Coach, referee, and other volunteer training has been postponed. Athlete development has been impacted, and socialization and community building has been hampered.

Necessity is the Mother of Innovation

Many sport organizations looked for creative ways to continue delivering sport despite the limitations in place. For some, this meant moving training to online platforms, with coaches leading skill work and drill sessions by Facebook Live or Zoom. Now that provincial governments and NSOs are sanctioning return to play, participants and organizers alike are eager to get back at it. However, it’s not as simple as jumping off the diving board right back into the deep end. NSOs and provincial and territorial sport organizations have developed return-to-play plans, often with several stages that involve intensive adaptations to the game. Sport clubs now have to consider cleaning protocols, and facilities are under stringent guidelines too.

Insecure Funding

In May, the federal government announced $72 million in relief to support the country’s sport sector. International sport organizations, such as FIFA, also announced USD 1.5 billion to support the global soccer community. Right here in Saskatchewan, Sask Lotteries provides sport, culture and recreation organizations funding through a multi-year agreement, which was renewed in 2019. But this funding will eventually run it course. With the downturn of the economy and the federal government’s distribution of funding from non-existent reserves, it means that sport organizations, and greater society, will be facing a concerning situation for the next few years of fiscal operations.

A Field of Dreams?

What about participants- athletes, coaches, referees, and volunteers? Will it be like Field of Dreams, the 1989 classic starring Kevin Costner, which, I will admit, I’ve only seen the last 10 minutes of. Many people have not returned back to work, and some are working more hours than ever. Many people were laid off and now have less disposable income than they had previously- will they be able to afford sport programming? Many volunteers in sport are parents, and with children at home while one or more parents are working, it’s challenging to find childcare so that they can come participate. In Saskatchewan, many people choose not to participate in sport in July and August so that they can go camping and go to the lake. If we adjust our programming and shift our delivery periods to the summer months, will they still come?

As I said in last week’s Racism in Sport article, now is the time for boards and volunteer groups to survey your options and consider innovative approaches. Those who are not adaptable will be in a much more precarious position than those who put on their thinking caps and are willing to try something new. Perhaps what you need is an outside perspective. I am here to help. Get in touch and we can discuss how I can assist you to be ready to return to play for the next evolution of sport in the COVID-19 world.

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