If sport doesn't contribute to a healthier nation, we must press the reset button and explore ways of doing things differently.
Chief Director of Maties Sport, Ilhaam Groenewald, expressed this view during an online panel discussion hosted by the University of Arizona's Global Sports Institute (GSI). The discussion explored the topic Around the World: COVID-19 & Sport.
Led by the Institute's CEO, Kenneth Shropshire, the panel included influencers from Latin America, Asia, Australia, Europe, America and Africa. The discussion highlighted the financial impact of Covid-19 on all stakeholders involved in global sport with, among other challenges, the consequences of no live action broadcasts.
Listener polls taken during the online broadcast showed that 60% felt that sport was not essential during times of crisis and 77% said that it was, in fact, time to press the reset button.
The panellists raised a number of issues that will influence decision-making on this “resetting". These include the need for a new manifesto for sport codes, the impact on women's sport, obligations of commercial leagues, the impact of terrorism – and now, the impact of a virus.
In a post-broadcast interview, Groenewald addressed factors specific to pressing the reset button in South Africa, namely: the timing of returning to work, school and studies; professional sports; amateur sports; and the health and fitness sector.
“The decision on when we will return to work, school and studies will determine the availability of athletes participating at all levels. Taking into account the importance of education, decisions specifically for schools and the higher education sector will prioritise education. This could mean cancellation of many tournaments and events – not just postponement. The higher education section, for example, is already discussing 2021 admission and sport recruitment is also affected."
With regards to professional sports, it is not only the questions about when and how leagues will re-commence that are keeping administrators busy, but also the question mark around how fans will respond to life after COVID-19, says Groenewald. This includes managing uncertainties around the protection of fans against the virus.
“This means rethinking our fan engagement strategies. Considering the importance of professional sport – which supports the semi-professional, amateur, youth and development programmes of our main sport codes in South Africa – I do believe this can be managed."
Groenewald believes amateur sport will suffer as many people will prioritise basic societal needs over sport. This will differ between the various participation categories and national sport organisations will have to prepare their turn-around strategies as soon as possible.
“Sport, health and fitness will be important to support our nation especially in the light of the impact of lockdown on the mental health and wellness of citizens.
“There will also be a need to be innovative to get the majority of our citizens to return to activities. Many sport organisations are dependent on membership fees and with no service provision, the question remains whether fees should be returned. If so, who will carry the responsibility?"
The health-and-fitness sector has embraced social networks to maintain engagement and virtual contact with their customers. Again, the question is: Can customers be charged when the facilities are closed? asks Groenewald.
There is a lot of talk about the “new normal".
“The new normal will be influenced by diverse strategies, depending on your business of sport," says Groenewald.
She highlights the following possibilities:
- An environment with a focus on networking rather than competition is necessary for an amicable restart of activities.
- Reconsideration of leagues should factor in a number of areas, such as calendars, importance of various events, contracting requirements, etc, and this is where a different approach will be necessary.
- This could be an ideal time to focus on e-sports and other virtual sports (which has already shown rapid growth).
- Integrating the use of technology to conduct the business of sport (as we are being forced to do now) and the possible future benefits of saving millions of Rands.
“The opportunity to reset is definitely appropriate to the South African sport environment too and it is calling for new vision, innovation and re-engineering the delivery of sport. The important question is: When will we be ready to start engaging as collective?"