A national survey conducted by the Australian Sports Foundation has found that as many as 70,000 Australian grass roots sporting clubs require immediate financial assistance to survive, with up to 16,000 facing extinction in the short term future.
With over 14,000 registered football clubs currently participating in Australian competitions, the survey results suggest that many will be exposed to ruin in the coming months. Without injections of capital in the form of governmental support, thousands of grassroots clubs will be unable to meet their day to day expenses.
The report cites the need for a A$1.2 billion injection into clubs in order for them to continue, with a reported A$1.6 billion having already been lost since the pandemic began to seriously affect the Australian sporting way of life in March 2020.
Whilst much of the nation felt close to moving into a post-COVID existence in June, the recent outbreak in Victoria and consistent hot spots becoming apparent in New South Wales, both ensure that any notion of Australia being clear of danger is false.
The ramifications of Australia’s two most populated states still being gripped by the virus means that the challenges faced within grassroots football clubs will likely continue for some time, at least into the medium term future, thus increasing the financial strain and making the risk of collapse more likely.
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity for nations to deal with the danger and potentially emerge from it with a re-opened economy ready to repair the financial damage done. It was one grasped by New Zealand’s hands under the firm leadership of Jacinda Ardern. Now, after over 100 days of coronavirus clear living in the shaky isles, they too have fresh cases, just as the financial rebound was building considerable momentum.
Despite the latest developments in New Zealand, they have done a sterling job. However, even with the best efforts made across all states and territories, Australia has fallen well short of achieving a similar result to that of its trans-Tasman ally. The financial effects of the elongated struggle with COVID-19 are now beginning to threaten the very existence of sporting clubs that previously held our communities together.
As such, ASF predicts that around one quarter of Australia’s 70,000 grassroots clubs will most likely be unable to recover from the financial hit they have taken over the last six months. Should the situation in Victoria worsen or merely continue for some time, that number could well escalate.
When interviewed by The Guardian, ASF’s chief executive, Patrick Walker explained the dire financial realities facing grassroots sport and also spoke of the immense physical and psychological ramifications for the communities served by the threatened clubs.
“Our survey shows that without financial support, thousands of community clubs risk insolvency in the months ahead, which presents a real risk to the physical and mental health of our communities,” Walker warned.
The report identifies specific areas where clubs have been negatively impacted, with declining memberships and sponsorship commitments the most obvious concerns, as well as a significant lessening of opportunities to fund raise and generate revenue through hospitality.
Most graphically, the report cites the concerning reality that 93% of all clubs have taken a significant financial blow and also predicts that 70% of small local clubs would experience lower participation rates in the short term future. With concerns still prevalent in terms of safely participating in sport, parents and players themselves may well be cautious rather than confident when it comes to returning to the field of play.
That caution will only prolong the dangerous situation in which many grassroots clubs finds themselves. Despite players being back on football pitches in some states, the lost revenue from the postponement of play, as well as the impossibility of organising large community gatherings for fundraising purposes, means that many still lie directly behind the eight ball when it comes to surviving the horrors of 2020.
It is well known that grassroots football clubs run on the most shoe-string of budgets and the generosity of volunteers. As with many clubs across the country, and as pointed out in the ASF report, most have around six months of capital on which to draw should they hit hard times.
Sadly for many, that six months has now passed and many will be starting to fear for their survival; knowing full well that without immediate revenue streams, the continued existence of their club may well be a bridge too far.