Community sport organisations will need to make human connections, manage mental health needs and foster gender inclusivity or risk declining participation fuelled by changing habits.

Simone Fullagar is a sociologist and Professor of Sport Management focused on gender inequalities in sport and leisure

Sport and Gender Equity at Griffith Chair Professor Simone Fullagar says sport organisations are facing the perfect storm of immediate impacts and long-term threats.

“Governing bodies, clubs, policy makers and sponsors will need to shape the recovery process with strategies that respond to the unique circumstances COVID-19 has created.”

She said a growing body of research showed sport plays a significant role in the recovery of communities from disasters. But unlike external threats, organised sport is a potential vector for a coronavirus outbreak.

“COVID-19 has thoroughly entangled the future management of sport with the issues of health risk and anxiety for some time to come.”

“COVID-19 has thoroughly entangled the future management of sport with the issues of health risk and anxiety for some time to come.

“As with previous epidemics such as HIV, sport has to improve risk management practices while combatting the social impact of stigmatising groups of people”.

She said the rise of lifestyle sports among young people, catalysed by lockdown could put further pressure on organised sport.

“While esports and bicycle sales boomed during the pandemic, a recent report by the Australian fitness industry shows only 10% of clients transitioned to virtual platforms or one-on-one training.

“It remains to be seen whether the enthusiasm for individual exercise continues when restrictions are eased.”

Embracing growth in women and girl’s participation

(Photo by Will Russell/Getty Images)

Professor Fullagar said women and girls had contributed to the vital growth in organised sport as participants, officials and volunteers.

“Male dominated sports including AFL, NRL, cricket and football have reported substantial increases in the grassroots participation of women and girls. On the other hand, two NRLW clubs announced they will drop out next year due to cost cutting.

“Gender equity remains a significant problem in sport,” she said.

Professor Fullagar pointed to the International Working Group on Women and Sport’s call for action, identifying five areas including equitable resource allocation and leadership opportunities as a chance to drive positive change in recovery.

“We have an opportunity to set down the values driving sport organisations to understand how sport adds value and benefits from deeper engagement with mental health, gender equity and other social barriers that stop people from playing.”

Related links

Read Professor Fullagar’s Recovery and regeneration in community sporton Policy Innovation Hub.