24 November 2020

Canberra’s community sport: the positives and the abuse

| Tim Gavel
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Enjoyment is the focus of sport at a young age. Photo: Supplied.

Community sport needs registration fees and sponsors, but can’t survive without volunteer coaches (like Tim Gavel). Photo: Supplied.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the positives of community sport in Canberra were amplified and the negatives confined to a distant past. Many of us missed our community-based sport and training schedules, not to mention the social interactions that are the backbone of community sport.

But we are lucky here in the ACT. The vast majority of people responded to lock down requirements and our COVID-19 restrictions were eased reasonably quickly once the major danger period passed. Sports organisations and associations along with the ACT Government worked to ensure that we could return to our sporting pursuits with close to normal services now back in place.

The effort did not go unnoticed.

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The ACT Government, for instance, put a moratorium on the payment of ground hiring fees, which has been extended. There was also the waiving of fees at many government-owned sports facilities. This included lane hire fees at government-run aquatic facilities.

The lockdown, though, exposed the fragile nature of sport, which relies heavily on registration fees and sponsorship for survival.

When both are taken away the vulnerability is revealed.

Thankfully most sports clubs appear to have survived but many will be operating on a reduced budget next year with a greater burden on participants to contribute more.

Every Chance to Play, a Canberra charity which pays sporting club registration fees for families who can’t afford to pay for their children’s participation, expects to provide support to around 150 juniors to enable them to play a winter sport in 2021.

But with a return to sport following COVID-19, the ugly side of sport has reappeared as if the COVID-break didn’t even happen. Lockdown seems to have made no difference to those who use sport to abuse others.

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Canberra has led the way on many aspects of sport, including the promotion of women’s sport. Perhaps we need to lead the way and attempt to eliminate all abuse as well. This includes abuse aimed at players, coaches, ground, team staff members and even other spectators.

Some might say that this ugly side of sport will always persist because it has a symbiotic relationship with competition – as long as you have competition, you have abuse. This seems to miss the point.

Sport exists for many reasons, not just for competition, and competition is multi-faceted. It is not just about winning. There is the pure enjoyment of being involved in competition; striving for your best; working towards a goal; applying discipline; working in a team; planning; preparing; reaching highs and feeling the lows; these are the things of sport. There is no place for abuse of others on or off the field.

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We are in a unique situation in Canberra. The infrastructure planned and provided is considerable, including the new Molonglo Valley Aquatic Centre, the proposed Gungahlin tennis club and, hopefully, a new ice sports facility. Yes, we have ongoing issues, such as the cost of water for our playing fields, but all in all, we are the lucky ones. The positives are huge. Yet many who have been around sport in Canberra know how abuse can quickly turn a good experience into a negative. We can get rid of it completely so that community sport, post-COVID-19, takes its valuable place in the lives of so many in Canberra.

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A shout out of thanks to the ACT Government for the COVID-related grants to help get community sport back up and running. This is in addition to the waiving of fees for sports grounds – albeit that only helped those the paid fees to the Government and not those that had to pay private (commercial) venues.

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