Raffles and sausage sizzles – and pokies money – won’t be able to save sports clubs in the wake of Covid-19. Suzanne McFadden talks to two sports about how emergency funding is helping ensure their girls and women get to play this season.
There’s a bunch of nine and 10-year-olds in the seaside town of Riverton, just west of Invercargill, who are “absolutely busting” to play a game of netball for the first time.
They were supposed to have their first taste of six-a-side netball at the start of May, having graduated from seasons of learning the fundamental skills of the game.
But Covid-19 has put paid to that, and now they are waiting – not necessarily patiently – to make their netball debut.
“It’s been really tough on all the kids to lose the opportunity to be out on the court doing what they love on a Saturday,” says Lynley Woodward, the president of the Riverton Netball Club (membership 70, and run completely by volunteers).
Tougher, still, has been the threat that they may not play at all this season. Like most communities throughout the country, the financial implications of the pandemic are now hitting home.
“We’re in a small coastal town where there are people in hospitality and retails jobs who have been really badly affected, especially in terms of their family income,” Woodward says.
“Fundraising will be tough this year. We always try to keep our subs low, so anyone who wants to play netball can do it at minimal cost – but that means raffles, sausage sizzles and gala days. It’s going to be difficult asking people to contribute more, because there will be a lot of people in a position where they now can’t.
“So it’s going to be really key to access extra funds so people don’t miss out on playing.”
In the suburb of Papatoetoe, Regina Lili’i is itching to get back into south Auckland schools to unearth more future female cricketers.
Lili’i is the captain of the Samoan women’s cricket team, a mainstay in the Auckland Hearts side and player-coach of the Papatoetoe women.
Over the past few years, she has expanded the female membership of her local cricket club from one to five teams – three of them youth sides.
She would normally be in schools right now, introducing girls to cricket. But there have been no schools to visit.
She’d usually be running winter programmes to teach young female players basic cricket skills. But that’s on hold – under Level 2 restrictions, there can be no more than 10 people in the indoor nets at a time.
And she was planning a new game for girls, combining the Pasifika sport of kilikiti with traditional cricket. “But Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works there too,” she says.
Now it’s back to the drawing board for Lili’i, applying for new grants so she can return to schools, restart coaching programmes and keep her own role going.
The Papatoetoe club, with 473 members, have a strong presence in Auckland cricket and in the local community – introducing the sport to over 4000 schoolkids each year.
They have always been “really active” with grants to keep afloat, says the club’s general manager Garry Wood. This time last year, around $40,000 came into the club’s accounts from grants to keep the club running.
But thanks to coronavirus, he says, they now have to look at a new way of funding their teams to play.
For decades, New Zealand sports clubs have relied on money from class four gaming (gambling revenue from gaming machines in pubs and clubs). Each year, more than $150m of that money flows into clubs and regional sports bodies, providing between 20 and 40 percent of their annual income.
But with bars and clubs closed during lockdown, that flow has suddenly dried up.
Fortunately for the 296 cricket clubs and 923 netball clubs in New Zealand, there is a cavalry of help on the way.
First there was the $25m relief package – money which Sport New Zealand has reprioritised; $15m of that is the ‘community resilience fund’ to help clubs and regional sports bodies, being shared out among sports now.
Then there’s the government’s sport recovery package of $265m – which will be divvied up between all sports in New Zealand over the next four years.
The first chunk – $83m – goes out to help to professional sports, and should trickle down to clubs – to cope with the initial shock of Covid-19. It still hasn’t been determined how that money will be shared, but there’s expected to be some consideration to helping women and girls in sport.
And this week, ANZ announced a $1m fund specifically for netball and cricket – the two sports the bank sponsors – which clubs can apply for.
Essentially, these hand-outs will help clubs to survive, and allow families under new financial pressure to still participate in sport.
Netball New Zealand CEO Jennie Wyllie says the financial support is “massive” and she’s encouraging all netball clubs to apply for the ANZ grant.
“It’s awesome that, in this time of uncertainty, ANZ are giving thought to how they can make a difference in our community,” she says.
“It’s great that the government has also responded quickly. I’m really looking forward to the opportunities afforded to women and girls as a result of this, and to address our most vulnerable communities in a meaningful way.”
It’s important, says Lana Winders, the CEO of Netball South, because sports like netball are a vital cog in the recovery of the entire community post-Covid.
“The clubs are the community. And the clubs appreciate how important it is for families to have a break from the increasing anxiety and worry about how they are going to feed their families next week and afford to have their kids playing netball,” she says.
“Some of these families are going to go through hell. And Southland is no different to any other region in that respect.
“We’ve been trusted with the opportunity to allow our competitions to start in Level 2. We understand how important it is to get people active again and bring something back into their lives that makes them happy.”
Netball South – a zone of 12,000 players, including those at Riverton – plan to have club netball back on the courts in Southland, Otago and Central Otago by mid to late June.
“That gives our community a decent breather. We can’t rush into it or be bull-headed, we’ve got to get our protocols in place so it’s a safe environment for everyone,” Winders says.
“The money from Sport NZ and ANZ is absolutely vital. I think the smaller netball centres may have been able to box on, on a low-cost volunteer basis. But our medium to large centres would have struggled really quickly.
“It’s great that the government has looked at it from a long-range perspective as well. The impact on class four gambling funding isn’t going to be a flash in the pan. The recovery will take a long time.”
Garry Wood has already applied for a grant for the Papatoetoe Cricket Club from the ANZ Good Sports fund, but he’s unsure exactly how much they will get.
“This fund has a fighting chance of being reasonable effective, except it’s going to be spread over however many clubs. The normal criteria is that it’s for bats and balls, but that’s not what we actually need at this time of the season,” he says.
“Covering our subs – that aren’t due until October and November – isn’t going to help our cashflow now. Our biggest struggle is keeping myself and my other staff member going with wages so that all the preparation – admin and planning – for the season gets done.”
ANZ says it wants to hear from each club what they specifically need to help them continue, rather than just divvying up the fund and giving equal amounts to each group. Netball NZ and NZ Cricket will be involved in validating the clubs’ applications.
Wood realises that his club’s funding model has to change.
“Sponsorship has been a highlighted weakness in our balance sheet, but it will now become a big focus,” he says. “The [class four gaming] grants will always be there in some form, and we will go back to them soon, but they won’t be there in the same volume. Every second seat in a gaming room will be empty for a while.”
He’s determined that women’s cricket won’t be treated as the poor cousin. “The club has really done the hard yards to grow women’s cricket; Regina has done so much to build up the teams below the premier women. It something we’re proud of,” Wood says.
“What we’ve been through has been timely. We won’t lose a cricket season. And we’ve had an opportunity to go over our business line-by-line and rethink everything.”