Bringing sport back includes important considerations for amateur and youth sports too

“Sport offers one of society’s great means of early social engagement, providing citizens across demographic lines opportunities for sustained and equitable participation,” write Cheri Bradish and Norm O’Reilly.

As fans rejoice in the planned return of their beloved professional sports leagues, another aspect of sport (one that hits closer to home), waits anxiously in the wings for its own return-to-play plan.

Amateur and youth sports.

The return of amateur and youth sports cannot be forgotten in the discussion to bring sport back into our lives. In these challenging times, the economic, social and psychological benefits of amateur sport may be more vital and necessary than ever.

Throughout Canada, we know that 98 per cent of citizens believe that recreation, sport and play is an essential service; and in Ontario, collective spending on amateur sport has been estimated at over $12 billion annually, with average households spending over $3,500 each year on related activity.

While professional sport has been one of the highest profile industries impacted by the pandemic, what has been significantly overlooked and lost in this important conversation is the cost of related shutdowns to the amateur and youth sport sector.

As members of the Province of Ontario’s Sub Committee on Growing the Economy Through Sport, we’ve examined first-hand the current impacts on this market. It is experiencing potentially billions of dollars lost in tournaments, registrations, coaching and membership fees, and possibly long-term physical and mental implications to Ontario’s youth. This will have the largest impact on diverse demographic and social sectors who have been most significantly sidelined by the impacts of COVID-19.

Our sub committee undertook survey research in early June. Responses from 910 Ontario-based sport organizations indicate 65 per cent of them are closed due to COVID-19, while a staggering 74 per cent anticipate a decrease in program activity even after “safe return,” with 40 per cent expecting at least a 50 per cent loss in revenues upon return.

Participation in sport leads to long-term character development and benefits physical and mental health. A multitude of studies point to early “participation in sport” as one of the key development factors in later professional life.

Sport offers one of society’s great means of early social engagement, providing citizens across demographic lines opportunities for sustained and equitable participation. In fact, some of the globe’s leading programs in this area (Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart, Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment’s Launchpad, and Right To Play) are headquartered in Ontario. These organizations all use sport and play to build stronger and healthier communities.

This pandemic is significantly impacting how youth sport will look like for months, if not years, to come. Its reach will extend from sporting good retailers to sport tourism organizations and sponsors.

For all these reasons, a return-to-play plan for amateur and youth sport is essential to the sport discussion. It is a key driver in our economic engine, provides immeasurable benefits to our communities, and remains one of the leading means to support the fabric and future of our society.

*Professors Cheri Bradish and Norm O’Reilly are both sport business faculty at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management and the University of Guelph’s Lang School of Business and Economics, respectively.
Toronto Star, July 16, 2020

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