Sport is at an important cross road in NZ and Hawke’s Bay. Only the brave will survive.

For a sports nut, being stuck at home for over a month could have been a blessing, had there been live sport to watch on TV.

Instead, due to Covid-19 lockdown, there was no live sport happening in New Zealand or anywhere else across the world.

Professional sport competitions such as the Super Rugby, NRL, the English Premier Football League as well as niche competitions such as World Surfing League all came to a screaming halt.

Locally, sport grounds were closed and if you didn’t have a team-sized family – then throwing a rugby ball around or swinging a hockey stick in organised sport was for now a thing of the past.

We all came to realise that the activities we either participated in – or watched from the sidelines or the comfort of the couch – were on hold for an indefinite period.

With no sport being played, revenue streams such as gate takings, sponsorship, Tier 4 gaming funding and player registrations tanked, and the future of national sporting organisations (NSO) such as New Zealand Rugby became very fragile.

Professional sports people were being asked by their NSOs to take wage cuts, while massive redundancies were made at many sport organisation head offices. NZ Rugby laid off nearly half of its 180 strong workforce, as it forecast a revenue loss of $120 million.

So what does the future hold?

Sport brings the community together; it offers a welcome distraction from the day-to-day tasks at work and at home.

Over the usual winter months, kids are ferried across Hawke’s Bay to the likes of the Hawke’s Bay Sports Park, Park Island in Napier, Central Park in Waipukurau and Lambton Square in Wairoa.

Saturday morning sport has been part of Kiwi life for ever and many of us can recall the days of playing rugby, football, netball or hockey on a frosty Hawke’s Bay day, and the excitement of cleaning your boots on a Friday night in anticipation of running out on to the field or court with your friends.

Just as Sport New Zealand was about to launch a new strategy aimed at increasing participation at primary and secondary school levels and attempting to stop the growing decline in teenagers playing sport, along came the pandemic.

Sport NZ has now put the strategy on hold and instead will focus on providing extra resources and support to sport organisations so that they can ride out the storm and remain viable.

The Government has announced a Sport Recovery Package of $265 million, from which Hawke’s Bay sport organisations will benefit.

As part of this, a Community Resilience Fund was initiated with $15 million allocated and to be administered across NZ by regional sport trusts such as Sport Hawke’s Bay.

Just under $600,000 was available locally, but surprisingly only $234,000 has been allocated to 46 sport clubs and organisations.

Regional Sport Organisations (RSOs) such as HB Rugby, HB Netball, Central Football and Hawke’s Bay Basketball received the full amount of $40,000 each, while grassroots clubs could receive up to $1000.

On top of this, some of the RSOs decided to not charge playing fees for 2020, a great decision as many families struggle with financial hardship. It will also ensure that kids remain in sport, as it could have been much harder to recruit players if an entire season was missed.

Sport NZ has also provided a total of $4.6 million to the Wellington Phoenix, Vodafone Warriors, Super Rugby clubs and the ANZ Premiership Netball League and teams to ease the financial impact of Covid-19.

The Government might also need to consider how they support the promotion and coverage of sport as media giants such as NZME, MediaWorks and Fairfax suffered major drops in advertising revenue, many sport jocks and broadcasters lost their jobs.

Locally, HB Today made their two permanent sport reporters Shane Hurndell and Anendra Signh redundant. The two reporters had been covering sport for many years and know all the key figures, whether that be administrators or personalities within sport.

In the mid 90s I was a budding sport journalist at the HB Herald Tribune, covering rugby and rugby league. Back then Shane Hurndell was at the Napier-based Daily Telegraph and every day I would grab his newspaper to see if he had beaten me to a sport scoop.

I moved to Auckland to work in sport marketing and PR while Shane has become a doyen of local sport. He’s dedicated his entire career to telling the stories of local sport and it’s a great shame that he might not continue to be involved.

With the loss of the likes of Shane, there’s a potential sport will lose its regional voice, at least to the level it once enjoyed.

This could have a massive impact in future years as sport media play an important role in championing sport to the general public and sport fans.

Media help promote participation, give sponsors brand association with sport codes and covers the human interest stories, as well as celebrating the achievements of those who excel.

We all know that the writing is on the wall for newspapers and that online will eventually take over completely.

Already we no longer need to wait until a Monday morning to find out local sport results; instead they are live via websites and apps. But in a world where we want to know everything as and when it happens, we also still need to have the features and profiles of those involved in sport. It’s the stories that inspire and connect us.

Time will tell to who steps up to provide a local sport portal that picks up this type of content. The codes will need to realise that they will need some skin in the game, if they are to survive and that they can’t think about their sport alone. It’s time for them to take action together. Come on the Bay!

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