Irish sports need to rewrite business models to cope with 'new normal' - Hamish Adams

Irish sports need to rewrite business models to cope with 'new normal' - Hamish Adams
Athletics Ireland CEO, Hamish Adams, warns of huge challenges ahead for sporting bodies

Sports bodies will need to dramatically rethink their business models in order to survive and thrive in a world where Covid-19 remains a threat, according to Athletics Ireland CEO Hamish Adams.

The sector in Ireland is hoping that the worst of the pandemic is behind them. All sport has been given the green light to return as of June 29 while the government has also committed to a €70m rescue package which will offer support and hope to national governing bodies (NGBs) and club units battered by the shutdown.

Yet danger still lies ahead.

“What we need to take out of this whole pandemic is that we need to change the way we do our business because it's not going to be the same,” Adams told the Irish Examiner. “That's going to be the real challenge for organisations, adapting to the new normal.

“Even talking about our own business model, we generate significant income from recreational events like the Great Ireland Run. Are those mass participant events going to take place in the future? At this point in time, you just don't know. Will it be possible for Dublin Marathon to take place in 2021? These are all still huge questions out there.”

Adams, like so many sporting CEOs, has given an unreserved welcome to the government's funding announcement, as well as the sooner-than-expected return-to-play date, but it will be some time yet before the small print is revealed and the various bodies can start to apply for financial aid.

New Zealand's government gave notice of a similar emergency fund worth €90m for sport back on May 7. That is over six weeks ago and the sector there is still in the dark as to the finer details.

The only terms and conditions mentioned in the Irish announcement referred to bodies which 'need assistance to avoid closure' which, when viewed in simple black and white, would amount to a punishingly high threshold.

Sports at all levels have already lost considerable amounts of income. Many have been hit again by the double whammy of ongoing costs and the additional blow that has come with upgrading facilities so that they meet new health and safety requirements.

Add in the reduced capacities permitted under the new guidelines and sports will be very much behind the black ball when they return. Gymnastics, for instance, are working on the premise of a 50-person maximum and a two-metre social distancing rule in their hundred or so clubs around the country.

“It will be interesting to see the details of the plan because we don't know the specifics as of yet and what they look like,” explained Ciarán Gallagher, CEO of Gymnastics Ireland. “Clubs will have to make investments just to prepare their facilities, sneeze guards and what have you. “Longer term there will be an investment required as well. Clubs will be looking for help with restart costs, loss of income support. If we are going to be living with this Covid-19 into 2021 is this something that clubs and ourselves can access through to then?”

This will stick in the craw of those sectors yet to receive the same stripe of support from the public purse but the extra funding announced for sport late last week may not even be enough to ride out this particular storm.

The pot for the 78 NGBs other than the 'Big Three' of soccer, rugby and GAA (who will share €40m of the new funding between them) amounts to €10m. That's a lot of mouths to feed. Boxing alone estimates that it will be out €1m by the time all their losses are calculated for 2020 and with a period of uncertainty still to come.

“We are very worried about September and October when our membership renewal is up,” said Rowing Ireland CEO Michelle Carpenter. “What we are being told by government and public health is that there is a high possibility of a second wave and we are conscious that this would have a huge effect on us as well.”

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