John Treacy has warned that sport's infrastructure could collapse if enough people insist on refunds for membership fees as a result of the coronavirus and the resultant shutdown.
Irish sporting bodies have seen income streams devastated by the pandemic and membership fees make up for a huge percentage of those funds for many of the 81 NGBs operating on this island.
Matt McKerrow, CEO of Cycling Ireland, told the Irish Examiner last month that their membership intake dropped by 33% in March and whopping 84% in April. That is just one example of the impact felt across the landscape.
There have been more reassuring tales through the last few months, among them the news that so many Munster rugby fans have opted to renew their membership for the Supporters Club for the 2020-21 campaign, but similar displays of support will be required across the sector.
“It has been well documented that this has been a turbulent period for sport in general with the very existence of many National Governing Bodies under threat,” said Treacy, the former Olympic medallist and now CEO of Sport Ireland. “The funding measures announced by Government last week provide much-needed hope for the sector as we look to return to sport in earnest from Monday.
“However, it is important that members continue to support their clubs. There has been evidence of refunds on membership fees being sought and it is important to stress that should such organisations be required to refund registration fees, it would, quite simply, collapse those organisations which would have a devastating impact on the sporting infrastructure.”
Treacy acknowledged the wider economic strife in play right now, and that this was a difficult time for many people financially, but sport is still not out of the woods despite last Friday's announcement of a €70m rescue package from government and the imminent reopening of the sector as a whole this Monday.
All sports will be allowed 'return to play' as of June 29 in phase three of the government's Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business but the Expert Group on Return to Sport has encouraged a gradual and cautious approach.
Not everyone is ready to embrace the new openness with open arms right now and that is reflected in Sport Ireland's observation that all training and competition from here on in should be “on an opt-in basis” with participants accepting personal responsibility to decide for themselves.
“It is important that athletes are not be penalised if they wish to opt-out of training at this stage in the Roadmap,” a statement read. “They should be encouraged to communicate their concerns to their club and/or National Governing Body so that they can be addressed."
The body also echoed the words of caution from the IRFU's medical officer Rod McLoughlin who on Thursday advised that the return should be graduated and take into account months of what are likely to have been reduced activity for most amateur athletes.
“Individuals, especially high performance and professional athletes, may have maintained a level of fitness throughout the restriction, however the risk of injury will be increased," said the Sport Ireland missive. "Those leading the delivery of their sport will need to account for this risk and tailor training accordingly. Minimising the spread of Covid-19 and the occurrence of injury will be critical.”
Contact, while permitted, should be restricted to training and competition. The need for social distancing and safety was apparent in the suggestion that something as simple as a person helping another on to a bike should be done while the assistant is wearing PPE equipment.
Another note of advice was that slipstreams should be avoided where possible. This is easier said than done in sports as diverse as running, cycling, and rowing while caution was requested on the numbers catered for in summer camps where activities should be held outdoors wherever practicable.
Sport may be back but it's not yet all systems go.