Northern Football Netball League umpires in action.

By Colin MacGillivray

SPORTING groups across the region have expressed hope a new plan to entice volunteers back to clubs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be effective.

Sport Australia has announced a National Sport Volunteering Plan – a vision to build a more collaborative approach to volunteering in sport, with the aim of getting more volunteers involved.

Sport Australia acting chief executive Rob Dalton said only about half of adults who volunteered in sport at the onset of the pandemic were back volunteering a year later.

“While there has been steady improvement in volunteers returning to sport in recent months, this is a critical time to ensure we are doing everything we can to attract and retain volunteers in sport,” he said.

“In partnership with Volunteering Australia we recently conducted workshops with the key sport, government, and volunteer bodies, as well as engaging community sporting clubs, not for profit organisations, academics, and experts from outside the sports industry to gain a deeper understanding of the volunteer experience and build a framework and a vision for the future.”

Riddell Umpires president Addam Icely, who spoke to the Review about a shortage of football umpires in April, said the group had made it through the season so far but needed more people to sign up.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to fill every game in every discipline so far. The seniors, the reserves, the under 19s and all our junior games have been filled,” he said.

“In saying that, it’s not because we’ve had the numbers, it’s because we’ve had people doubling up and sometimes even tripling up as well.

“I wish we had sufficient numbers to have covered all these games without anyone having to run more than one game, but unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.”

Kilmore Football Netball Club president Paul Maher and Broadford Football Netball Club president Bonnie Cavanagh said both of their clubs had a smaller number of volunteers filling multiple roles.

“Our club, like many other clubs, has been pretty much been run by the same people doing the same things for a very long time,” Ms Cavanagh said.

“We’ve got a core group that want to see the club do well, and even during the pandemic they’ve still pulled through for us.

“In terms of our core group of volunteers, … I think it’s a challenge at motivation now with [the pandemic] dragging on so long that we don’t know what it could look like next season.

“Now we’ve had an interrupted season again and you think, is this going to have an effect on how many people come back next year?

“We haven’t seen a huge dropoff, but we would like to see more people engaged, because I think it’s starting to wear a bit thin.”

Mr Maher said increasing demands placed on club volunteers were a barrier for many.

“What used to be a volunteer organisation has almost become semi-professional these days because you have to be on top of your salary caps, your player points, you need working with children checks – it’s not an amateur-run organisation these days,” he said.

“There are so many processes you have to follow, which does scare some people off I think, particularly people who may not be so up to date with information technology.

“Scoring has to be done online and a president from another club told me their timekeeper who used to do their scoring doesn’t know how to turn on a computer, so it makes it difficult for those types of people.”

Mr Maher and Mr Icely said paying people to fill roles once taken by volunteers could become standard practice if numbers did not pick up.

“I know administrators these days are looking at reducing player payments so we don’t have to work as hard to try to raise money to pay players,” Mr Maher said.

“If we haven’t spent all the money under the salary cap, we can look at offering to pay someone to do a job that would usually have been done by a volunteer, for example someone working the gate, working behind the bar or in the kitchen or cleaning up, which was previously done by a volunteer.

“There will always be people who will volunteer for the love of the club, but if we can’t find people to do certain jobs and we have a bit of extra money, that’s certainly something we’ll look at.”

Mr Maher and Ms Cavanagh said they hoped Sport Australia’s plan would lead to a boost in volunteer participation at sporting clubs across the country.

“Because there are that many things we need to do to keep the club operational, that if there are small ways that we can support people to reconnect or become connected, I’m all for it. I think it’s really important,” Ms Cavanagh said.

“I think people have to feel that they’re valued, and that’s something Broadford has been big on.”

People can find more information on the National Sport Volunteering Plan by visiting www.sportaus.gov.au/volunteering.

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