Community sport in Western Australia is roaring back to life as COVID caseloads trend downward, but the arrival of the flu season and a shortage of volunteers may muzzle its return.
- Community sport participation is back to pre-pandemic levels
- But COVID-absenteeism is affecting most clubs
- There is a shortage of volunteers returning to community sport
Tens of thousands of sporting matches were canned when the pandemic reached WA in 2020, despite case figures back then being in the single digits.
But as public health measures were ditched, borders were lifted and case numbers soared, West Australians have grappled with the concept of living with the virus.
Community sport is one of many settings where that experiment is playing out, as West Australians seem to reach the tail end of their first COVID wave.
For some, sports is more than just physical activity.
It’s Halla Harding’s sixteenth year playing soccer, having started when she was just three years old.
“First game of this season, I got pushed on astroturf and I fractured in three places, and tore a ligament,” she said.
“I’m a little bit anxious [about getting COVID] only because, if I get it, then that’s a week off soccer.
“Considering I’m just coming back from a broken wrist, I don’t want to get it and then have to wait another week.”
Ms Harding also coaches younger players, which means a week off for her impacts plenty of others.
Running on reserves due to COVID
The stress of handling last-minute player substitutions and game postponements could test even the most organised people.
At the Subiaco soccer club, just adjacent to the Perth CBD, club president Drew Palmer and team manager Caren Forlin are at the vanguard of the management headache.
“It can be difficult when you miss key resources. Today we’re short a few referees, and that really increases the stress on our volunteers,” Mr Palmer said.
The number of players and games happening each week is similar to before the pandemic, according to Mr Palmer.
But with COVID around, keeping it all running has been much more difficult.
“It’s a lot more work and organisation behind the scenes to get a game going,” Ms Forlin said.
“Realistically, you have that one week to get it done. Because then the next weekend, the next round of games play.”
About 30 volunteers go through the canteen at Rosalie Park every day to make it work.
Volunteers are also needed to set up games, manage players and coach.
Even the little things, like putting up the net for the goals, is a job that relies on people giving up their time.
Return of the troops vital
SportWest chief executive Matt Fulton said state government funding had seen WA’s sporting industry come out of the past two years relatively unscathed.
“We’ve also been really lucky in that we’ve had a huge number of administrators and volunteers working tirelessly in the background,” he said.
While it seems most sporting clubs have survived, Mr Fulton said there were still huge pressures on clubs due to the shortage of volunteers.
“What I think we’re seeing a lag in, which is concerning, are the number of volunteers coming back to sport,” he said.
“That’s putting a lot of pressure on clubs to have to continue to schedule fixtures and events without necessarily having the support around them to do that.”
While daily COVID caseloads are easing in WA, it could be the start of a very long winter.
With the flu season arriving and Australia experiencing its worst bout yet since COVID arrived, the logistical nightmare of finding volunteers and substitute players may stay for a while yet.
And it’s an issue that will likely reach much further than the boundaries of Rosalie Park.