There is a eighteen-year-old girl who, six months ago, left her small country town (and family home) to have a crack at living in the big city. Despite being an above average athlete, she is one of many, in the western world, who battles with anxiety. Settling into the city has not been easy. Finding work. Finding accommodation. Buying food. Making friends. Believing in herself. Being a self-sufficient adult. Surviving!
She was doing well, too. She got a great casual job that she loved. She moved into a house-share. She was just getting to the stage where she was making enough money to satisfy her needs. She even signed up to play with an amateur district basketball team in her local area. Perhaps she could have tried out for one of the city’s semi-pro teams. If she worked on her fitness and technical skills might have been able to make a crack at playing at that level but given her anxious disposition and lack of familiarity with city life, the fun of playing at local club level, with minimum pressure, was what she wanted. From a self-confidence point of view, she was just thrilled to have been selected into the top team at her new club and to have earned the oodles of money she needed to pay for player registration.
Suddenly battling with the lines at Centrelink
Then along came Covid19. The first week after the virus started to take hold, she had thirty-two hours work. The next week… six hours work. The next week? Zero. The business shut down for the duration of the storm. Suddenly the new kid in town was battling with the lines at the Centrelink office in the hope of securing enough funds to pay the rent and feed herself.
At the start of the virus an email from her new club had advised her that, under orders from the State governing body, the commencement of the season (and the recommencement of twice a week training) had been put back a month and a half. That was disappointing but not unexpected. A fortnight later she received another email from one of her new team-mates that the season had been put back another month and a half. She now suspects that the season itself is unlikely to be played at all. She composed a simple five-word response to her team-mate’s email… printed out all in caps.
“I WANT MY MONEY BACK!”
The young kid was frightened. Really frightened. She needed that money. But she wasn’t alone!
Recent statements by leading sports celebrities Eddie McGuire and Lucy Zelic have divided the sport’s loving public. Both have suggested that, with the enormous pressure that professional sporting clubs are under right now to even survive, wherever possible paid up members of clubs (who are not under financial pressure) should hold off asking for their money back, even if they don’t get to see any games this season. The reality is that some professional sporting clubs may “go under” as a result of the professional sporting competitions being put on hold. In a world where gate takings and payment for broadcast rights make up the sole income of most pro clubs the stopping of games this season may well be a death knell for some of them.
“Genuine” fans would stick by their clubs
Despite the precarious positions of professional sports clubs and leagues, in an environment where the eighteen-year-old girl mentioned above is only one among millions it just seems indulgent for sporting celebrities to implore the “genuine” fans to stick by their clubs. Is the survival of pro sports clubs more important than the survival of millions of people? Could the money that is being put into sport clubs be put to more important and humane use than it currently is? Would it be a total disaster, of unbearable proportions, if professional sports teams like Collingwood, or Sydney FC, or the Roosters or Perth Wildcats had to return to semi-pro state leagues for a while? Would the world really come to an end if individuals currently living under an existential threat were treated as more important than professional sports leagues?
In recent days, the NRL leadership have announced that they intend to restart the rugby league professional competition at the end of May. It seems that some professional sports and the celebrities who benefit from their existence live in a world where their sport sits smack dab in the middle of the universe. Seriously? How about the priority of managing this disease? And the priority of reopening the world so that people can safely mix together again? And the priority of getting not so well-off millions of people back to work? And the priority of enabling lovers to see each other again? And the priority of enabling regular people to participate in their sporting competitions? Sorry, all you big knobs. You and your sport (and its clubs) don’t stand in the front of the line any more. There are way more important things to worry about!
Get back to the end of the line!
Don’t get me wrong. Community sport is an important priority. It supports the bodies, hearts and minds of many millions of people in this country. Sports teams and athletes are critical to the survival of our culture and people. However, insistence on the survival (and early recommencement) of the elite end of the sports business when millions are suffering seems to me an enormous indulgence.
If I had my way I would say to Eddie, Lucy and the NRL leadership… “Hey you there, are you pushing in… get way back down the line.”
Oh, bugger it. I dunno. Maybe Eddie and Lucy are right and that, for people who can afford it, they should keep their money in their sports clubs. But many of us have got much more important stuff to worry about.