Sport rebooted…a boost to our individual and collective physical and mental wellbeing

Depending on what state you reside in, community sport is either back or very close to returning. Despite the significant initial limitations (e.g. small maximum group numbers, no contact, no competition), particularly for indoor sports, the opportunity to be active with others is a welcome green shoot in what has been a challenging few months.

The sports industry has been a major casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobs have been lost, competitions and events cancelled, and the financial viability of clubs, associations and leagues put in jeopardy.

In addition to the impacts on the sports sector, individual participants and society more broadly have also suffered the consequences of the lack of community sport. The important role of sport and physical activity in achieving health outcomes, like reducing the risk of chronic disease, reducing the risk of falls, improving bone density and improving mental health has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. However, although many have been keeping their activity levels up during isolation (and some may have been more so), the social connections that people build through being part of a group, team or club when playing sport can deliver a range of other benefits. With that in mind, the return to fields, ovals, pitches, courts and community sporting facilities across the country might just be the boost that we all need.

The physical and health improvements from participating in sport and physical activity are well documented, as are the economic benefits associated with sport-related expenditure. While research and measurement of social benefits is in its infancy, there is strong evidence, demonstrated in this report for Sport Australia, showing the significant role sport can play in driving a range of outcomes: from more inclusive and connected communities to better education outcomes to improving employability. If properly supported and encouraged, sport can play a significant part in helping our communities recover from and grow through this unprecedented period of change.

For those who may have been struggling through isolation and reduced physical contact, the role of community sport in improving mental health may be particularly important. Mental health is a significant challenge for our modern society and one policy makers are beginning to give the same weight to as physical health. Participation in sport has been found to have a positive impact on mental health, and specifically on the risk of developing depression and / or anxiety. It does this through joint levers of increased physical activity and meaningful social connection and interaction which facilitates the development of supportive relationships and helps improve self-efficacy and self-esteem. Not only can sport help reduce the risks of developing common mental health issues but that it can also be used as an effective treatment.

Beyond connection on an individual to individual level, research also suggests community sport can play a role in developing social capital, increasing levels of trust and facilitating the building of connections between different communities.

As much as we have collectively risen to the challenge of staying connected through this period of isolation the ability to reconnect again on a more personal level (with appropriate social distancing of course) through the return of community sport will deliver much good to us individually and as communities.

With that we wish government agencies, sporting associations, clubs and facilities across the country the very best of luck with the development and implementation of return to play plans. Your success will be our individual and collective gain.

The research and literature supporting the notion that sport delivers a wide range of health, social and economic benefits is ever growing and maturing and is now at a point where quantification is possible. For more information read, Value of Community Sport Infrastructure undertaken by KPMG in conjunction with Sport Australia.

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