Waking up last Saturday morning, a bit bleary eyed after probably a couple too many glasses of rosé on Friday evening, I wondered to myself – ‘what would I ordinarily be doing today and what role would sport play in my life over the weekend’.
Pre Covid-19, I might catch some of the headlines in the Saturday morning papers and the build-up to the weekends major sporting fixtures; I might even be able squeeze in 15 minutes of Football Focus on the box with Fergus, my football mad son. Mainstream sport wouldn’t usually feature in the Toller household on a Saturday, though. Stuff to do, kids activities mainly: lifts to parties, made-up games, a walk with the dog, dinner time, bath time, bed. There is usually a gin and tonic in there towards the end of the day as well.
Sunday, if I am lucky, I might get to watch Match of the Day in the morning (recorded from the night before), the reality is this is probably snatched around sorting breakfast for the kids. In the winter, there is an outside chance that I could catch some sort of sport on Sunday afternoon, probably a game of Premiership rugby, perhaps snippets of an F1 Grand Prix, maybe even some cricket in the summer. But right now, I can but dream. I am a sports nut - I love seeing elite athletes performing at the top of their game, the drama of sporting spectacles unfolding, the ecstasy and agony of winning and losing.
And then I thought, and I am just going to say it, I don’t actually miss it THAT much. As a middle-aged (ish) father of three, what do I miss (about sport)…?
In this extraordinarily difficult time, what I really miss is seeing my kids run around having a laugh with their friends, trying hard to improve in whatever sport they choose, competing, being part of a team, showing determination and sometimes discipline. The primary sporting element of my life that I miss right now is taking my two eldest kids to Wasps mini rugby. Twyford Avenue, Sunday 9-11, rain or shine. After pancakes for breakfast (lots of golden syrup!), the boys get into their Wasps kit, we make hot chocolate, pack some ‘snacks’ and off we go on our bikes. Arriving five minutes late at the sodden pitches, parents running around bleary-eyed trying to slap tag belts on their kids before getting into two hours of well organised chaos.
Most parents would be forgiven for staying in bed at 9am on a Sunday morning. But they don’t, they love it despite the frozen feet and moaning siblings on the side-lines. When it comes to lunchtime on Sunday they have taken on the day and earnt their snooze on the sofa. The kids have had fun, caught up with friends, taken exercise and dare I say it the parents have had their dose of ‘craic’ with fellow touchline supporters as well. THIS is the role that sport can play and this is where the long term value for sport lies in the future. Of everything that we are being denied right now, this is what matters, not the live sport on TV however much I enjoy it.
I understand the financial ramifications of disrupted seasons and realigning the sporting calendar but I think that some sports need to take a good look at themselves. Footballers and their clubs not addressing their pay issues, the breaking of social distancing rules and training together in local parks. Seriously, set an example! You are role models and meant to be inspiring my children to play sport. In this crisis, I believe there is an opportunity for sports to redefine themselves, develop a clear narrative and showcase all the great stuff they have to offer. As a responsible parent (I hope!), I will steer my children towards the sports I think demonstrate the best values in life and will serve them well in the future, sports that are responsible and professional, authentic and accessible. These sports should represent values of teamwork, determination, camaraderie, inclusion and diversity. They should also have a responsibility towards their communities.
I believe this Covid-19 interruption is a massive moment in the historical sporting landscape. Research from Two Circles predicts only 53% of sport going ahead in 2020 and as much as $61.6 billion in missed revenues. Economically, this is going to be brutal for the industry but it runs deeper than this. A quick review of our insight tool, Global Web Index, indicates that coronavirus is going to create significant behavioural changes. From a global audience base, people say they will spend more time exercising (40%), more time socialising (26%) and more time playing sports (18%) once the crisis is over. 45% of respondents in the US and UK have said that their mental health has worsened as a result of the outbreak with at least 28% of the audience experiencing feelings of either anxiety, stress or loneliness.
Looking at the long term health of sport as a force for good in society, rights holders need to look very hard at the grassroots of their sport and how it is strategically supported right through to the upper echelons of the respective games. The Covid-19 crisis has expedited a number of underlying issues within sport and whilst ‘big money’ issues will dominate the headlines over the weeks and months ahead, a detailed root and branch review by federations and rights holders is critical to ensure their sports are respected and relevant when we come out the other side of this pandemic.
In the current socio-economic environment, where ‘purpose’ is ever more important for brands and communities, sport has a critical role to play. It must adapt to and effectively communicate the values that society truly cares about. If different sports can showcase the very best they have to offer, then I am sure future prosperity will follow. It will be interesting to see what the new world order of sport looks like in three to five years time.