Supporting mental wellbeing for those involved on the field of play and in the offices of sporting organisations is a high priority across the globe and must be the same for those on local shores as we prepare for what could be a progressive relaxation of restrictions over an extended period. But uncertainty and changes to the sporting sector from schedules to facility access and rules brought about by COVID-19 have led to a warning of “lockdown burnout” and this is anticipated to have an ongoing impact on athlete and employee mental and physical health beyond the immediate future.
This will be particularly so in our country as we are somewhat behind the eight-ball when it comes to active sporting events as a national team activity and football leagues in the Caribbean have resumed in places such as St Kitts & Nevis, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize among others.
Of course, we have had another issue that has kept us out away from the action but looking across the various sporting disciplines there’s not much been happening here for the past few months. We are therefore presented with an opportune time to review the resources and support available to all stakeholders. This might include athlete and assistance programmes, technology platforms and other benefits packages to support wellbeing, mental health education programmes and management and peer support schemes. Sports organizations will also have to reinvent the layout of venues to comply with social distancing for when that time comes. More space will be required for a fewer number of spectators, with outdoor spaces more highly sought after
Whether it’s with our stakeholders, fans, athletes or staff – they will appreciate that you value them enough to be truthful and you won’t have to backtrack or shift your position to cover previous inaccuracies.
Without sport being as we know it, we must now explore ways in which we can bridge that gap by adapting. Looking at some of the bigger leagues, clubs and organisations in more established countries we have seen players and employees doing their part from salary sacrifices and donations, understanding the need to do more and give more. The thing is, so many of our sporting people already sacrifice heavily when it comes to income and resources, how much more can you really ask of them during these trying times? But yes, more selflessness for the greater good will be required to bring about closure to this period for us to at least keep our heads above board.
"The pandemic has made us reinvent ourselves and the national teams have organized virtual rallies with the youth teams, which allows coaches not to lose contact with the player," said the general secretary of the Mexican Football Federation, Íñigo Riestra, who acknowledged that the pandemic has caused a 50% reduction in the federation's income. Juan Fernando Mejía, a member of the Colombian Football Federation also explained how the crisis brought new opportunity for the South Americans.
"With the pandemic, we have the opportunity to register more players, even 50 according to Conmebol, which opens the field for youth players to become professionals in a shorter period. For Colombia, which is an exporting country, it is undoubtedly an opportunity," he said.
What we already know and predict even more of is when sport does return here, it will and should look and feel very different. While the West Indies cricket team has had the opportunity to experience a tour to England and those in the CPL have been part of a bubble and team environment, there is sure to be varying challenges for other sports teams who will head into a competition over the next few months. How will athletes respond to the new training schedules, the frequent testing, the quarantine measures and then be expected to perform at their optimum against others who may be ahead in the race remains left to be seen.
Organisations will now be living within their means even more and there should be more focus on nurturing and promoting young talent. Very few sporting organisations have set funds aside for a rainy day and most would also have been anticipating 2020 as an opportunity to make more happen. A measure of leadership is how well one takes advantage of a crisis so that ultimately you come through stronger. Time will tell where we are concerning this, particularly at the leadership level. Attracting top sponsorship dollars has never been a sure thing for us here in the twin-island Republic and therefore re-inventing ourselves has to be atop the agenda.
As the pandemic plays its story out, the ‘new normal’ will continue to look and evolve differently in each country and community. This brings us to an area that will be a focal point which deals with the pandemic accelerating digital adoption. With the right phigital strategies, the sports industry can emerge from the crisis stronger and more popular than ever. Phigital, which blurs the lines between the physical and digital worlds, will be vital for both keeping those physically present safe and recovering the revenues lost because of non-access to sports as we've known it to be. So while we have found ourselves in an unprecedented situation, all is not lost. Embrace the new times ahead.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.