As sporting clubs across most of Australia start to return to training, playing and competing, it is hard not to focus on how the current situation impacts not just sporting volunteers but the wider community across Australia. The results of the Australian Sports Federation’s survey released today highlight that COVID-19 has significantly affected Australia’s three million sporting volunteers, with almost half of sporting clubs seeing or projecting a decline in volunteering.
Volunteers are essential to the sustainability of sports clubs. Volunteering Australia’s recently commissioned report, revealed the wider impact of COVID-19 on volunteering across Australia. Two thirds of all volunteers stopped volunteering between February and April this year. Significantly, it is estimated that this reduction in volunteering is equivalent to 12.2 million hours per week.
Volunteering, whether it is for a sports club, a local charity or a rural fire service, has a significant impact on our communities. As the Australian Sports Foundation points out, volunteering has a profound effect on the physical and mental health of those that volunteer for their sports clubs as well as the resilience of the wider community. It is important to recognise the role that volunteering plays in people’s lives. Volunteering Australia’s own research on the impact of COVID-19, showed that those who were able to continue to volunteer during the pandemic, experienced better mental health. These volunteers had a significantly and substantially smaller decline in life satisfaction, loneliness and psychological distress than those who stopped or who never volunteered in the first place. This suggests that maintaining volunteering activity appears to be a very important protective factor during times of significant stress. Sport, as we know, additionally helps improve physical and mental health, by both relieving stress and anxiety but also by bringing communities together.
Volunteering Australia Interim CEO Mark Pearce highlighted the key role these volunteers play in connecting communities across Australia. ‘Sporting volunteers bring an incredible amount of compassion, selflessness and value to the communities, teams and clubs which they support,’ he says. ‘Without their tireless efforts, which many Australians rely upon, our mental, physical and social wellbeing would be greatly impacted.’
The scale of the cessation of volunteering reinforces the challenge ahead for the organisations, who rely on volunteers, and ultimately on their contribution to the mental, physical and social wellbeing of Australia. Volunteering Australia is calling on the government to partner with the volunteering sector to reinvigorate volunteering in the coming months. Clearer communications around the safe return of volunteers, and support for organisations that rely on volunteers including the thousands of sports clubs across Australia, would enhance the well-being of our nation. We need these volunteers back supporting their communities.