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Dealing with COVID-19 needs to be the first item on all sporting board agendas

Dealing with COVID-19 needs to be the first item on all sporting board agendas
March 11, 2020

Digital sports management expert Alex Mednis believes dealing with the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak needs to the top item on the agenda of all sporting board, posing 10 questions all boards must consider now.

Writing on LinkedIn today, Mednis states "at the time of publication, the impact of COVID-19 is being felt globally":

• Italy woke up to the most sweeping peacetime travel restrictions ever in a nation of 60 million people: all sporting events and outdoor gatherings are forbidden, there is a curfew of 6pm, and citizens are being asked to stay 1 metre apart.
• Overseas stock markets plunged, Wall Street suffered a $5 trillion dollar loss, and local shares in affected industries halved in value; Qantas alone is down 40% since December.
• Over 114,000 cases of infection have been reported worldwide in over 100 countries.
Australia is on the verge of a pandemic, and it remains to be seen how much the rate of infection can be slowed before community transmission becomes exponential. 

Every sporting board in the country needs to act now
With almost 700 state, territory and national sporting bodies in Australia, there are likely to be almost as many board meetings in the next month from these organisations alone, not to mention the number of meetings that will be held at community clubs across the country.

Boards have a duty of care, and all evidence now points to a pandemic occurring within Australia (or if not, a very narrowly avoided one). Exercising skill and care in their duties is now crucial to protect their members.

If a sport allowed a gathering of 10,000 people and 15% of them became ill, would this open the board up to claims of negligence? We need to prepare now and not take that risk in the first place.

Without a strong, clear Federal position on what sporting organisations should be doing, it is up to industry to act now, act decisively, and put in place measures to protect their communities. 

In practical terms, the impact of COVID-19 could be nearly fatal to smaller organisations and their cashflow, especially those whose revenue drivers are from mass participation events, member attendance, or close contact activities. Sports with annual memberships are likely to be insulated to a degree, but their core activities could be heavily impacted, placing a strain on administrators.

Right now every risk matrix should have COVID-19 as an emerging risk in the top right of their visual risk chart: high impact, high likelihood. 

How do we reduce the residual risk to lessen the impact on our organisation?
The following questions should be on every board agenda this month as a 'COVID-19 update':

1. What will the impact be on our operations and revenue if restrictions are imposed on the number of participants that can gather in one place? Consider a 60% drop in attendance - what is the most extreme impact we could face, and have we considered that as a real possibility?
2. What is our refund policy, and where is it published, should participants choose to withdraw from upcoming events? Have we prepared a sample answer for our administrative staff to use?
3. If membership registrations are significantly down on projections due to self isolation, anxiety about community contact or illness, how will that affect our planning in the next three to six months?
4. Do our membership terms, event waivers and agreements contain a force majeure clause relating to pandemics?
5. Do our membership terms, event waivers and agreements contain clauses to encourage non-attendance when ill?
6. Should a member of our community be diagnosed, suspected to be diagnosed with COVID-19, or been in close contact with an ill person, how will we be able to quickly assist health authorities in tracking their engagement? (for example, in a team sporting environment, who were their teammates last week, who did they play against last week, who were the teams either side?)
7. Following that, how do we effectively communicate the risks to our member base so as to not incite panic, and at the same time offer reassurance?
8. Following that, how will we continue with our operations? Will games be cancelled? Do facilities need to be deep cleaned? Are there external vendors (for example councils, etc.) that need to be informed for their own cleaning and risk management?
9. Have we considered the impact on our front-line staff, for example "table officials" etc. that will have close contact with our community? Have we provided hand sanitiser, and put up signs asking members to wash their hands or to not approach if feeling unwell?
10. What is our key person risk, if our one or two administrators become ill? (Almost half of state sporting organisations nationwide with employed staff only have one or two staff.)

Mednis goes on to state "this should form the basis for a standard pandemic impact checklist.

"In case of a pandemic, boards have a responsibility to act before to any mandatory restrictions on movement, travel and social engagement are forced upon them. In the corporate environment, it won't be good enough for boards to say to shareholders when insolvency strikes: 'We were waiting on government guidance as to what to do next'.

"COVID-19 presents a clear and present danger to human life, sporting activities, and the bottom line to thousands of clubs upon whom society relies on for health and wellbeing.

"Now is the time for boards to meet, act, and have a pandemic plan in place.

"If COVID-19 avoids becoming a full blown pandemic in Australia, the reality is that it will not be the last national health scare. We need to prepare now, and prepare properly."

For information on revolutioniseSPORT click here to view their entry in the Australasian Leisure Management Supplier Directory.

Lower image: Alex Mednis.

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