Australia’s running royalty, including Rob De Castella, Steve Moneghetti and Benita Willis, have called on the government to take action to restart mass participation sports events, citing the devastating cost financially and mentally on the nation.
The three were part of a webinar panel on Thursday that discussed the impact of the loss of events through COVID-19, and the need for government funding to help save the industry.
With major events such as the Sydney City to Surf and various marathons around the country cancelled, as well as smaller community-led events, it’s estimated some 19,000 events this year have been unable to go ahead.
According to the newly formed Australian Mass Participation Sporting Events Alliance (AMPSEA), more than 11,000 jobs are estimated to have been lost, $75 million in charity donations contributed by participants; all up equating to a $1.1 billion loss to the industry which blows out to a $5 billion loss to the economy when the cost to tourism is included.
It’s feared up to 50 per cent of events in Australia won’t return.
Citing the large crowds permitted at various sports such as the NRL and AFL grand finals and Bledisloe Cup, Moneghetti said Australia was on track to become a nation of spectators rather than participants.
“We’re worried about becoming a nation of spectators because we’re encouraging people to spectate rather than participate – 25,000 at a Boxing Day Test, you can guarantee Formula One will go head, Australian Open tennis,” he said.
“For the health and well being of this society … come on, let’s get some loving here.”
De Castella heads an Indigenous Marathon Foundation, which usually trains and sends young Indigenous athletes to compete in the New York Marathon.
As well as struggling for funding he said the squad had to set up their own marathon, run under a full moon outside of Alice Springs, with all other events around Australia cancelled.
De Castella said a Canberra running festival set to be held later this month had proven such events could be conducted within COVID restrictions to ensure the safety of participants.
“We need to provide support to the industry to get things back up and going as soon as we possibly can and don’t be so risk averse,” de Castella said.
“It’s easy to sit in an office and put a cross through an event but there are ways events can manage the risks.”
Willis, a world cross country champion as well as four-time Olympian, spoke of the impact of the loss of events and school sport on kids and their families.
She said the industry needed surety and support so they could start planning for the return of the mass participation events.