Sport is facing a steep climb for survival and revival, Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis says.
Lewis, also president of the Trinidad and Tobago Commonwealth Games Association (TTCGA) and the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC), said the sporting industry locally will have to adjust quickly to the new reality coming out of the COVID-19 period, including decreased funding for sport because of the prioritisation of other areas of life.
Lewis added there is a need for a new business model approach to address the deep impact it is having on the sports ecosystem locally, including the employment of service-oriented professions like physiotherapists, sports medicine professionals and coaching.
Review is even more critical for the even deeper impression at the foundation level where the livelihood and existence of clubs and programmes at the base level —where the critical mass of participation for the flourishing of elite levels of the sport is provided—are being seriously threatened in these social-distancing times.
“One thing that is important is the reality the Covid-19 pandemic has shown—that the sport industry kind of operating in a bubble,” Lewis said, ”It demonstrates the importance and need for risk management and risk mitigation strategies to become part of any strategic plan because the truth is, the coronavirus is not something that you would have foreseen. But it does present lessons to be learned for the future.”
At the level of international federations (IFs) and national Olympic Committees (NOCs), the domino effect has been cuts to employees including the furlough of staff in an effort to protect liquidity and cash flow.
Lewis said the TTOC, which is engaging all its affiliates in the conversation of a new business model and which is set to conduct a survey about the issue soon, would have re-structured the way it operated in the last six years, strengthening its balance sheets and running a number of initiatives to ensure sustainability to “weather the storm” generated by the COVID-19.
He said with a potential for even more future decreases in funding, IFs and NOCs may have a day of reckoning that the TTOC would have been able to avoid.
“We are currently undergoing a deep dive review of our strategic plans and initiatives pre-Covid 19, which has been a game-changer that could have positive opportunities or could be fraught with potential to threaten the very future of some sporting organisations, IFs and some NOCs.”
The former secretary general of the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Football Union said two elements were facing sporting organisations, from the heights of the IOC and FIFA to the sporting club and feeder programme level: safety and health, and cash flow for economic survival.
“The second is extremely critical as these entities must ensure they have the liquidity to first survive this period before they can then think about resetting and rebuilding for the future,” Lewis said. “I am not sure the enormity of the situation is really coming home to a number of people in the Olympic movement.”
Lewis said while the IOC along with FIFA are two of the most liquid entities in the sporting world in terms of cash reserves, and were able to take measures like extending the Olympic Solidarity funding (which affects 12 TTO athletes) take measures created, the cushion from those world bodies has created an illusion in dependent national bodies, in terms of a sustainable business model. Last week, the IOC announced the addition of an estimated US$10 million to fund the Solidarity programme to Tokyo 2020.
He said IOC president Thomas Bach recently remarked that there would be a review on the way forward because “it can’t be business as usual”, additionally calling for a rationalisation of future sporting events.
He said it was even more critical now, given the possibility that the re-scheduled Tokyo 2020 Games could be cancelled, according to reports emanating from the local organising committee in Japan. If the games can’t be held in the new time-line, from July 23 — August 8, 2021, the IOC could be facing a dearth of income generated from broadcast and media rights, etc.
“In the short term, I see hard and tough decisions in terms of rationalisation and I think it is going to be very difficult to support all athletes going forward,“ Lewis said, adding that sport locally will have to make a compelling case and meeting certain parameters (foreign exchange earner, employment generation, positive contribution to GDP and enhancing image of country).