The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every sport and sporting body across Australia. Although the impact on Little Athletics has (so far) been significantly less than it has on many winter sports, we have by no means been immune, and it is therefore not surprising, that just like every other sport, there is a growing desire amongst our members to be able to ‘return to play’.
While everybody wants to get back to sport as quickly as possible, the safety and wellbeing of participants, their families, and the broader community must always remain the number one priority. As such, we must ensure that when we are permitted to return to Little Athletics activities for the 2020/21 summer season, we do so in a safe, controlled, and compliant manner.
Since the end of March, we have been in regular contact with the NSW Office of Sport, other NSW State Sporting Organisations, Little Athletics Australia and the State/Territory Associations, to share experiences, understanding, knowledge, and resources, and to work collaboratively to consider and determine what information and processes might be required to provide the safest possible return for sport, as we emerge from COVID-19.
To ensure our sport is ready to restart when the Government deems it to be appropriate and safe, we have drafted several Little Athletics NSW COVID-19 resource materials, including guidelines, plans, checklists and templates, all aimed at informing members and assisting centres to navigate the return to Little Athletics activities with minimal risk of COVID-19 transmission. Once these materials have been approved and released, we also plan to run several online information sessions to explain the materials and to answer any questions that centres may have.
Whilst many would have seen the Return to Sport Toolkit released by Sport Australia, and/or the athletics specific guidelines prepared by Little Athletics Australia and Athletics Australia, these resources have not at this time been endorsed by the NSW Government or the NSW Office of Sport, although they are acknowledged as being very useful general guides.
At this stage, Little Athletics NSW, like other NSW sports, is awaiting the release of the NSW Government guidelines for the return to community sport, before finalising and communicating the process for a return to Little Athletics in NSW. It is important that the information we provide to our centres and members is accurate, compliant with the National Principles for the Resumption of Sport, but most importantly, that it is accepted by the NSW Government as a suitable plan to safely commence the 2020/21 season.
Little Athletics NSW will continue to work closely with the NSW Government, via the Office of Sport, and will provide a further update once the NSW guidelines become available.
There has also been some discussion between several NSW sports concerning the changeover between winter and summer seasons. We do understand that this is an area of concern for many centres, particularly those that operate out of shared facilities and we will, therefore, update centres with relevant information, as it evolves.
Whilst Little Athletics has not yet approved the resumption of any activities, on 22 May, the NSW Office of Sport, issued approval for sport training to recommence in groups of no more than 10 people (including spectators, and the trainer or coach), as long as appropriate guidelines are applied to achieve strict compliance with the NSW Government Public Health Order. Any individual/independent, accredited coach who is thinking of returning to training based on this approval, will need to make sure that they are aware of, plan for, implement, and communicate the required protocols to their athletes before commencing training.
In particular, an area of at least 4m² is required per person; appropriate social distancing of at least 1.5m between people is to be maintained at all times; reasonable levels of hygiene must be maintained; and all training sessions must operate on the principle of “arrive, train, leave”. Athletes should be advised to bring their drink bottles and hand wash/sanitiser, and must be made aware that they cannot attend training if, in the last 14 days, they have been unwell, are experiencing symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, fever, fatigue or shortness of breath, or have had close contact with a known or suspected case of COVID-19. It would also be recommended that coaches maintain a record of attendance for each training session and understand that they are responsible for ensuring compliance. People should also be encouraged to download the COVID-SAFE App, to ensure quick tracing and management of any outbreaks.
Before commencing any activity, a coach also needs to engage with the local Council or venue owner to confirm approval of access, and any conditions and compliance requirements that they may have concerning that access.
Finally, regarding the holding of meetings, we advise that the current NSW Public Health Order, defines the term ‘public gathering’ (at which there can now be up to 10 people), as ‘an outdoor gathering in a public place.’ As there can be no public gathering indoors at this stage, we continue to recommend the use of online or virtual meetings, until indoor public gatherings are permitted under NSW rules.
For those centres yet to hold their Annual General Meeting, please note that legislation was passed through the NSW Parliament on 13 May, allowing associations to conduct meetings, including their Annual General Meeting, using technology, provided members are still able to participate. The amendment also allows voting on resolutions by the members of an association to be conducted by postal or electronic ballot. These alternative arrangements are permitted, temporarily, even if the association’s constitution does not currently allow meetings and votes to take place remotely.
We understand that there will be many more questions, as we continue to move closer towards the 2020/21 Little Athletics summer season. Whilst we may not yet be able to provide all the answers being sought, we do commit to keep you updated as information becomes available, and to support centres and their members in whatever way we can, coming into, and during the upcoming season.
We would like to thank everyone for their patience during this time of uncertainty and disruption.