How sport clubs in Estonia coped with Covid-19
Besides the financial loss, one of the bigger problems sport clubs in Estonia faced during the lockdown was how to sustain good communication and connection with their members.
We talked to Jane Kalda from the Estonian Foundation of Sport Education and Information, a member of ENGSO and partner organisation in the project CHAMP, to learn more about the impact of the pandemic on the sport sector in Estonia.
How is Covid-19 affecting sport clubs and the grassroots sport sector in Estonia?
In Estonia, there have been several restrictions for organized and community sport. The government implemented rules for “training” which were also applied to the sports sector. The most restrictive periods have been when all indoors and outdoors organized sport activities were forbidden (for example between 12 December 2020 and 10 January 2021).
We assume that there is a loss of income. On the other hand, sport clubs highly appreciate the loyalty of their members who stayed and supported their club. Potential financial loss has been compensated by governmental measures (financial support).
During the lockdown, the main problem that sport clubs faced was to ensure communication with their members, especially children, and motivate them to train, either independently or to participate in online trainings. During less strict restrictions, parents were afraid to send their children to practice, especially the youngest ones. So there have been a lot of dropouts. Sport clubs faced the closure of certain training groups.
What is the response and support from the government; are sport clubs and grassroots sport getting support?
Because of the COVID-19 crisis the previously planned state budget remained the same. Besides that the government prepared several support measures to compensate for the sport sector’s financial ruins. Ministry of Culture provided: in spring 2020, 91.000 euro and in winter 2020, 528.000 euro of financial support, and 89.000 euro / 343.000 euro for the sport facilities. Ministry of Education and Research contributed 4.5 million euro (in spring 2020) and 2.2 million euro (in winter 2020) to the Covid-19 recovery fund. The Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund offered 4.4 million euro (in spring 2020).
Covid-19 and community sport; do you think this is a crisis or an opportunity?
Covid-19 affected us in so many different ways; there are negative and positive outcomes.
From the crisis point of view, we can see that the lack of communication and physical activity may lead to poor mental health. This trend has been recognized throughout the country, and not only in sports sector. Secondly, when it is not possible to participate in competitions, it is complicated to maintain interest and motivate people to continue with sport. Virtual training can’t really replace in-person sessions with (live) social interaction. As for community sport, it really depends on the chosen sport; the crisis mainly affected sports such as swimming.
At the same time, we can also see a positive impact, especially in community sport. People began to move more and more, and the sport businesses have struggled to meet the demand for sports goods and equipment (bicycles, skis, sledges etc.).
The positive trend is that people move outdoors more, including the grassroots sport clubs. This is what made the training sessions more interesting. A lot of “alternative” ways of training were used to keep the sport clubs running and the members moving.
What do you think is the main challenge of the grassroots and community sport sector today, and why?
We think that the main challenge is the communication with the members; how to support and motivate them to overcome the crisis, so they do not leave (the sport clubs).
The lessons we have learnt: People do want to do sport! Regional restrictions do not work!
During the second wave we had a lockdown in two bigger counties. This put us in a situation where people went to train and sport clubs organized training camps in other counties. As a result of that we faced a nationwide spread of the virus (also other entertainment fields were involved).
The Estonian Foundation of Sport Education and Information is a public institution, established by the Estonian Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Education and Research. The Foundation is responsible for development and putting in practise the qualification system of coaches; coordinating the training of coaches and sports administrators; development and administration of sports related databases (Estonian sports organisations, facilities, coaches, results); initiating and conducting sport related surveys; collecting and analysing information about international sport policies and participating in development sport policies in Estonia.