The decimated sports industry has been thrown a $265 million lifeline to help it survive the fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.
The focus of the package is to help the sector survive the initial impact of the pandemic which saw every sport cancelled and funding dry up, rebuild with new models and more collaboration and modernise to survive into the future.
In a post-Budget announcement today, Sports Minister Grant Robertson said the package would support sports at all levels to "remain viable, get stronger and adapt".
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The sports and recreation sector contributed about $5 billion a year to New Zealand's GDP and employed more than 53,000 people, Robertson said.
The $265 million package over the next four years will be broken into:
• $83 million in short-term support to help sport and recreation organisations at all levels get through the initial impact of Covid-19.
• $104 million to help the sector rebuild in the medium term. This includes helping national and regional organisations make changes to operate successfully and support new operating models and more collaboration.
• $78 million to modernise the sector by finding innovative ways to delivering play, active recreation and sport by using new technology and research.
Robertson said Covid-19 meant much of the sector's funding had dried up and put sports under "immense strain", particularly at a community level.
Professional sports and athletes weren't immune to the fallout. Competitions across the board had been cancelled or postponed because of social distancing restrictions and closed borders.
At a press conference this afternoon, Robertson said the sports sector had been decimated by Covid-19 as every funding avenue it relied on, including gaming trusts, sponsorship and membership fees, had started to dry up.
The funding was a recognition of that and of the "critical role" sports and recreation organisations played in communities, Robertson said.
The funding would start from July 1, but some cash would be available in days for professional sports bodies which had a huge hit to their incomes.
Robertson said those very immediate solutions would be on a case-by-case basis and could come in the form of a loan or a grant.
Robertson said grassroots clubs wouldn't miss out on the rest of the funding, but they'd already had a $25 million package announced earlier this month.
"Professional sport only operates in New Zealand because we've got a strong community sport - that's where the pipeline of people come from so we'll make sure that sports at all levels benefit from this."
Some of the changes to the sector would be shared surfaces between different organisations and how they worked regionally and nationally.
"It's really about taking the chance afforded by the recovery and rebuild of Covid-19 to organise sport in such a way that it's delivering at the grassroots level as much as it is at the national level.
Concern over women's leagues
At a hearing of the Epidemic Response Committee this month, various sports bodies expressed concern that women's leagues and community sport would be the first to go.
Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie said the rebuild provided the opportunity to address the "systemic underinvestment" worth hundreds of millions of dollars in women's sport and reset the funding model which depends on gambling proceeds.
"New Zealand should not squander this chance to address the systemic inequities across sport," Wyllie said.
Robertson said today funding would be provided across all three focus areas to support women's sport and groups currently underrepresented in sport, like people with disabilities, Māori and those from low socioeconomic groups.
Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand would work closely with sport organisations and professional teams and clubs to ensure the new funding was allocated "fairly and appropriately across the system", Robertson said.
"We want New Zealanders to be able to get back to sport, recreation and play as soon as possible. This funding will get sports from community clubs to elite level athletes back up and running."
There'd been "encouraging signs" from Rugby New Zealand they were working to get their elite women's competition running again.
A big focus would be on creating quality domestic tournaments with the international competitions dried up.
In terms of help for SkySport, Robertson said the best thing the Government could do at the moment was get professional sport back up and running quickly.
Robertson is especially keen to see the Central Pulse netball team and Super Rugby playing again.