YMCA NSW (the Y NSW) is calling on the NSW Government to support the community sport, aquatics and recreation sector to help it survive.
The Y NSW has advised NSW Treasury of the adverse economic impact of the extended lockdown to the sector and the devastating long-term cost to public health.
The not-for-profit organisation manages 22 leisure centres and pools across NSW - including the Camden War Memorial Pool and Mount Annan Leisure Centre.
Y NSW chief executive Susannah Le Bron said the sector had slipped through the cracks of the NSW Government's most recent $5.1 billion industry support package and is frustrated to continually be forgotten.
She has warned that without support, industry staffing shortages would continue to balloon, the community would continue to disengage from physical fitness and wellness programs, and learn-to-swim programs would suffer - putting young Australians at higher risk of drowning.
"Our organisation, and many like us, exist to better the health and wellness of NSW citizens and as a sector we are yet to receive any direct support like many other industries," she said.
"Any general government support on offer that we actually meet the criteria for would sadly be woefully inadequate to meaningfully mitigate the financial distress we are in.
"Our income streams in the sport, aquatics and recreation space have been frozen by lockdown and we are seeing staff abandon the sector due to its uncertainty, customers are cancelling gym memberships and failing to enrol their children in swimming lessons.
"We're very supportive of all measures being taken to protect the community from COVID-19 - we just want to ensure we're in good shape, let alone exist to continue to service the community when we reopen in the future."
More than 50 per cent of the Y NSW's recreation workforce is currently stood down and 15,630 memberships are suspended.
The ongoing exodus of staff from these lifesaving positions exacerbates an existing shortage of qualified swim instructors and lifeguards across NSW.
"Without support, community sport, gyms and pools are at risk of not being able to open once this lockdown ends," Ms Le Bron said.
"With drowning deaths up 30 per cent over the 2020/21 season it's clear the impacts of lockdown and reduced access to swimming lessons is literally taking its toll. Swimming lessons save lives and should be considered an essential service in our water loving nation.
"Our industry has done our bit to support the government's efforts to fight COVID every step of the way. We are critical to motivating and enabling Australians to stay fit and connected - an incredibly powerful tool in battling the mental health challenges this pandemic presents. However, we need to be fit ourselves to play the vital role we need to in recovery.
"The government must extend the support other sectors have enjoyed to our struggling sector. This is a sector critical to a healthy Australian way of life."
Y NSW representatives met with Treasury and representatives from the Office of Sport in July and have requested the NSW Government consider practical options including:
- A stimulus package to restart the community recreation, aquatic and leisure sector.
- A grant-based fund to support industry operators to re-open and/or increase attendance in instances where attendance has fallen by 30-100 per cent.
- Expansion of existing Active Kids and Dine and Discover voucher programs to encourage more children and adults to invest in health and wellness opportunities.
- Recognition of swimming lessons as an essential service.