Sports volunteering and coronavirus

19 June 2020


Fiona Reid Head Shoulders

Scotland is starting to ease itself out of lockdown and some areas of amateur sport (and more areas of professional sport) are starting to return. 

Dr. Fiona Reid has worked in the sports industry for over 20 years and her current research interests focus on volunteers, volunteering and the voluntary sector in sports, events and tourism.

In her guest blog, Fiona discusses some of the likely impacts on sports volunteering and her focus moving forward. You can also hear from Fiona on Radio V ep.11.  


Sport in Scotland is entirely reliant on volunteers. Almost every sports club and organisation is volunteer-led, and many have no-one in the organisation who is paid at all. 

Latest figures found that there are 13,000 voluntary sports clubs in Scotland (across all sports) and over 200,000 volunteers made it possible for all of us to participate in sport and physical activity in an affordable way. 

Sports volunteers get involved for many different reasons, but some main ones are to support the club, to support the sport and for social reasons. 

The range of volunteer roles available means that there is no need for club volunteers to be at all sporty – in fact you can volunteer in administration and support roles, or you can learn about the sport to get more actively involved in delivery.  One major reason for volunteering is to help family members (particularly children). Parents are really important volunteers. 

Sports volunteering and COVID-19

As researchers, we're keen to find out how sports clubs and volunteers have been impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19).

  • At the think tank, the Observatory for Sport in Scotland (OSS) we held a webinar focussed on volunteers and sport and over 200 people attended.
  • From a recent Sport England Survey, we find that 50% of current sport volunteers said they were still in their role during lockdown and three times more people than currently volunteer said they intended to volunteer in sport and physical activity in the next 12 months. That sounds like good news.
  • A survey of Danish Sports Clubs found great anxiety about the impact of lockdown. Some clubs anticipate a reduction in membership and financial hardships, and one third fear lockdown closure could mean the end of their club. But two thirds of the clubs had confidence in the club’s resilience to survive the consequences of this crisis.
  • In a recent survey of its members Sports Volunteering Research Network found concern about the future:
    • Fear of returning safely to volunteering (and to sport provision), and the weight of civic responsibility to keep members and volunteers safe
    • Break in momentum of volunteering
    • Need for strong governance and financial management – decrease in revenue and fixed or increased costs to fulfil social distancing and other government requirements
    • An increase in volunteering hours required, but there may be competition for these volunteers
    • Not knowing what the new normal will look like and how it will evolve


Finding a new normal for sport

The return to play which has begun with professional football in Germany, Spain and now in England seems a world away from our own local sports facilities and clubs.  

Sports Image _250

Different sports will be impacted differently; some sports may take longer to return to competitive play. Volunteers may require innovative solutions to enable their sport to happen. Outdoor floodlit gymnastics on rugby training pitches or outdoor badminton on 5 aside pitches can be imagined.

One sport that has been able to return, with appropriate rules in place, is tennis. Local clubs across Scotland have opened their gates, set up online booking systems, provided hand sanitiser and left their clubhouses locked...and players young and old, novice and expert have flocked to get some sporting activity. 

We know that sports volunteers are highly motivated but how will that motivation change? As Juliet a tennis volunteer explained on Radio V ep.11, she's been able to help local people play tennis in a safe environment and while things are different, her volunteering continues. That experience may not be the same everywhere. 

All sports and sports volunteers are going to need to work together for the good of our communities as we look to emerge from the crisis and rebuild and restart sport.

As researchers we're keen to understand this new normal and moreover how volunteer motivations, use of leisure time and choices about volunteering might change due to this crisis. 

Please do get in touch if you have a question, comment or related research interest as I'll be keen to find out more. 



Dr. Fiona Reid

UK Sports Volunteering Research Network
Observatory for Sport in Scotland Research Advisory Group
Glasgow Caledonian University


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