By Jersey Sport’s CEO, Catriona McAllister
The silent playing fields and empty sports centres across Jersey during this year’s COVID-19 pandemic have served a crucial purpose: to act as a reminder of the importance of sport as a signal of unity and recovery.
Without sport, communities felt lifeless.
We longed to hear sporting cheers. We craved the happy laughter of children playing in our parks. We missed the social aspects of meeting our team-mates a few times a week, the thrill of taking part in competitive events and the joy of watching local sport in action.
During this challenging period, sports clubs and associations reacted with adaptability and resilience, creating new opportunities and offering support to their members and participants.
But it’s not over yet…
With decreased membership numbers, lack of competition both on- and off-island, and an uncertainty for the future, there’s a genuine concern about how sport will fare in the coming few years.
How will sport prepare to move forward in a world still stuck in a global pandemic? Will vaccination provide a buffer of safety and security? When will large scale events be possible again?
At such a critical time, it’s fair to say that everyone is concerned about the future of sport. But this crisis has shone a new light onto sport, allowing people to see its intrinsic value beyond fitness and competition.
Sport is a powerful tool when it comes to social cohesion, community and mental wellbeing. Even if you’re not a competitive player or athlete, you can be involved as a coach, a volunteer or a spectator. When you meet others regularly, you have an instant friendship group, bonded through solidarity and familiarity. There are people who care whether you show up, who notice when you’re not feeling yourself and who can offer a shoulder to lean on during difficult times.
We may have been running (blindfolded) down a bumpy road this year, but this is a time for optimism.
Over the summer, it was great to breathe a sigh of relief; to see people of all ages back on the fields playing football, cricket, cycling and tennis.
Across the island we saw a huge increase in people cycling, swimming, walking and running. Neon yellow EVie bikes dotted the landscape, coloured swimming hats bobbed in the bays and vibrant lycra-clad bodies jogged along scenic cliff paths.
There is no doubt that one day, hopefully not too far in the future, we’ll be back watching and supporting local sport; feeling the energy of the crowd as goals are scored, teams qualify for international events and watching on when Team Jersey finally take the stage at the Island Games in Guernsey.
We’ll once again see our airport and harbour bustling with teams in matching tracksuits, proudly sporting medals after representing Jersey around the world.
I, for one, cannot wait for that day to come.
In the meantime, our health is our responsibility. We can channel the competitive energy of sport into our own physical endeavours. To get ourselves back onto the playing field and keep the community spirit high by looking out for our island ‘team-mates’ whilst ensuring we adhere to health and safety guidelines.
It’s time to be thankful for our island’s passion for sport and to express gratitude for those working behind the scenes, ensuring we never lose this vital thread of Jersey life.
Thank you to everyone involved for your commitment, drive and the life you collectively breathe into island sport.
This article was originally published in the Bailiwick Express on 3 December 2020.