Covid threat to grassroots

Grassroots basketball is currently facing its biggest ever threat - Covid-19.

By sports editor Russell Bennett

The Victorian basketball community is fighting desperately to save the grassroots game, in the wake of the greatest threat to sport in Australian history – Covid-19.

Following the postponement of basketball across the state from 13 March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the game has taken a huge hit – and not just in the professional leagues and international competitions that have been left devastated.

In Victoria alone, about 420,000 basketball participants stopped playing in the space of a day around six weeks ago.

With 240,000 registered members this year, on top of another 180,000 casual participants throughout the state, basketball is the largest community sport in Victoria and the rate it’s increasing is actually faster than population growth.

The National Cabinet outlined its 15 principles for the staged return of sport and recreation activities recently and Basketball Victoria is working in tandem with the Victorian State Government to seek clarity on timelines and solutions for potential barriers to the resumption of play.

Basketball Victoria has prepared ‘Return to Sport’ guidelines in conjunction with local member associations and advice from Basketball Australia and its chief medical officer.

The guidelines refer to various levels of risk management to enable players to get back on the court, including: the flow of traffic in and out of venues, time restrictions, compulsory cleaning, sanitisation and restrictions on players, officials and parents per court.

Basketball Victoria is confident that, given stadiums are large volume spaces where the number of people can be strictly managed, the guidelines the sport has developed can allow for basketball to resume in stadiums at the same time as outdoor sporting activities resume.

Basketball organisations have a large footprint across the state, including the leasing and hiring of court-space from every Victorian council municipality – with 465 indoor facilities and over 1000 courts being used regularly throughout the year.

As an indoor sport, Basketball has the potential to have longer-term exposure to the economic side-effects of Covid-19, and will be impacted more severely by the specific classification of indoor sporting venues – including community and recreation centres – and restrictions by the State and Federal Governments than any other major sporting code.

Australian Opals’ Captain, and star of the WNBL’s Southside Flyers, Jenna O’Hea said it’s important for teams to get back on the court for social connections and lifting spirits to improve wellbeing.

“I think routine, and having places to be and keeping busy, is good for our mental health, so getting back on the court and into regular trainings and commitments is important whenever it is safe to do so.”

O’Hea’s motivation has been a bit of a roller coaster during this social distancing period of Covid-19.

Not knowing when we she will be back training, let alone playing, it has been hard to keep training at a high intensity like she normally would during a season.

O’Hea has been staying active by doing things she enjoys, such as bike riding, and running with her dog, as well as ball handling skills and drills to stay sharp and active. She encourages the community to do the same.

“I’m a mental health advocate (O’Hea won the 2019 AIS Athlete Community Engagement Award as a Lifeline Community Custodian) and situations like this can have serious implications on our mental health,” she explained.

“I know that I love basketball and can’t wait until I can get back with my teammates, competing and improving our skills together again.

“I would encourage all hoopers to do things you enjoy – keep a ball in your hands during this time and be ready to go whenever we do get the all clear.”

Gippsland native, Australian Under-19 representative, and a recent recipient of the Basketball Victoria – Junior Female Athlete of the Year Award, Jaz Shelley has just finished a shortened, yet, successful first year at the University of Oregon playing alongside WNBA number one pick Sabrina Ionescu.

“When the Covid-19 outbreak forced the suspension of basketball I was shattered,” Shelley reflected.

“I was one week away from competing in the NCAA tournament. Our team had an extremely great chance at taking a national championship. This was a devastating shock to me, my family and my teammates.”

Despite the challenging circumstances, Shelley expressed her longing to get back on the court as the driving force to stay as active and engaged as possible. She has been doing her best to keep her skills up at home during Covid-19, leading her family with trick shots in the front yard as part of the Basketball Victoria ‘Hoops At Home’ initiative. She added that it’s been hard, not only for herself but her brothers too, who are keen to get back to domestic basketball.

“I have now started to become optimistic about this situation and have been treating this as a long preseason,” she said.

“My brothers and I are very active people so coping with this lockdown has been difficult, but we are still finding ways to entertain ourselves in some way.”