A LOCAL youth development soccer coach has backed new research that shows cost-of-living crisis issues such as elevated energy, facility, and insurance costs are now really putting grassroots sports clubs at risk.
The Sported/Ring Community Pulse survey of almost 275 community-based groups across the North found that over nine in ten were “extremely or fairly concerned” about the impact of increased costs on their operations.
Fifty seven per cent say they have been hit by a significant rise in energy and utility bills over the past six months while 41 per cent revealed that funding to offer financial support has dropped over the same period.
With 38 per cent of the clubs and organisations responding operating in deprived areas of the country – and most are run and operated by volunteers.
Nearly three in four see that the economic pressures have brought on cases where young people can’t afford the activities or pay their subscriptions. And 82 per cent are witnessing disengagement or reduced participation among their membership.
Derek Sharpe, who is Head of Youth Development at Ballinamallard United FC, has seen these issues at first-hand, particularly in rural areas.
“It’s tough here because we’re in a part of the country where there’s not as much to do. Kids can get involved in negative influences. Sport keeps them away from those,” Mr Sharpe said.
“But the cost of facilities and pitches is going up which doesn’t help. Our Council facilities have gone up 10 per cent. There’s a knock-on effect that we have to charge more per session.
“Our club’s run by volunteers. Without them, it would be impossible. The time commitment is phenomenal. But you also have the costs to put them through coaching or other qualifications. It’s huge.
“We have to find grants for that. We got some help through the Barclays Community Football Fund to support our girls’ development programme. But it’s a continuous cycle. And it’s tough.”
However, Mr Sharpe believed that sport provided children an escape from the stresses that happen in school or at home.
“What we’ve tried to do, like other clubs, is to give kids more of a chance to have that peace or that structure in their lives,” he said.
“After Covid, we’ve seen them have less confidence than they maybe had before. We’ve had young people who have had difficulties after they’ve stopped coming but we’ve got them back and helped them. It’s £3 to come along. But we also see families who can’t afford that.”
Sported, a charity that offers free resources and funding to groups in its network in Northern Ireland, identified from group leaders that 80 per cent of them are concerned that cost-of-living crisis increases are impacting the mental health of the young people they work with.
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