Kids’ sporting fixtures to continue across NSW, leaving families ‘relieved’

Grassroots sports across NSW are not being cancelled this weekend, although games will be “tweaked” to restrict travel for families and minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Sporting organisations were instructed by NSW Health on Monday that they should stop competitions or games that “result in the mixing of participants and staff from different regions”.

After several discussions this week between the NSW sporting organisations and NSW Health, a joint statement was issued by the CEOs of Football, AFL, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Hockey and Netball on Wednesday evening confirming that community sports were continuing.

In the letter, the CEOs wrote that they were “comforted” by the assurances of NSW Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant that “both she and the Department of Health are committed to community sport”.

The letter said each sport would “work towards a tailored implementation of the recommendations”.

“It’s clear we’re not cancelling sports,” Dr Chant, told ABC News.

“At this point in time, we are not wanting significant mixing between rural and metropolitan Sydney.

“And even within metropolitan Sydney — we’re wanting to avoid some of those mixing events which take people across areas.”

The recommendations come after a teenager with a Newcastle Jets youth squad tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, while a cluster of infections was identified from a mini-soccer game in the Canterbury-Bankstown area in July.

What is changing?

Kids playing netball
Spectators have not been allowed to attend some Saturday netball games.(Facebook: Netball NSW)

Following recommendations by NSW Health, sports organisations have “ceased activities that result in the mixing of participants and staff from different regions, for example by zone, regional or state championships.”

They have also stopped overnight training camps and face-to-face social activities, such as award ceremonies and post-training functions, and restricted spectators to one parent per child.

It was also recommended that families avoid car-pooling or bus travel.

Many sporting organisations are working towards altering competition draws to keep games in local areas.

Football NSW, for example, will postpone games between regional and metropolitan teams, but all other fixtures for this week will proceed as scheduled.

Saturday netball will continue, although Netball NSW has cancelled all junior and state titles.

“This is not designed to shut down community sport,” Darren Simpson, executive general manager community and pathways at Netball NSW, said.

“They [NSW Health] are just trying to prevent travelling from Sutherland to Hornsby, for example.

“The sports might have to just tweak competitions to restrict games to local areas.”

Kids playing basketball
Basketball NSW will restrict metropolitan games to local hubs for six weeks.(Facebook: Basketball NSW)

Basketball NSW CEO Maria Nordstrom said the sport was trying to minimise travel as much as possible for families by modifying the format of the games and extending the season.

Ms Nordstrom said she did not sign the CEOs letter due to the fact basketball had “minimised rather than ceased” regional basketball games.

“For junior clubs in the metro [Sydney] region, we will go into smaller hubs for the next six weeks,” she said.

“We want to remove the angst for parents who need to travel, but give an offering to keep the kids active and minimise the risk.

“We are all in this together, it’s a really difficult time.”

Much relief for families

Three siblings play sport in the park
(From left) Marisa, Anthony and Ava Melissari are very happy they can continue playing on the weekend.(Supplied: Nichole Melissari)

For Nichole Melissari, the news that three of her children could play their weekend soccer and netball games was a huge relief.

“My kids love playing their weekend sport, and apart from going to school sport is the only other thing we are leaving our house for during COVID,” Ms Melissari said.

“We are very happy with the decision, and a little bit relieved.”

Ms Melissari’s 13-year-old son Anthony represents the Northern Tigers soccer club, 12-year-old Marisa plays netball in Pennant Hills each Saturday, while six-year-old Ava plays soccer for Hornsby Heights.

The family has travelled across Sydney in the past few weeks from Hornsby Heights to Fairfield and the eastern suburbs.

Each club has implemented their own hygiene practices and COVID protocols, such as ensuring hand sanitisers were available, requiring players and parents to register their attendance at games, closing changerooms and limiting spectators.

Ms Melissari said she had felt comfortable with the precautions taken, although she noted some venues and clubs had enforced them more than others.