By Dan Plouffe
Most local sports organizations are about ready to punt 2021 to the same place as 2020, and while Ottawa Sport Council executive director Marci Morris shares that sentiment, the pandemic has certainly solidified her organization’s role to support Ottawa sports groups.
“I think everything that we delivered resonated with the community,” says Morris, who recently wrapped by OSC’s 2021 Rebound series, which came on the heels of the Ottawa Return to Play Roadmap.
“The fact that it was done by the community, for the community, is amazing,” she adds. “We were delighted.”
The Rebound program began with workshops on strategic planning, volunteer recruitment/retention, and risk management. Mid-year, Rebound evolved into a series on equity, diversity and inclusion, following input from community sports groups, as well as a report by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Foundation’s Change The Game Research Project that showed marginalized communities affected most by the pandemic.
“The thought with the EDI initiative was: how do we make our sports organizations more inclusive and diverse and welcoming?” Morris details. “And also, often (sport leaders) are so involved and busy with putting people into the field of play that they hadn’t really had the time to sit back and say, ‘But who am I putting into the field of play? And, more importantly, who’s not invited, and who’s not coming to join us at the table?’”
During an introductory panel discussion vide, MLSE’s Justin Bobb, Gay Ottawa Volleyball’s David Muddiman and Field Hockey Ontario’s Shauna Bookal noted that ensuring sports groups are inclusive serves to attract more participants, on top being the right thing to do.
Later online “huddles” gave participants a chance to network and share knowledge, resources and ideas.
Some local groups that took part already offer highly inclusive programs, some understand what they need to do and are ready to do it, and others are just starting to realize the importance, Morris highlights.
“I would say that there is a willingness and a desire in the sector, but I think that everybody is at a different place along the journey,” she notes.
Similarly, how Ottawa sports organizations are faring through COVID varies widely.
“If they’re basketball and volleyball and they can’t get access to the facilities that they use, they’re doing terribly, and that’s something that’s completely out of their control,” explains Morris, whose organization also had their hand in many other projects, including facilitating sports groups’ participation in consultations for the City of Ottawa’s 10-year Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan.
“Outdoor sports tended to do better this summer because they could be outdoors safely,” she continues. “Individual sports are easier to do than team sports where contact is part of the game.
“But what so many sports are dealing with is the volunteer fatigue. There have been so many added requirements put on them for COVID. I would say all organizations are struggling with volunteer retention, definitely volunteer attraction.”
OSC’s Rebound program was offered free of charge to the local sports community thanks to funding from Ontario Trillium Foundation and Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries.
Roughly 16 local sports groups received provincial grants as well, with most projects focused on recovery or inclusion initiatives.
OSC had two main goals for 2021, Morris indicates – to help people with COVID recovery, and to build a stronger sector.
“The fact that we were able to accomplish that, with so many different offerings, that involved many different people – to me, that was very rewarding,” she underlines. “We weren’t one-size-fits-all. We could meet people where their needs were at.”