HEC study finds bright spots amid the gloom for organized sports during coronavirus pandemic

When asked by interviewers to compare the pandemic's arrival to an earthquake, the average participant in interviews ranked it an eight out of 10.
A university women's water polo league in Quebec, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2016. Sébastien Gagnon-Dorval / Global News

Organized sports have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new study conducted by HEC Montréal says some positive and lasting changes have been made as a result of it.

The study found many people face great uncertainties over when or if their activities will be able to resume to a larger degree in the year ahead than they have since the initial lockdown in March, and many are calling for greater government assistance and collaboration for the long-term revival of the sector.

However, it also found that many feel the world of Quebec sports is now speaking with a more unified voice than it ever has, and that the industry is now better perceived by the general public than prior to the crisis.

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In a presentation Monday, professors Eric Brunelle and Richard Legendre pointed out that sports are an economic ecosystem that impacts millions of Quebecers and called sports a “way of life,” in one way or another, for half of Quebec’s population.

The investigation consisted of 90-minute interviews in August, September and October of this year. All but one of the 39 who were invited to participate — 97 per cent — took part. Legendre told Global News that due to confidentiality agreements, researchers cannot reveal who in Quebec’s sports community they spoke with specifically.

When asked by interviewers to compare the pandemic’s arrival to an earthquake, the average participant in interviews ranked it an eight out of 10.

The hardest-hit by COVID-19, the study finds, have been event organizers and professional sports teams.

“Anything that is, of course, related to the attracting of crowds,” Legendre said. “This is not exactly the greatest period in our lives for that.”

Another worrying finding: a majority of those the researchers spoke with said they were worried about the long-term performance of Quebec’s athletes in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“I think on this one, the jury is still out, a little bit,” Legendre said. It remains to be seen just how much of an impact the pandemic has had on athletes’ ability to stay in peak shape, he said, but added that “the normal training program environment is not there.”

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There was some light amid the gloom, however: 75 per cent of those interviewed said they had succeeded in improving their relationships within their sport. They also said they had been forced to adapt, be creative and innovate their sport for the long-term by the health crisis.

This included a dramatic increase in teleworking, which it is predicted will likely stick around to a large degree after the pandemic has subsided.

In what could prove one of the longest-lasting impacts of the pandemic on the world of sport, Legendre also said those he spoke with indicated they felt the public perceived them as more important to society compared to at the pandemic’s outset.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, they were perceived as non-essential or secondary,” he said, “but I think that’s changed.”

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