Higher fees, fewer players

by Jennifer MacKinnon | March 5, 2013

Examining the impact of increased user fees on grassroots sports

The City of Greater Sudbury is fortunate to have more than 300 clubs and associations organizing sports and recreation activities for citizens. Many of these clubs and associations are entirely driven by the effort of volunteers. Grassroots sports especially rely on the support of parent volunteers to keep our children active, healthy and learning new sports skills.

In November 2011, Auditor General Brian Bigger released a report on user fees and recoveries for sports field usage, recommending steps for the leisure services department to become financially sustainable. Staff have said a review could be completed in time for the 2014 playing season.

Of particular interest to grassroots sports organizations is the recommendation to consider replacing the current system of clubs being charged a youth participant rate with an hourly rate.

There is a fear if fees are increased per player, fewer people will participate in local sports. As rates to play sports increase, less children will be involved, leading to a further decline in sports enrolment.

With fewer children playing sports, fewer parents get involved as volunteers, and grassroots clubs are spread thin with their existing volunteer base. With no staff to hold things together, sports clubs fold. Unfortunately, this happens to even the larger clubs.

User fees pose a grey area for municipalities. While financial bottom line and increasing demand for all services may warrant moving to a system that is more focused on cost recovery for its services, there is a strong feeling among many citizens that municipal recreation is a social service paid for with our tax dollars.

Additionally, with increased rates of childhood and adult obesity in our country, as well as rises in rates of diabetes, heart disease and many other diseases where exercise is an important part of staying healthy, can we, as a city, afford to increase user fees, especially to our future adults?

Because grassroots clubs rely on volunteers and focus on getting the work done, there often isn’t a lot of time or energy devoted to ensuring their voices are being heard in municipal government. Advocacy, or the act of speaking out to influence others, is unfortunately not a priority when uniforms need to be ordered, sponsors found and new volunteers recruited.

Advocacy needs to be considered a higher priority for all sports groups at all times, but especially when opportunities like this arise. Positive conversations on how decisions like this impact our children are welcomed by all our city councillors and staff.

Advocacy, as a form of free speech, is an essential part of democracy. Whether you agree or disagree with the recommendation of increasing user fees for children, please get involved and let your councillor know. You don’t need to be a volunteer with a sports club to talk to your councillor about this issue.

And while we’re talking about getting involved, please consider volunteering your time with one of the many local grassroots sports clubs providing activities for their kids and yours. You will meet new people, learn some new things and know you are doing something great for our community.

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Jennifer MacKinnon has 20 years’ experience working in the non-profit field. She also has three daughters “in too many sports.”

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