Lockdown has taken its toll on every sports club in the land and even the biggest are not immune the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A couple of months later than planned Pakuranga United Rugby Club (PURC) is gearing up to kick off its 2020 seasons for both rugby and netball.
PURC general manager Stephen Hackett is under no illusions as to the enormity of the task ahead. While the club has been preparing for weeks for alert levels to drop and gathering rules to ease, Hackett acknowledges there is much to do before the doors and fields are fully open again. Most importantly, the board, he and the club are upbeat about the 2020 season.
“That’s the key message for us is, welcome back to our community. We’re back, we’re welcoming and we’re going to support our membership in what is the new normal,” said Hackett.
The club continues to embrace social media for this phase of its re-opening with a recovery video featuring some big names in the games including ex-All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa and Charles Piutau, and ex-Blues players Joe Edwards and Tom McCartney, all set to play starring roles for their club.
“It features a re-opening – we’ll have the scoreboard coming on, the lights coming on, we’ve had pictures of the lines getting put down, it’ll have netball players shooting through the hoops, we are back and we are open,” said Hackett.
“For us as a club we’ve hunkered down and obeyed the Government restrictions and levels with a big effort put in by the board to maintain our staff.”
The club has used the government subsidies to retain staff as they play a key part in the recovery process. Pakuranga employs six full-time staff and 10 casuals.
“The big thing is our staff continued to work during the time and put together all the plans for this re-opening,” he said.
“To be fair, what we’re going into is sport in my day. We used to play winter sport in the winter and finish in the spring. For a lot of parents and a lot of children, it’s going to be their first experience of winter sport how it used to be which I think is a fantastic thing.
“Currently, we’re gearing up for the return-to-play protocols and that’s governed by the New Zealand, Auckland Rugby Union as well as Netball NZ.”
Seniors will return to train from Wednesday now the gathering numbers have increased to 100 from 10.
“What we do know is that on the 13th of June, our senior teams can start two weeks of pre-season games prior to any competition and it’s just been released that council will let us play through till September 26 which will allow a full season,” said Hackett.
“For us, sport is critical to the recovery plan of the club. The re-starting of our Gymnasium and Badminton club was major and people coming back have flocked – it’s been great. Lloyd Elsmore Park Badminton clubs have not been able to start – so at the moment we’re open for members’ casual play.
“A major part of our recovery plan is working with our sponsors to make sure that they’re not only there for us now but are there for us in the future and we really want to know how we can be there for them as well. And so our Live Local, Play Local, Support Local – motto – is huge for us.”
Some of the things the club is working through at the moment includes not being able to use changing rooms, cleaning of gear and contact tracing of members. The limited numbers within their clubhouse at present is also significant.
“They’re going to be a concern for our ongoing clubrooms business. Hopefully that will only be for a short period. On top of our club operation we run a hospitality function centre so the gatherings numbers moving should make it easier for us to operate,” said Hackett.
“Basically, like many, overnight we fell from 100 per cent operating income and going quite well after a really successful touch season to zero – complete shutdown, lockdown.
“We have to do is ensure survival of the brand of course – PURC is a massive brand in our community and we need to ensure its survival, and as a part of this we have a responsibility to ensure our staff are looked after and ensure we give as much security to them as we can.”
A recent Auckland Rugby survey paints a positive picture. Around about 3 to 5 per cent of people were uncertain or were not coming back to the club post-Covid-19 which Hackett said is was quite low.
“The uncertains (‘we want to see your safety plans and how you’re going to protect my safety’) were about 20 percent,” he said.
“Seventy-five percent were just ripping the door down, they want to come back.”
PURC had 630 juniors last year and 250 seniors. The organisation doesn’t just focus on rugby. “We focus on netball (around 200 players his year), we focus on badminton – Lloyd Elsmore Park Badminton (around 500 players).
PURC’s Netball Co-ordinator Amanda Dyason said everything was pivotal on the government this week easing gathering restrictions. There were changed to 100 from 10 yesterday.
“If those numbers move up we’re pretty much ready to go. We’d already finished our registrations and done our trials prior (to going into lockdown) and we had actually gone up two teams,”
“We were going to be 25 teams this year but after being revised we’re probably going with 23 teams. Our season we can extend right out until October so we can still go ahead with a full season – that’s not locked in until we know the gathering rules. We’re aiming for the competition to start on June 20.”