Community sport clubs are typically built on “a love of the game”, with volunteers largely motivated by the social good that arises from their unpaid contribution.

In order to have the necessary legal protection for the activity they undertake (and to access publicly contestable funding), most community sport clubs are “incorporated”, which creates a matrix of regulatory obligations, in some cases beyond the experience, capability and interest of those involved on a voluntary basis.

“Incorporation” essentially gives a sport club a legal identity which removes personal liability from its members, while also ensuring that the club’s activity is open to public scrutiny according to an agreed set of rules encoded in the club’s Constitution. From a financial perspective, incorporation imposes a minimum standard of conduct and annual reporting.

Data from the 2020 NSCS which revealed that only a minority of sport clubs have received COVID-19 financial relief, with an increasing number of clubs also reporting that they are losing money and membership, may be surprising to government and its crown agency for sport, given the COVID-19 financial support packages made available this year.

It's perhaps less of an indication that financial support is not required by New Zealand’s sport club community, and more likely an indication that there are barriers to that support being accessed by those who need it most. COVID-19 may have exposed a dangerous disconnect between the organisations strategising for sport and the organisations largely responsible for delivering it to local communities.

This idea seems to be supported by the steady stream of incorporated sport clubs being dissolved by the Registrar for failing to meet their fundamental regulatory requirement of filing an annual financial statement, while (in the main) still continuing to operate without the legal protections that their incorporated status formerly provided.

The Association suggests that two actions are now required.

Firstly, National Sporting Organisations must take a greater interest in their constituent incorporated club members, by offering specialised governance and accounting support on a regional basis, to ensure that where public funding is available, the necessary support to prepare applications and all supporting documentation is provided. Delegating this responsibility to Regional Sports Trusts based on their limited resources, to cover all sporting codes in their region, is both unwieldy and inefficient.

Secondly, where there is a likely incidence of sport club regulatory non-compliance, the Registrar of Incorporated Societies must proactively notify the National Sporting Organisation of the relevant incorporated community club, to ensure that the required accounting and filing steps are taken to avoid unintended dissolution. This would be a simple process and place the onus, where it belongs, on the national body responsible for the governance of each game.

In this way, the availability of well-meaning top-down financial support can be more easily accessed by sport clubs through the more practical resourcing of bottom-up unpaid volunteers.