Squash clubs in parts of New Zealand – including Auckland and Bay of Plenty – have reported a surge in interest from new players following the sport’s emergence from the COVID-19 enforced lockdown that halted sport in the country.
Clubs opened up back in May after the alert level in New Zealand had gone down to Level 2 and, with border restrictions in place and a lack of international travel, members of the public have flocked to their squash clubs, while other sports have also seen an upswing in participation.
Auckland in particular has seen record numbers of players entering tournaments following the lockdown and WSF Oceania Vice-President Jim O’Grady says that support from the government as well as innovative promotional techniques have helped squash return in style.
“Auckland tournaments post-lockdown were receiving record numbers,” O’Grady said.
“Clubs that typically get 80 entries for tournaments were getting 120. Interclub team numbers were right back at the same levels as prior to COVID.
“No Auckland clubs have had to close their doors and thankfully sports clubs were well supported financially during the lockdowns with a government wage subsidy available for those clubs with paid staff, and two rounds of funding from Sport NZ via a Community Resilience Fund were able to be accessed by clubs and the districts.
Squash Auckland gave clubs a 10% affiliation fee rebate and ran a virtual pub quiz fundraiser for the clubs during lockdown that raised close to $2,000, which featured guest appearances from Nick Matthew, Daryl Selby, Joelle King, and Dame Susan Devoy.
“Auckland ran a major social media promotional campaign in July/August which has helped generate new interest and take advantage of squash clubs being able to operate earlier than team sports. A second social media campaign is currently being run to promote World Squash Day, during which 14 Auckland clubs have signed up to run open day events at their clubs.
“Auckland will join the rest of the country in Level 1 on Thursday which has very little restrictions. Players have been a bit slower to return to play from the second lockdown, however life is fairly back to normal for most people and our clubs are back to operating as per normal.”
Squash in Bay of Plenty has also seen a big increase in players, with the region’s biggest club, the Devoy Squash & Fitness Centre boasting a 30% increase in casual usage compared to earlier in the year pre-COVID.
“Under level one it is pretty much business as usual,” O’Grady said.
“Clubs do have protocols in place for contact tracing and social distancing as well as extra cleaning. They are now well-versed in the measures they need to take as we move up and down the alert levels. Stepping into our clubs would feel pretty much like normal at the moment.
“Some clubs have seen a surge in membership, as well as an increase in casual use since re-opening. Tournaments are seeing very good numbers, with smaller clubs in particular seeing their events reach record levels of entries. The fact that people are unable to travel overseas means people are keen to travel locally and engage with local sports.”
Squash New Zealand have also done their bit to help clubs affected by the pandemic, reducing levies payable to the national body by around 20 per cent.
These measures have meant that the clubs, of which the majority are not for profit community sporting facilities, have been able to weather the lockdown successfully.
This was also replicated in Squash Southland, who dropped their affiliation fees by 20 per cent at a district level.
Squash New Zealand estimate 50 per cent of players are back playing regularly in Southland, while a record number of teams were entered across their senior competitions this year as squash continues to make a comeback following the pandemic.