GRASSROOTS sport in Saddleworth could take a big hit because of Covid-19 restrictions which has included three national lockdowns.
And chairman Martin Holt fears for the future of the Saddleworth Charity Pool League.
Whereas many sports are concerned about losing players, Martin’s main worry is the potential loss of venues.
He explained: “I am concerned there will players who don’t return to playing once the restrictions are lifted, something mirrored by the organisers of other local leagues for pool, darts, crib and dominoes.
“The reality is that I am more concerned that we lose the venues and the landlords and bar managers who are more under threat from the virus than the league itself.
“They are just as important as the players as without their support the league will not carry on.
“Yes, it is a worry but, in the grand scheme of things with all that is happening to people, their families, jobs and health, we need to put it in perspective.
“The Saddleworth Charity Pool League is an organisation that exists mainly for the pleasure of its members to enjoy play a sport which many consider to be a pastime and in doing so we raise some money for local charities.
“From the feedback I have received from long-serving players in the league the main concern would be missing the banter of a match on a Wednesday night, of being able to sit and chat with players from different venues and where possible have a beer or two.
“I believe the league is under threat but only if we lose the venues as they are the ‘bricks and mortar’ that allow us to continue.”
Andrew Mills fears for the future of Saddleworth Badminton Club.
He explained: “I think team sports at the lower levels, groups who play amateur sports will face a challenge to get members back together.
“It was hard to get and maintain sufficient numbers before the pandemic to run the club and make the books balance and, after all of this, I think it will be harder.
“Members will have found different activities to undertake and won’t come back to the club if we can reopen. They will have different routines, life as we knew it has changed and as a result lifestyles change and Wednesday nights is no longer badminton night.
“There will be a core who will return, but will it be enough to make the club viable to run? We need between 20-25 members to make Saddleworth Badminton Club viable.
“I also think fitness will play its part and a lot of members may be put off that they have to some extent lost that fitness and sharpness.
“They may no longer be interested in badminton as it’s looking like it will be closer to 18 months or even two years before we will probably play again.
“I think confidence will be low and people wary of gathering in a group setting, I hope most of the senior members will have had vaccines in the coming months. We had approximately 10 members who were 65 years plus, I would think that they may be hesitant to attend.
“We are based at the school and once the children left from their final year they looked for local clubs to play at, including ours. That’s two generations that won’t have played badminton in their final year of school or college and the popularity of the sport will have suffered as a result.
“I really do think that it will be like starting a club from scratch. There are a lot of considerations that, unfortunately, make me pessimistic that the club will survive.”
Wes Rogers, Saddleworth Rangers’ former first-team coach, fears for amateur rugby league which shut down in March.
Wes, who coaches Rangers’ Under-10s, said: “It is a massive area of concern. I have no doubt we are going to lose players because they find other things to do and hobbies to pursue.
“Some of the lads at our club have started playing football which kept going for some of the year.
“Team sport is a drug and, without it, you lose the togetherness it creates.”
And with no imminent return in sight for amateur rugby league, Wes cannot see the situation improving.
He continued: “It will soon be 12 months and it will be tough to keep hold of juniors if they find other things to do.
“And for the older lads, you have to ask are they going to be physically fit enough to return after such a lengthy break in a sport such as ours.
“The longer they stay away, the tougher it will be for them.”
Rangers have a thriving junior set-up and been pro-active holding fitness sessions on Zoom to keep engaged with players.
Local cricket clubs have echoed the concerns, though are confident they can come through a lengthy period of inactivity relatively unscathed.
Jon Mayor, director of cricket at Greenfield, admitted: “I do worry broadly for amateur cricket.
“From our perspective, though, we have a strong set-up and will be fielding four senior teams this year.
“Other clubs may not have as many players and the situation would become more fragile if two or three players decide to play and migrate to other things.”
Local golf clubs had sharp increases in membership last year as they reported many were cricketers.
Gary Kershaw, secretary and treasurer at Friarmere Cricket Club, believes loss of players will be minimal.
“I am bullish as our junior section remains strong, though we have lost a couple of players who fell in love with their Xbox,” he said.
Meanwhile, Michael Leyland, from Saddleworth Strikers, was upbeat, explaining: “It is probably more of a challenge with rugby than football.
“I think that having the Premier League ongoing and games such as FIFA on the kids’ consoles mean their interest in football continues and it shouldn’t be much of a challenge with them being motivated to resume playing again.
“Zoom calls and skills challenges will also contribute to keeping children’s interest piqued and that can be done for any club/sport, with maybe some prizes or incentive for the best efforts.”