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  • Annabel Sides

Volunteer Sport : Teaming Up to Call Time On Waste

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Water Polo + Cricket Leaders

Community sport in Australia is volunteer driven. These volunteers are a diverse group of people, they take on a range of roles, their time is invaluable. It is estimated in West Australia that volunteers contribute 49.1 million volunteer hours in organised sport, equivalent to 21,511 FTE.[1]

One volunteer role that exist in most sports is the coordination of uniform and merchandise. The role often closely works with the registrar or treasurer, membership coordinator and the sponsorship coordinator. Depending on the size of the club there may be one person responsible for all these activities.

Volunteers who work in these areas of club life are key to enabling community clubs move toward addressing un-sustainable patterns of consumption and production, the root cause of the triple planetary crisis, that is climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. These volunteers can influence the reduction in textile waste and its subsequent impact on these 3 crisis areas.

Consider first, the problem with uniforms and merchandise, with textiles in sport.

Sports consumer goods are regarded as fast fashion as their relative life span is short. They are produced and worn for a specific event, season, or competition. Fast fashion is now second only to the oil industry when it comes to pollution; it takes more than 3,900 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt, enough to sustain a person for three years.[2] Australians throw out around 23kgs of textiles per person per year. Fashion accounts for 10% of global emissions.[3] Despite our fibre production, Australia’s clothing manufacturing industry is small, it’s fabric production negligible and most textiles are imported.

In Australia in 2019 across 7 entry level sports programs for children it is estimated just over 1,191,000 items of textiles were produced to engage these children in participation, items included boot bags, backpacks, hats and caps, t-shirts and rash vests.[4] These close to two million items are only a tiny percentage of the uniforms and merchandise produced across community, school, pathway and high performance and professional sport in Australia in 2019. Many items produced for programs, merchandise and uniform have the afore mentioned limited life span as their use phase relies on branding being consistent from year to year, a change in sponsorship results in a change of apparel and equipment to meet contractual or licensing arrangements. Responsibility to design differently these material and traditional sponsorship arrangements, lies with commercial teams in professional sport (an article for another time), in a non-professional context it is club volunteers who can and are taking the lead.

Let’s have a look at how two clubs in Australia are becoming more responsible for their consumption of textiles, Hanging Rock Cricket Club and The Victorian Phoenix Water Polo Club.

The Hanging Rock Cricket Club.

The Hanging Rock Cricket Club is one of the most majestic places in Australia, if not the world, to play cricket.

Hanging Rock is a prominent, culturally significant landmark for three Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups – the Woi Wurrung (Wurundjeri), the Djaara and the Taungurung. Archaeological evidence found at Hanging Rock demonstrates Aboriginal use and occupation of place for at least 10,000 years.[5]

The clubs home ground sits at the foot of Hanging Rock, the physical result of a volcanic eruption, dating back to the Late Miocene age (about 6 million years ago). The geological icon is an amazing natural and cultural backdrop for girls and boys, men, and women of all ages to learn and cultivate a love of cricket.

The club made the decision for the 2022/23 season to procure apparel for the club in a new way.

The old system saw team apparel for on and off the field printed with sponsors logo. Community sponsors had been changing annually, so to service the sponsors a new kit was being sourced every year. Sourcing sponsors and kit and processing orders was taking up a lot of time. Members were paying for new gear every year (an expensive exercise for families with multiple playing members) and at the end of each season branded club kit was being sent to the op shop, where it had limited value, or to landfills - a waste of time and resources.

The new system sees sponsorship logos applied only to off field apparel. It was identified that these items are worn most by club members. On field items are only worn on match day, and when the fandom at community matches is honestly critiqued it really is only a small group, the players, officials, parents, and family of the team. Team uniform bearing sponsors logos has a small viewership when compared to off field merchandise that is worn in many different settings, by many different people, over longer periods of time. It is these items, when worn, that build a collective identity for the club and the supporting businesses. The value for sponsors is not match day, it is every other day of the year that the Hanging Rock Cricket Club Family spend time in the community. So, the club presented this value proposition to sponsors asking them to sign up to support the club for three or more years and agree that their logo would only appear on off field kit.

It is early days, yet the club hopes that over the next two seasons smaller volumes of apparel will be ordered with less frequency. Orders will come from new members or, to replace lost, worn out or grown out of gear. This will reduce materials, energy, water, transportation, and waste produced by textiles used by the club. It will reduce the time taken to design, order, process and distribute items and see participation costs lessen for members over the 3 seasons.

Match day uniform will have a life span beyond the 3 years as the club crest and name will not change so it will only need replacing or disposing of if it wears out or a new player starts with the club, and preloved uniforms cannot be sourced. This will further reduce the year-to-year costs for participants.

The new way of managing apparel will also see a reduction in volunteer time to seek and renew sponsorship arrangements, redesign uniform, reorder (and get the correct sizes), collect and process payments, collate and distribute orders. Minimal stock will be carried forward year to year.

Matt Shanahan, long time player, coach, committee member and uniform coordinator is delighted with the new system “The new way of approaching sponsorship and uniform has reduced the time I spend on these areas, giving me more time to take part in the activities I really love, playing cricket with my kids and mates and helping to nurture the next generation of players at a club”

When asked if he thinks other clubs should follow suit Matt stated “it really is a no brainer – it reduces our impact on the natural environment, the environment we rely on to play cricket and it reduces the cost for our members, which is important post COVID and with the cost-of-living crunch on our doorstep. Our sponsors are important, we are giving them better value for their involvement, and we are spending less on our material expenses, leaving greater financial means to build on the service we provide as a community club – the service our sponsors are recognised as being part of - keeping locals healthy, happy and connected to each other and this magnificent place we play”

In 2022, the Victorian Phoenix Water Polo club played in its inaugural Australian Water Polo League season following several years hiatus of a Victoria team being part of the league. The club is committed to minimising its impact on the environment, nurture the pathway of athletes and officials from Victoria and values equity. A high-performance team, the mainstay workforce is made up of volunteers.

During the 2022 Season Victorian Phoenix took the first steps in raising awareness of material waste in water polo through a partnership with Game On Recycling.

The activation at the final home season match in 2022 resulted in 160 balls (equating to 72kgs of waste) being collected and sent to Game On Recycling to be processed and tested for use in manufacturing. The end goal of this pilot program is to find ways to keep sporting equipment materials out of landfill.

This activation has been a catalyst for:

- Conversations with athletes and the water polo community who have expressed concerned about recycling more than just water polo balls at playing venues, for example single use plastic water bottles and separated waste on pool deck.

- Kap7 considering its sustainability approach nationally.

- An understanding of the high value placed on water polo balls in the water polo community. Balls from 2007 and even earlier came from the MSAC cage, clubs, peoples sheds and gardens.

- The Melbourne Sports Centres and Game On Recycling installing permanent receptacles for end of life sports equipment to be dropped off at MSAC and Parkville State Hockey and Netball centre. (now available)

- Melville Water Polo Club in Western Australia planning an activation to coincide with the 2023 Australian Youth Championships

- Social media content being generated.

At the completion of the 2022 season the club established a baseline for their flight and textile emissions and waste. The club has now implemented new uniform and merchandise processes to reduce textile volume and waste. These steps are also decreasing costs to players and the club.

Actions include:

- All uniform and merchandise design has been kept the same.

- Where possible players are being provided with remaining stock items or items from retiring players for kit.

- New uniform and merchandise required is being ordered once only for the season to reduce transport emissions.

The Treasurer at the club explains further “We are again offering our community the chance to support the Phoenix and become a season pass holder for the 2023 season, which includes approximately 14-16 home games. The cost is $50 for adults and $30 for children. While we are again including a t-shirt in the price, in the interests of cost savings and environmental sustainability we are asking that those joining or re-joining only order a t-shirt if they need one. We are maintaining the design from last year and do not intend to change the design in the short term."

This initiative is working, The statistics are in. New members have sought a supporter T-shirt however only a handful of previous members have requested a shirt. Players are requiring less uniform this season. The club has reduced previous season costs on merchandise by 28%, reduced the total volume in weight of textiles by 113 kilograms and the number of total items (tops, bottoms, togs, caps and w/polo caps) by 316. Excellent effort. This reduces costs for athletes, fans and the club. It reduces emissions relating to the creation, transport, use and disposal of textiles.

The club is also seeking values aligned sponsors to support the high-performance pathway the club provides and the environmental and social impact work it endeavours to achieve.

"We would be really interested in talking to individuals or organisations who would like to be part of our community and our journey." said Club President Gary Barclay.

If you would like to support the Victorian Phoenix Water Polo Club, with or without the T-Shirt, you can purchase your season pass here, or reach to club president Gary Barclay to discuss partnership opportunities.

I am inspired that these small clubs instinctively see how interconnected their choices are to their value as an organisation, to their people and to the planet.

From clubs like these – where people really matter – we may actually see the emergence of the next Australian Test Team Captain or Australian Sharks or Stingers team member, of the next national team coach, international referee|umpire or leading administrator.

Imagine the groundswell of small seeds driving significant change if the approximately 4000 cricket clubs and 150 water polo clubs take one action today.

If volunteer driven sport in Australia can do this. Everyone can.

Quick Tips

Approach uniform and merchandise with a mindset that there is ‘no away’, utilise the Green Planet Sport and Let Me Be Frank circular sport “wheel of action” to support your decision making when it’s time for a uniform or merchandise shake up.

Utilise sustainable fibres.

Seek to pass on club kit to organisations who distribute kit to support participation in communities where facilities and resources are less accessible. Send good condition items only.

Seek to repair items first before disposal. Sometimes a stitch in time, saves nine!

Provide items fit for purpose to an op-shop and seek to send uniforms not fit for reuse as a collective to a textile recycler.

[1] [2] [3] [4] Estimated using the known participation numbers from 2019 annual reports for 7 entry level sports programs and the associated kits provided to Australian children. Sports included Tennis, Cricket, Football (soccer), AFL, Basketball, Surfing and Netball. [5]

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