Through the recent summer bushfire crisis sport organisations - specifically Surf Life Saving Clubs - were at the forefront of emergency service efforts. While emergency services, search and rescue are surf life savings' bread and butter, surf life savers, who are largely volunteers, ensured the safety of thousands upon thousands of Australians on our beaches. The level of logistical support rendered by volunteer Surf Life Saving Clubs in NSW saw Brett Richardson, Surf Life Saving NSW State Liaison Officer permanently based at Rural Fire Service Headquarters in Sydney.
Images from beaches on Australia's east coast including the seaside town of Mallacoota and several New South Wales South Coast beaches graphically illustrate the important contribution volunteer Surf Life Saving clubs made from rendering first aid to coordinating safe land and sea evacuations. On-water evacuations included closely coordinated efforts with Marine Rescue and State police. Given the horrendous smoke Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club volunteers assisted general practitioners with first aid and oxygen therapy for those having difficulty breathing.
Importantly, volunteer surf life savers provided much needed emotional comfort and support to those within their communities and the thousands of holiday makers who found themselves in an emergency bushfire crisis far from home. Such was the involvement of clubs, Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive Steven Pearce described recent events as "unprecedented."
"Never before has Surf Life Saving NSW stood up these resources in a crisis like this," he said.
"Collectively, between four South Coast surf clubs, we have over 6,000 people's lives being protected which demonstrates the benefits of surf clubs to the community - beyond the beach."
Demonstrating Surf Life Saving's continued support, in South Australia surf clubs across the state and under the auspice 'help our volunteers support other volunteers in this difficult time' are raising important funds to help volunteer firefighters continue their important activities.
Following the bushfire crisis and in some cases ongoing fire events, professional athletes, leagues and teams have used their platform as a way to raise funds and support the many communities ravaged by fire. The Australian summer of tennis itself has been directly impacted by the bushfire crisis with play interrupted and significant concerns for the health and wellbeing of athletes, officials and spectators.
The 'Aces for Bushfire Relief' campaign saw Tennis Australia commit a $100 donation for every ace served at ATP Cup matches in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. Further, and through big name support, the Australian Open's 'Rally For Relief' raised almost $5 million for bushfire effected communities. Cricket, the NRL and AFL will also use their current and upcoming fixtures and leagues as important opportunities to lend financial and other support.
Sport: an important social anchor
Notwithstanding these notable and impactful efforts, the broader importance of sport organisations cannot be understated. Our prior research has explored the social role that professional sport organisations play in their communities. The significance of sport organisations as a support network or 'social anchor', for instance, through involvement in mentoring youth, promoting sport participation, and community outreach were found to be centrally important.
Additionally, our further scholarship illustrates how sport organisations contribute to the development of social capital within and through communities.
Surf club membership provides a nurturing environment that develops a feeling of belonging, and a sense of being valued and trusted by others. This social acceptance provides the basis for developing a feeling of community with associated social and citizenship values. Within Australian surf clubs, a sense of community facilitated by a common purpose has been identified (i.e. to save lives and to provide a community service), as well as the development of agency (i.e. a can-do attitude), shared community values (i.e. helping people) and an emotional connection through family-like bonds.
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