How our COVID-19 response has shaped our sport for development future
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"Changing the way we deliver our activities has made me realise that, before, we had been a bit fixated about doing things just one way."

As COVID-19 crept into our beautiful island nation, I realised that things were about to change. When the first case was reported in Fiji on 19 March, new restrictions on movements and gatherings meant managing a sport for development programme based around face-to-face sessions with large groups of people in schools and communities was about to become impossible.

We had to start thinking outside the box, and my first thought was social media. This is the generation we live in; everything is electronic, and it made sense for us to go online too. We needed to get creative about how we share our key messages on health, wellbeing, social cohesion and gender-based violence, rather than relying on face-to-face delivery.

So, we moved our programming onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We produced short videos to help kids and families stay active at home, began building a physical education format for online users, and providing resources to parents, including about staying safe online. We also offered our assistance to the Ministry of Education.

Our aim was to reach into people’s homes, and it has been really refreshing to see how far our content has been shared on social media. Even the Fiji government contacted us to say they were encouraging their staff to use our material.

It has been a win-win situation. People have been enthusiastic about the content and, for our staff, it has really built their confidence in front of the camera. They used to be camera-shy, but not anymore.

Changing the way we deliver our activities in response to COVID-19 has made me realise that, before, we had been a bit fixated about doing things just one way. Our programming was based on face-to-face interaction with communities, and we hadn’t really explored all the other channels we could use to reach them. We’ll definitely do more of this going forward.

Our NRL counterparts in Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga have also shifted their focus to digital delivery, from filming their regular sessions for TV broadcast, to creating new fitness videos, to sharing health messages.

Future delivery

Even when restrictions are lifted and we can start resuming our programme, things will be different for a while, especially for sport programmes like ours that involve even minimal contact.

While our activities don’t have to change too much, the delivery method will. Videos and digital content will remain important. Those resources will need to increase, as will our platforms.

For sessions we can run face-to-face, we might need smaller groups. The upside of this is that it’s an opportunity to make sure everyone understands the messages. We’ll be able to focus on quality of delivery rather than quantity of participants.

Coming together

The huge takeaway from this pandemic is that nothing is certain. We need to ensure our health is as good as possible, and the kind of wellbeing and nutritional information we share through our programme plays a big part in that. As a society, we have learnt that listening to experts is important.

At NRL Fiji, we have been able to come together with our stakeholders and build stronger relationships as a result of COVID-19, supporting each other and planning the recovery process. If we all have the same targeted outcomes, we can work together. We’re very fortunate to have invaluable partners in the Australian High Commission Fiji, the Fiji National Rugby League, Ministry of Education, National Sports Commission, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and Think Pacific, who we can work with to re-shape things in future.

A win for development

One of the biggest things for us in Fiji is that this experience is helping people understand the ‘development’ part of us as a sport for development programme.

Sometimes when we say “we’re sport for development”, people don’t always value the development as much as the sport, but I think that will change now. Going forward, the development part is going to be key.

Yes, we are rugby league, but we are here to do more than just rugby league. We are here to develop young kids, support community health and wellbeing, and promote gender equality. Our role in these things is going to stand out even more in future.

Ema Levaci is the Fiji manager of the National Rugby League (NRL) Pacific Outreach Program, which is supported by the Australian Government through the Pacific Sports Partnerships.


Sustainable Development Goals
3 - Good health and well-being
Target Group
All target groups

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