A pub with no beer, an office with no workers and a world without events… 2020… This is Your Life…

I have been wanting to share some thoughts and reflections on 2020 for a few weeks now. Have been waiting for the right moment and to be in the right headspace. Not sure I can see that moment, let alone seize it. The year is getting away so here goes anyway. It’s got a xmas message wrapped into it too… but you will have to wait for it… there’s a bit to unpack. If, like me, you are just fatigued with the reflections on 2020, just scroll down, I won’t know. They are the exhausted remarks of a man, leading a business and its team through 2020, not necessarily the voice of the company itself. I trust it will resonate with plenty of you.

On Friday the 13th, in March 2020, the Australian Grand Prix was about to launch into event weekend. With ticketed fans at the gates ready to enter, the event was, incredibly, cancelled. It was a huge signal of what was to come and the cancellations and postponements that followed were impossible to count. The events industry in Australia, overnight, completely collapsed. 9 months down the road and for most of us that rely on the ability to assemble large crowds (mass gatherings!), the outlook contains continued uncertainty. 

For Sport Projects, like most event operators, we experienced the cancellation of a full year of events, our entire portfolio. It placed immense pressure on me and on all the staff. We had to wave goodbye to good people. As I write this note my staff have had to supplement their work with us, with other work. I tried my best to shelter the team, by maintaining full hours and full pay as long as I could, hoping ‘it’ would draw to a close. We ran out of shelter. A sustainable, reliable, profitable business since its inception, suddenly had its survival questioned. Whilst my consulting work has been steady recently, the business is largely hibernated for months to come. I have never experienced a summer like this in nearly 20 years working in this space. 

Governments here in Australia have performed well in the whole, particularly at state level where each of the states has been well led by sensible, considered, competent, hard working Premiers. The Federal government, sorry to say, has been led from the very beginning and despite pressing the JobKeeper button, has been absent and continues to be incapable of adapting and/or taking any responsibility. Somehow their inaction has been excused. Still, there are all sorts of governments globally who are completely messing up their own pandemic response, so we need to be grateful for what we do have. 

Both the States and the Feds have much work to do in order to address those deeply affected industries like ours. They still struggle to understand how deeply affected we are, how long the tail is and how urgent the support is. Our industry suffers from the ‘perceived risk’ associated with mass gatherings – including fun runs and cycling events. The can just keeps getting kicked down the road for us, despite events being such an important part of the recovery, for participants, staff, volunteers… on so many fronts – mentally, physically and economically!

Outside of the Premiers, the leadership has been performed by the community as a whole. All over Australia, particularly here in Melbourne, people have stepped up and taken on responsibility for the task at hand. Staying home, schooling their kids, wearing masks, looking out for neighbours and loved ones, and respecting the endlessly changing rules and dealing with the all-round inconvenience and disruption. The improved sense of community that most people have felt has been tangible and hopefully we see it continue as we turn the page to 2021. I trust we will.

Special mentions go to all of the frontline staff, whether they be in health and hospitals, family violence response, our police and emergency workers, in retail, or sweating it out in a warehouse. All of them risked their own exposure to the virus to ensure our welfare was prioritised and our daily life, normalised (where possible). 

With every part of our existence being challenged in a way we have never experienced before, it has forced people to zoom in and understand more about what is important to them. This is a good thing. In both a personal and professional sense we have learnt more about the people (and entities) around us by how they have behaved during the pandemic. Some have thrived and some have dived. 

Many of us have been experiencing more free and flexible time, whether that be because of reduced working hours, or less commuting, or because we can simply be more productive in less time. We have found more time to ponder and make sensible judgements, and allocated more time to hobbies and home based projects. For me this is true. I have had to counteract my stress and anxiety with focused, challenging projects around the home. The garden and the house have never looked better. In fact we were so pleased with it that we decided to put the house on the market, and then sold it. I have read more than I ever have before, and much more widely than ever before. It provoked deep thought and action in directions not seriously considered previously. Virtual cycling became a big part of my world and still features in most of my days. I lost 10kg. I learnt to play chess, properly, and so did my 6 year old boy. We play chess most days and he beats me a few times a week. 

But it has been so very tough. I led a NFP (Wayss) as I continued as voluntary Chair through what has been a highly challenging 2020. In the business of family violence and crisis housing, demand has been higher than ever. This, coupled with a business in freefall, a difficult diagnosis at home for one of our boys, numerous family challenges both in and out of our immediate household, home-schooling and the inescapable pandemic news overload, has been extreme. I have a jaw that constantly aches (my dentist tells me they have seen plenty of that!) and the tears have been a little too regular. 

Whilst I have sensed a growth and development in community sentiment, generally, the wedge that divides the classes in our society has never been sharper and more stark. We need to be mindful of that and encourage those that have been largely unaffected, to think carefully and deeply, by sparing a thought, and some pennies, for those that have. That said, it’s difficult to expect John Smith to do it when your own PM doesn’t model good behaviour. The 62 richest in the world, now have more money than the rest of humanity. Staggering. The disadvantaged are even more disadvantaged. Those exposed by casualisation and underemployment have never felt more pressure. These are often many of your retail, hospitality, events and arts workers. They are still fragile. Remember that, and treat them with care and respect.

As a business we learnt a lot about who we want to work with. Some of our clients, suppliers, partners, agents and landlords thrived, and some dived. Emotional intelligence is a trait that I have always valued very highly, probably above all. In the midst of a pandemic, it has never been more important, or obvious when you don’t have it. You can train it if you don’t have it, but you can’t fake EQ and there is an organisational EQ that resonates from the agency you represent. For those that don’t have it, when you demonstrate a lack of compassion and sensitivity, it is obvious. In 2020 we made choices about who we want to work with and who we don’t, into the future. 

As we head into Xmas I wish everyone in our extended network the very best for a safe festive season and a Happy New Year. For the events industry 2021 will unfortunately continue to be tough for many of us but if we can continue to demonstrate the sense of support, sharing and sensitivity that we have shown each other in our community, then I am confident we can plot a path through it. We need more support from government and some more sophisticated thinking, so hopefully that is on its way, quicker than the vaccine. The wonderful work we do, and the products we produce in the experience economy, can be such an important product to leverage as part of the recovery. I have been proud to be part of the event industry and how we have all rallied around each other. Competitors have become colleagues. Thankyou to everyone who reached out with their support and shared a yarn or two, of which there were many. 

I reckon when a song says it better than you can, then use it… here’s one from Client Liaison, that goes out to all the good guys and gals, and to all the good event people out there desperate to grab 2021 by the scruff of the neck! You are all ‘the Real Things!’

Got to say it though folks…let’s give 2020 the bird! It’s been a shocker. And hopefully there will be no more anxiety inducing webinars, with more questions than answers.

The final biggest thank you goes out to my team at Sport Projects, who have shown resilience, sensibility and sensitivity, and persevered despite being pushed, pulled, pivoted in all sorts of ways by the year that was. 

It has been a shift to virtually everything… virtual cycling, virtual events, and home schooling… well I had virtually no idea how to do that. I’ve called out the Real Things! As well as the honour role, i’ve got to assemble the dishonour role too… these guys dived whilst the Real Things thrived! They had choices to make in 2020. They chose exploitation, division, greed and a lack of compassion. 

Not the Real Things
NewsCorp and their absolute attack dog, politically charged trash that pretends to be news. Virtually provided no useful news.
The PM, who has truly had a gap year. Virtually did nothing. The depth of crisis we face as a nation can truly be measured by how ‘present and engaged’ he is… all sizzle and no sausage.
Our commercial landlord (and many other landlords) who have lacked any compassion, when there is simply an opportunity to be considerate, and human. Virtually, heartless.
Trump… I virtually don’t know where to begin! Captain Inaction
Pete Evans. Add to Pete anyone who decided, for some reason, there was ‘two sides to the virus’ or uttered something like ‘I like to keep an open mind’ and consider Facebook their primary news source.

Best wishes, take care and good luck for 2021! Enjoy the song, sing it loud and dance in the loungeroom to it!

Cheers everyone,

Steve

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