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WASHINGTON, April 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ --

"Sport has the power to change the world...
Sport can create hope where once there was only despair."
Nelson Mandela, May 25, 2000, Laureus World Sports Awards 

Nearly 20 years have passed yet those iconic words from Nelson Mandela stand tall and today are the foundation PLAY Sports, a unique collaborative coalition among more than 400 community and national sports organizations and leaders, has been built on. PLAY Sports, which stands for Promoting Local and Youth Sports, represents a united front to support young athletes, working families, coaches and volunteers across all 50 states, particularly those in underserved areas, through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The fragmented and grassroots nature of youth sports necessitated an industry Coalition to work cooperatively, and with the federal, state and local governments and agencies, to advocate for a collective survival and impactful return. Without a cooperative approach, youth sports families and organizations will struggle, and a return to play would at least be delayed, if not fail.

According to recent poll results shared by the Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative, nearly 60% of local sports leaders said their organizations will project to lose at least 50% of their revenue over the next year due to COVID-19. They have experienced, or are facing, layoffs, furloughs, bankruptcies and facility foreclosures. This includes direct impacts to millions of grassroots coaches who provide invaluable time and leadership to their young athletes and sports.

PLAY Sports' mission is to ensure that the institutions connected to youth and local sports survive and thrive coming out of this pandemic.  Sports provides significant benefits to young people including physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits. Sports also provide youth with opportunities for building character, leadership and resiliency. The youth sports experience can help society return to a sense of normalcy post COVID-19 by creating community, connectivity and joy. 

The immediate and time-sensitive first initiative of the Coalition will be calling on Congress to assist community organizations not helped by the CARES Act survive until it is safe to return to play.  The youth sports industry, comprised almost entirely of volunteers, nonprofits and small businesses, risks a complete collapse.  This is about saving volunteer-driven organizations, youth sports infrastructure, jobs, and ensuring that young people have access to sports in a safe environment and receive the physical, social, emotional and cognitive benefits organized sports provides.

Letters backed by each of the more than 400 Coalition members, which included the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS), Laureus Sport for Good USA, YMCA of the USA and multiple U.S. sports federations, were delivered on Monday to Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, and Senator Charles Schumer, Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Among the asks of Congress for support were an $8.5 billion economic stabilization fund for youth sports providers and the formation of a youth sports COVID-19 Task Force.

The economic losses suffered by this forced pause, while not unique to youth sports, applies to the program providers, particularly sports-based youth development programs serving at-risk youth from under-resourced communities, as well as event facility hosts and large numbers of employees and contractors who make sports possible. Priority consideration in the disbursement of these funds will be given to these programs supporting under-served communities including girls and youth with disabilities.

This designated fund also would include reimbursement for lost expenses, including camps and clinics, funding for employee and contractual-related expenses needed to continue operations beyond the allowable period of the CARES Act and competition and event cancellations that are non-refundable or insurable due to the National Emergency nature of the cancellations.

Beyond immediate relief, PLAY Sports will also engage a diverse set of stakeholders to advocate for the comeback of youth and local sports, centered around values of placing athletes first, inclusivity, accessibility, accountability, and innovation. 

The coalition strategy includes: supporting families playing and coaching again, recognizing the economic and psychological devastation of COVID-19 will impact how families invest time and resources in participation in sports; and a playbook for return to play, ensuring there are clear guidelines, protocols, training and professional development to support the return of youth sports that ensures safe and positive sports experiences.

PLAY Sports Coalition is being led by a volunteer steering committee consisting of representatives across the youth sports industry, including Wayne B. Moss (National Council on Youth Sports), Benita Fitzgerald Mosley (Laureus Sport for Good USA), Jon Butler (Pop Warner), Jeremy Goldberg (LeagueApps), Keri King (Triple Crown Sports), and Luke Zaientz (Reigning Champs). Active Policy Solutions, led by Terri Lakowski, is serving as a special advisor to the Coalition and its Steering Committee.

PLAY Coalition Steering Committee quotes:
Wayne B. Moss, Executive Director, National Council for Youth Sports: "Members of the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) represent some of the most influential organizations in the youth sports sector.  The NCYS membership collectively constitutes some 60 million registered participants in organized youth sports programs. Given our commitment to Access to Play, Safe Play, Healthy Play and Quality Play, we are excited to help broaden the youth sports coalition and collectively focus on helping youth sports organizations through these difficult times."

Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, CEO of Laureus Sport for Good USA and Olympic Gold Medalist: "Laureus USA supports sports-based youth development organizations across the U.S. that use sport as a tool for social change. Now more than ever, this work is crucial to fight the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on under-resourced communities that are disproportionately affected by this crisis. Sport has a unique ability to encourage, strengthen and heal communities in the midst of tragedy. We are excited to come together as part of the PLAY Sports coalition to ensure these organizations receive the funding they need so there is still a place for youth to go where they feel safe, valued, supported and respected once social distancing restrictions are lifted."

Jeremy Goldberg, President of LeagueApps: "Our data tells the story - sports organizations are being severely impacted by the pause in play. They are using the time to try innovative ways to support their communities like virtual workouts and training, and remain committed to being part of the country's recovery. PLAY Sports is about elevating the voices of grassroots leaders, to ensure their survival, and to support how all athletes and families return to play."

Jon Butler, Executive Director, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc.: "Many of our local Pop Warner programs will be severely challenged to field teams this year due to the economic crisis with the pandemic.  Thousands of our young athletes may lose the chance to participate in a healthy, structured team sports environment.  For many of them, playing Pop Warner football or  cheering in Pop Warner is one of the few times they will have that opportunity.  We would hate for them to lose that chance."

Luke Zaientz, CEO of Reigning Champs: "Millions of America's children embrace sports as a path to a better life, and for some a scholarship to college. Many of the youth sports organizations that are chartered to help our children, are now at risk themselves. PLAY Sports is trying to make sure that when it is safe again for kids to come out and play, there are fields and teams for them to play on."

Keri King, CEO of Triple Crown Sports: "Sports save lives by fostering the resilience we need to handle life's next big obstacle. PLAY Sports is an example of collaboration, trust and kindness in youth sports."

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