Kids-for-free club Oxford shortlisted for NZ Sports and Recreation award

Canterbury community club Oxford are finalists in the annual New Zealand Sport and Recreation Awards.

The club is one of three nominees for the Community Impact category, and one of 18 finalists to be shortlisted for the prestigious awards to be announced at a ceremony at Auckland’s Aotea Centre on Monday June 24, 2024.

Club president Keith Gilby told the North Canterbury News: “It hasn’t totally sunk in yet as we are one of the smallest football clubs in the country to be nominated for such a major award.”

The club has 40 senior players and 120 under 16 children who are part of Oxford’s no-fee programme.

Sport NZ group chief executive Raelene Castle says the judging panel were highly impressed by the calibre of entries.

“There was a record number of entries this year, showcasing the amazing work happening right across our sector. And the standard of the entries was incredible, making it hugely challenging for the judges to select only three finalists in each category.”

The Community Impact Award goes to a project that positively impacts children, young people and their whānau at a national or regional level.

The three finalists are:

  • Gymnastics NZ – Participant safety, wellbeing and inclusion.
  • Oxford Football Club – Delivering inclusive and accessible community sport without barriers in rural New Zealand.
  • Shamrock Boxing, Maraenui, Napier – Rangatahi development programme .

The Oxford club have been strong campaigners for delivering football for free for kids in their community.

The club says rural communities such as Oxford do not have access to sources of funding available to urban sports organisations, and has been finding innovative ways to enable children to participate.

“We are immensely proud that our #FreeKidsFootballNZ program has highlighted on a national stage, the unique funding challenges and barriers to participation we face in New Zealand’s rural communities compared with urban clubs,” the club said.

“Our selection as an award finalist underlines the immense work our volunteer mums, dads and grandparents must undertake every year to ensure that our children have access to affordable local sport options within our community.

“Upstream affiliation and participation fees for football represent over half of Oxford FC’s annual operational costs, whereas it is less than 2% for other similar-sized rural sports clubs.

“For rural football clubs to continue to develop and deliver quality football development programmes, there is a need for equitable access to the annual $500m Class 4 Gaming Fund, which urban clubs rely on to support participation costs, as well as a change in the scope and scale of regional and national affiliation and participation fees for the sport.

“As a club and a community, we will continue to raise awareness of the disparity in access to grant funding between urban and rural sports clubs, and we will continue to lobby New Zealand Football to review its funding strategy to provide equitable financial support for rural clubs across New Zealand.”

Formed in 2004, the Oxford club is totally run by volunteers (coaches, managers, committee, fundraising) and services the predominantly rural communities of Oxford, Cust, West Eyreton and View Hill.

As well as the 120 children on the free football programme, Oxford’s volunteers have introduced football to more than 100 children at two rural schools who currently play no form of team sports.

“We aim to extend this to 10 schools over the next three years if we can gain the funding,’ Gilby says.

Explaining their approach to accessibility, the club’s website says:

“We’ve recognised that, for many families within our community, the cost of membership for children’s sport is getting harder to afford with each season. This is especially true at this time, when inflation and the general cost of living is increasing almost daily, and fuel prices make travel challenging.”

While the club offers free football for all players under 16, it relies heavily on the support of local businesses as sponsors.

Oxford will continue to look for innovative ways to deliver football.

“We know how important sport is to maintaining mental wellbeing, so we have appointed a wellbeing officer, Don
Benn, to the club committee,” Gilby says.

As an example of Benn’s work, the club has introduced a walking football programme so parents, grandparents and supporters can exercise at the same time as children.

NZ Football shortlisted for award

A second football initiative will also be recognised at the NZ Sport and Recreation Awards.

NZ Football, with their partners Ford, are shortlisted for the Commercial Partnership award.

Ford are sponsors of the Football Ferns.

The three finalists are:

  • Aktive + One NZ.
  • Basketball NZ + Schick.
  • NZ Football + Ford.

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