Game over? Sports and recreation companies fear pandemic will wipe out their businesses

Wahab Uddin built a company based on bringing people together. But now the pandemic has shut him down and he estimates that he’s going to be without revenue for the next eight months at least. 

Despite government promises, some in the industry aren't sure they'll survive

Sports and recreation companies, which run events such as bubble soccer, fear that government programs won't be enough to save their businesses. (Urs Flueeler/Keystone via The Associated Press)

Wahab Uddin built a company based on bringing people together.

He launched Bulles Soccer Inc. five years ago, renting out bubble soccer kits for events. Since then, it has expanded into a diverse games and activities company employing two full-time employees and five more part-time.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic shut him down, he's laid off his team and he estimates that he's going to be without revenue for the next eight months at least. 

"Forget about breaking even, we're not even going to be able to just survive," Uddin said. "It's going to be a rough, rough, rough period. It would be great if we had help." 

On Thursday, Mayor Valérie Plante announced a program to help business owners like Uddin by deferring the payment of their property taxes until July. The provincial government also said it's planning to make $2.5 billion available in loans and loan guarantees.

But Angus Bell, the owner of a sports and recreation company called The Ministry of Cricket & Other Homeless Sports, said the measures won't be enough.

He operates out of a large space which is used by soccer leagues, baseball teams, cricket clubs, lawn bowlers and also serves as a venue for birthday parties, bachelor parties, school groups, day camps and office team building functions. 

"Things are moving very fast and [the government] has to shore up the health crisis first — that's the most important thing," Bell said.

"But I do worry, do a lot of these civil servants currently at home on full pay ... do they understand what it's like to run a small business?"

Angus Bell says he doesn't believe the measures announced by governments so far will help him stay afloat. (CBC)

Bell said anything short of a freeze on commercial mortgages, rent and taxes means he and many others like him will go bankrupt.

"There's no possible other way out of this," Bell said.

Bell laid off one full-time employee and eight part-time employees this week after all his bookings were cancelled due to the shutdown.

Uddin said he is worried people's habits will be permanently changed after living through the pandemic and social distancing. He fears it won't be good for the sports and recreation industry.

"From now on, people will be very scared of meeting new people," Uddin said. "Connecting people together, this is what we do."

Uddin hopes that by the start of 2021 people's habits will return to normal and he can get back to business.


Douglas Gelevan is a national award-winning journalist who has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. In addition to his role as host of CBC Montreal Weekend News, Doug also covers community sports and sports news.

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