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Exclusive: Martin Sheppard On The Value Of Major Sports Conventions

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head of the National Sports and Physical Activity Convention (NSC) from 11 November – 9 December, NSC founder and content curator, Martin Sheppard, spoke with Ministry of Sport about the challenges in delivering the event and the role of major sports conventions on promoting valued discussions.

The convention will see live virtual panel discussions every Thursday leading up to the NSC Oration in Melbourne on 9 December, an in-person panel and networking event featuring Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president, John Coates, AOC CEO, Matt Carroll, Paralympics Australia president, Jock O’Callaghan, and others.

Discussing the challenges in delivering the event with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions affecting live major events, along with some of the topics the convention will focus on, Sheppard said the event has expanded in some capacities.

“Because we’ve had to adapt, it’s caused certainly a few hiccups, but it’s meant we’ve actually been able to expand the agenda so we can get more people, so we’re really excited about that,” Sheppard told Ministry of Sport.

“The response from people has been really positive.

“We’ve got about 40 collaborators we work with on it, from sport, recreation and leisure and their response has been really good.

“There’s an acknowledgement that during COVID it has been exceptionally hard for people with the downturn on participation, lack of numbers signing up for new seasons, and also the number of volunteers that aren’t coming back.

“They’re looking for ways from national, state to local organisation for how they can address that, so we’re building some of that in while also looking at the medium and long term.

“We’ve been committed to trying to change the conversations in the industry for a number of years and how we do that is we go and talk to our collaborators and key thought leaders and get them to address the key challenges and issues.

“When the community of sport keep coming and knocking on the door saying we need it more than anything, we listen to people and try and put an agenda together to satisfy what they think the industry needs.

“We’ve set ourselves up over the five years before COVID by bringing in global leaders and thought leaders to change the way we think or to bounce off what we’re doing here in Australia…

“We really need to bring those kinds of conversations to the foreground, all COVID has done is slow that process down for administrators and governments.

“Now everybody can begin to breathe again, they’re trying to do two things, survive and rebuild from COVID, and also plan the next stage of the COVID world within the next two or three years.

“We’re trying to balance a program that addresses and supports now for COVID, but also where do you go when you do have that 30 seconds in the future,” he said.

Discussing the focus on the preparation for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games with key speakers from across the AOC and Paralympics Australia, Sheppard said: “The good thing about the Olympics being 10 years out, it allows you to think with a generational attitude.”

“What people are thinking now is we’ve never had to plan for 10 years, normally we do a quad cycle, so what we’re doing is taking our thinking outside of the normal election cycle of politicians or the cycle of a major Games.

“It’s entirely new for a lot of people within the sector.

“The Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games are all now talking about a 10+10 strategy, and it’s about what do we need to do different for future generations, and that’s really exciting for me…

“We are trying to bring homegrown innovators to the equation as well and I think that will make a difference.

“The conversation we start this year will be continued in July next year (for NSC 2022) with a focus on the blueprint for the next decade and what we need to do.

“We’ve had a look at 10 different countries approach to strategies of sport, and we’ve taken all the commonalities that influence success and put them into a blueprint.

“Really the conversation John Coates and the Oration will have with the panel is talk about what do they think we need to do over the next 10 years,” he said.

On the mixed approach of virtual and in-person events with the upcoming convention, Sheppard said leveraging digital assets is crucial due to COVID and the ongoing shift in content engagement.

“Our goal this year was to give people flexibility with how they want to interact with the conference,” Sheppard told Ministry of Sport.

“We’ve done three innovative approaches this year. One is every Thursday from 11 November to Thursday 9 December, we will have a live keynote speaker, with each of those on a different theme.

“There’s a panel there to ask questions and in the space after that, we will have between six and eight hours of on-demand workshops so people can watch them between then and the end of June 2022.

“You can have all of that access no matter what.

“We’ve also introduced the NSC Academy, where we’ve put all the previous conference presentations together and we’ve got in excess of 100 hours of in-depth interviews and insights from people around the globe.

“When people sign up this time, they also get access to all of that until June next year, and every month we will loop in a bunch of new pieces of content.

“It’s a bit like the Netflix of the conference industry.

“The big one is the keynote to keynote which is the NSC Oration on the afternoon of Thursday 9 December, and if the borders continue as they are, we will have it in person in Melbourne with our panel.

“Hopefully it can be a reconnecting event for key people in sport, certainly in Melbourne, but hopefully some interstaters as well,” he said.