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'Everyone's nervous about, 'How do we return safely?' - the app making life easier as sporting clubs reconvene

ClubZap is helping clubs cope with the burden of new Covid-19 requirements.

WHILE THERE’S PLENTY of happiness and joy about sport returning on these shores after the lengthy Covid-19-enforced hiatus, many are anxious at the same time.

GAA pitches open today, allowing club teams to reconvene for non-contact training before the ‘non’ is dropped next Monday with the return of full-blown sessions and challenge matches.

With this, comes plenty of challenges, and Irish mobile application ClubZap is easing much of the stress and worry, having enhanced its capabilities to support GAA clubs — and many others from a wide range of sports at home and abroad — return to play safely.

SON1421_0006 ClubZap co-founder and Sixmilebridge hurler Aidan Quilligan. Source: SON Photographic

Founded a few years back by two club players from Sixmilebridge in Clare, ClubZap — originally Clubify — is is a mobile app that manages administration, communications and payments for sports clubs. Now used far and wide across the world, helpful features have been added in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis to help those returning to sport with tracking sessions, maintaining records and, in turn, contact tracing if needed.

What started as technically-minded duo Aidan Quilligan and Declan Murphy “wanting to do something really good for our own club” has turned into a company now playing a key part in this global return to sport.

Everything has snowballed since 2016. As clubs heard wind of this free app, interest spread like wildfire. Soon, they made it a business and it’s been onwards and upwards ever since.

“We’re a mobile app but also an operation platform for sports teams and sports clubs,” co-founder Quilligan explains to The42. “Our main aim is to help clubs reduce all the administration tasks.

The main people we deal with are those unsung heroes who work way behind the scenes; making sure all the forms are done correctly, making sure the club accounts are all added up properly, making sure the money’s coming in to pay for what needs to be done, making sure the electricity is on.

“We make it easy for them to get their membership in and help them to communicate with their members and supporters effectively.”

Communication. Something which has been perhaps more important than ever before in the current climate. Through lockdown, while there was no action and memberships didn’t have to be tallied, communication across clubs accelerated massively.

And as return-to-play roadmaps were accelerated, planning took centre stage.

“Announcements came extremely quickly,” Quilligan, who’s currently based in London, continues, “out of the blue really, because there was talk of late autumn before things would be returning and then all of a sudden, clubs and sports were allowed to come back two weeks later.

A number of our larger clubs and customers came to us and said, ‘This is going to pose a massive administrative headache for us.’ They were already using our tools for lots of other elements of what they do, and they saw how easy it would be to add a few additional elements to help them reduce that burden.

So Quilligan, Murphy and co. got to work.

The chat feature, which allows the manager or coach to communicate directly with players, or parents of underage players, is one of the main focuses. As per guidelines, clubs — or their Covid-19 reps, specifically — are now required to track all players who have RSVPd for training and those who actually attend, and to ensure documentation is completed to support contact tracing in the event of a positive case.

This was something ClubZap honed in on, and the new features are available at no additional cost. If you use the app already, you’ll get these features for free.

“If you look at it, there’s three main pillars of a safe return to play for sports teams, across all sports,” Quilligan explains.

aidan-quilligan-shane-walsh-and-pauric-mahony Quilligan in action for Sixmilebridge in 2017. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“The first is you have to plan who is going to be there. Our chat or team communication feature already lets the coach put out a message, ‘There’s training on Thursday, who’s going to be there?’ People RSVP and they have a list so they can prepare.

“In the context of this Covid-19 return-to-play, they obviously need to prepare specifically around the spaces that they allocate, how many coaches are present, and there’s strict regulations around that now that they have to comply with.

The second pillar is actually capturing information from people. Some of the governing bodies have come out and said that clubs need to actually capture data and get people to sign forms to say, ‘I don’t have a temperature, I don’t have any symptoms and I understand the risks involved with coming back to play.’

“That’s the only change we’ve actually made to our technology — as well as getting an RSVP, clubs can now actually get the player to fill in the form and submit it really easily on the mobile app.

“And the third pillar is where the contact tracing context comes in: keeping a log of who actually did come to that training session. People RSVP and say they’ll come but they may or may not. So after every session, the coach can go through the list of people who responded on the team communication feature, they can say, ‘Yes, they were there, they were there, these people weren’t there.’

“That effectively provides your log of training sessions going back over time. Obviously we have clubs who use that already. It’s a very useful feature for tracking attendance anyway, but now it actually becomes a core feature of how clubs can share that information if something does happen in the future.

They have peace of mind that they know exactly who was there, and they have the forms that people completed before they came to those training sessions.”

“We’re by no means trying to be a contact tracing authority or anything like that,” he stresses. “We’re just providing tools to allow grassroots clubs to comply with the rules and regulations that are required; keeping that log, and hopefully, it doesn’t come to the point where contact tracing is actually required.

“But if it is, that element is there for clubs to fall back on.”

While new features are still being released, you’d imagine that reports from clubs will be positive. The app has experienced huge growth throughout lockdown, hitting number one in the Irish app store’s sport category, while it now has over 100,000 users in Ireland, the UK, the US, Singapore Australia and New Zealand.

After two “full to the brim” webinars explaining their new developments, the appetite is certainly plentiful anyway as sport returns through the new normal.

“There was huge, huge interest from clubs,” Quilligan nods.

Clubs are very anxious about it because one, everyone’s nervous about, ‘How do we do this properly? How do we return safely?’ But also, clubs are really worried because of the potential administration burden that they have placed on top of them…

“All of the additional requirements they have, what is that going to mean? Who’s going to do all that work? How are they going to do it and, and that’s driving a massive amount of interest.

SON1421_0023 ClubZap caters for GAA, soccer, rugby and hockey teams among many others. Source: SON Photographic

“We’re working literally non-stop on this at the moment. We’re releasing elements of this every day. Some of it has been released already, some additional admin features won’t be ready until next week.

“But right now, you can already use the application to do the three elements: Get your RSVPs, get people to sign their form and then you have your log of who actually attended your training session or not.”

For Quilligan, his feet are firmly rooted in London since moving over last year. After waving goodbye to senior club hurling — “That was that was definitely one of the more difficult elements of moving away. It’s like you just can’t get away from it, it has your heart even though you complain about it non-stop when you’re at home!” — he’s played with a side in the British capital since.

But who knows what’s next in these uncertain times. Especially for big cities like London, he adds. Home is never too far away though, he smiles, however strange the past few months have been.

“Just looking at the difference in attitude towards the whole thing,” Quilligan agrees, discussing the pandemic on a wider scale to conclude.

“Obviously, Ireland were extremely pro-active and conservative about everything and it was great to see Ireland taking it so seriously. Definitely what happens on the streets here and what you’re seeing day-to-day, you would be a little bit worried about how things are being done differently. Specifically with Ireland.

“You hear all the stories about hospitals being overcrowded in the wintertime and you’d be a little bit worried for the health service but it definitely seems like they’ve got very much on top of it. You’d be proud of how Ireland reacted and coped with the entire situation, definitely, when you look at other places.”

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Emma Duffy

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