The UK’s sport and physical activity sector has joined forces to launch a new campaign called Save Our Sports, urging the Government to save grassroots sport, fitness and leisure facilities from permanent closure due to COVID-19.
Leaders from more than 150 bodies wrote to the Prime Minister in September asking him to provide ringfenced funding for the recovery of the sport and activity sector – or risk fuelling physical inactivity and related illnesses for a generation. There has so far been total inaction from the Government on this issue and neither the Prime Minister, nor any of his Cabinet, have as yet responded to this letter.
The sport and physical activity sector request replicates that already provided to the culture and arts sector, which faces many of the same challenges, and is already benefiting from a sizeable rescue fund of £1.57bn as well as a VAT reduction to 5%, whilst at the same time being permitted to stage socially distanced performing arts events with audiences at both indoor and outdoor venues.
The Savanta ComRes COVID-19 tracker shows that the public now feel that places of leisure are the part of our economy least supported by government, below that of the self-employed, small businesses and the NHS.
Using the campaign hashtag #SaveOurSports, the group requests a support package which:
- Creates a Sports Recovery Fund to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t lead to a lost generation of sport and activity
- Extends the VAT reduction that has been applied to the culture and hospitality sectors to the sport and physical activity sector
- Maximise access, in a safe way, to sport and physical activity during any local lockdowns or additional national restrictions
This request comes off the back of enforced closures of gyms and leisure centres as part of the Tier 3 restrictions which came into place in Liverpool on Wednesday morning. The restrictions on these facilities ignores the scientific data evidencing their safe operations and has been directly challenged by both Liverpool Mayor, Joe Anderson, and Metro Mayor of the Liverpool Region, Steve Rotherham. The sector is now considering further options to reverse this decision, including taking appropriate legal action.
The Tier 2 and 3 restrictions announced by Government also limit opportunities to participate in adult indoor sporting activity to within a single household/bubble, despite the strict health protocols that indoor sports operators have put in place to ensure that they are COVID-secure. This will have a further financial impact for indoor sport and leisure facilities in England, as well as on the health and wellbeing of those who cannot take part in these sports outdoors in the winter months.
Whilst restrictions have been put in place on indoor group exercise in Scotland and Northern Ireland through their stricter guidelines, gyms and leisure centres remain open for individual users.
Last month, data reported by ukactive from more than 1,500 community sport and leisure facilities, accounting for more than 22 million public visits, showed just 78 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among customers in England (a rate of 0.34 cases per 100,000 visits).
Research from Sheffield Hallam and Sport England shows that sports clubs and public leisure facilities contribute more than £72bn of social value annually across England and play a critical role in supporting rehabilitation from many conditions such as cancer, heart disease, mental health issues and COVID-19.
The Sports Recovery Fund would help prevent the closure of facilities which form the bedrock of communities across the country which have a disproportionately greater impact on people from lower income backgrounds, BAME, and disability groups. Without financial support, nearly half of public leisure facilities face risk of permanent closure by Christmas.
Lisa Wainwright, CEO of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: “The sport and physical activity sector is unified in its voice that more needs to be done by Government to protect the sector.
"We are delighted to see that the Government is looking to support the larger professional sports, who have been significantly impacted by a lack of matchday revenue, however it is now vital that attentions are turned to the impacts Covid-19 is having on community sport and physical activity.
"The health, wellbeing and prosperity of the nation needs to be protected through a Sports Recovery Fund that ensures our sector is not another victim of Covid-19”.
Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive said: “In order for our sector to continue to be on the frontline of the nation’s recovery from Covid-19, it requires urgent support. Jobs need to be protected and facilities maintained in order to deliver vital community services.
"Without a Government intervention we risk losing an huge proportion of these community assets, which will put a great strain on the health and wellbeing of the nation as we approach these long winter months. This would have a huge impact on our NHS’s ability to manage the pandemic”.