sports

Fears that 25% of grassroots sports clubs may not return after lockdown


Grassroots sports will struggle to return once lockdown measures are eased, MPs have been warned, with one organisation estimating 25% of their clubs will not come back from the Covid-19 pandemic.

A lack of resources and facilities is likely to have been compounded by the effects of lockdown, sporting leaders told a session of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, with fears that both volunteers and the young people who organisations are desperate to reach will have left sport for good.

Activity levels among young people dropped by 2.3% in the summer of 2020 compared to the previous year, according to Sport England, with 2.3 million children failing to complete an average 30 minutes of activity per day. A “nervous” situation will be further compounded by inequality, according to Nicola Walker, the chief executive of Sported, the UK’s largest network of community sporting clubs with 2,600 members.

“We think about a quarter of groups may not restart, that the sheer effort of getting back up and getting everything sorted out again may be too much for them,” Walker told the committee. “Around a third of our members didn’t reopen between lockdown one and lockdown two even in areas where they were allowed to. What I’m nervous about now is that as we look to open again [at] the end of March we’ll face very similar issues.

“How do these groups get to a position where they can afford to open? Where they have facilities they can operate in? And where young children and volunteers feel comfortable to go? I think if anything it’s going to be more difficult because groups have now had a very long sustained period of time without income. Children have got out of the habit of playing in their sports; 85% of the grassroots sports that we support don’t have their own facilities.

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“The operators of those facilities are going to have to create social distance, have potentially fewer groups and customers coming through. The nervousness is that community sports are disadvantaged in that respect.”

Other witnesses called to the committee’s inquiry aired concerns that volunteers would not return after lockdown, while those who did were facing onerous responsibilities and long hours. There were also calls for a greater link-up with authorities at a local level, though the initiatives aimed at tackling inequality announced in the recent Sport England “Uniting the Movement” strategy were welcomed.



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