Committee: Rich-poor exercise gap grows during lockdown; work should start on plans to allow sport spectators

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Culture Committee
Impact of Covid-19 on Sport (pdf)
Published: 30th June 2020

“We give credit to both the UK and Welsh governments for encouraging some form of exercise during lockdown as it is recognition of the importance and benefit activities can have on both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“The contrast in exercise levels between communities is deeply concerning and we must guard against this gap growing, or lack of exercise becoming a habit.”
– Acting Committee Chair, Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)

1. Covid-19 has had a “catastrophic” impact on sport at all levels

While it goes without saying, the postponement/cancellation of sport has had an immediate and significant impact, with the WRU going so far as to describe it as “catastrophic” and the FAW even suggesting women’s football (generally) faces a fight for survival.

£8.5million has been found to support sports organisation (via Sport Wales) and £550,000 for smaller not-for-profit community clubs, though the FAW thought their case would be stronger with a dedicated sports minister (the current Deputy Minister, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, has responsibility for sport alongside other policy areas).

In a similar finding to the Culture Committee’s report on the impact on the creative industries, not all people working in sport have had access to financial support having fallen through gaps in the UK Government’s self-employment support scheme – freelance and part-time instructors, for instance.

The FAW believed money from broadcasting should enable high-level football to survive. The WRU, however, were glummer, saying professional rugby has taken a much bigger hit – the cancellation of the men’s Six Nations game vs Scotland expecting to cost £10million.

2. People living in more deprived households have exercised less during lockdown

The headline finding was that adults in wealthier households have exercised more (a 7 percentage point increase) during lockdown than those in more deprived households (4 percentage point decrease) – widening the physical activity gap between rich and poor that already existed. The trend was similar for children.

Sport Wales has called on this fall in physical activity to be addressed in the new curriculum – a Bill on which is set to be introduced soon – as a matter of urgency.

Physical fitness is also a key factor in determining how seriously Covid-19 will affect someone – and there was praise for the UK and Welsh governments for promoting and allowing exercise during the lockdown. The Committee recommended that this becomes a longer-term joined-up policy linking exercise to public health.

3. Differing lockdown restrictions have made it difficult to plan for sport’s return

Different guidance has been issued to different sports to allow them to return, but because all of the UK’s nations were taking different approaches in general, there was some confusion over when and how some sports could return in Wales compared to the rest of the UK – the extended closure of tennis courts in Wales being an example.

Before spectators can be allowed to watch sports events, the FAW asked for a clear definition on what a “large crowd” is, suggesting that a limited number of spectators could be allowed to return to smaller grounds (i.e. <2,500 capacity, as is normal in the Cymru Premier) because social distancing would be easier to enforce.

The WRU stressed the need to continue to attract major events to the Principality Stadium as a “beacon”.

In the end, the Committee recommended the Welsh Government prepares guidance – in collaboration with sports organisations – in anticipation of allowing spectators back into stadiums.

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