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Changing times

The definition of "normal" will probably never be the same again

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management 2020 issue 4
Andy Reed is founder of Sports Think Tank
Andy Reed is founder of Sports Think Tank

Things have been happening so fast over the past few weeks that what seemed important at the beginning of March no longer seems to matter. For me, the beginning of the year was spent helping organisations develop post-2020 strategies. None of our forward-thinking, however, included measures to deal with what is currently happening. The challenges we identified now seem very minor!

LEADERSHIP ISSUE
At least we now have some clearer guidance from the UK Government. Personally, I feel that the firm guidance to stay indoors could and should have been done earlier. The next few weeks will see whether the lockdown came a little late from the government. All parts of our sector must now show leadership in staying inside.

I know that for many who love sport, exercise and the outdoors, there is a temptation to "tough out" the virus. But this really isn't the time to demonstrate some of the worst traits of our behaviours. Now is the time for responsible behaviour.

Bodies such as Sport England, ukactive and the SRA have been working hard to get out the right guidance and messaging - but even this has had to change rapidly.

By the time the government finally banned attending gyms, I'd already taken the personal decision to stop going – and advised anybody who asked to do the same – as the social distancing rules just weren't being observed.

I've had to come down hard on some friends who have suggested replacing the weekend game of rugby with a game of #Touch instead. While some of us, trying to get ahead of this pandemic curve, may have been labelled "snowflakes" a couple of weeks ago, I'm hoping the severity is now starting to hit home and people will stay at home.

Having said that, I, among many others, applauded the National Trust for opening its grounds for people. A combination of nice weather, large numbers and people not observing proper social distancing, however, quickly led to their closure and those of other major parks. Sadly, it was probably the right thing to do.

As long as we all stick with the latest guidance of one daily exercise outside and observe social distancing, we can keep ourselves physically active. From what I could see on my village run, people were observing this latest advice.

MIXED MESSAGES
It has felt the government has always been slightly behind the curve in ramping up its decision making and therefore the messaging has been very confused. Hopefully, now it is clear for the coming month at least and when this lockdown is reviewed for effectiveness we all persevere if it requires longer.

In one area it has not been – construction sites for example. Hopefully, by the time you read this, even this will have been sorted. One of my industry roles is being the chair of the Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA) and I can say that the association's members have been given conflicting advice.

IN IT TOGETHER
This is going to be tough economically on the entire physical activity sector - from self-employed personal trainers to gym chains all the way through to the grassroots clubs and professional sports. While sport is an important component in the fabric of our lives, each decision to end a league or postpone a competition has been the right thing to do. Nothing is more important than the collective effort to save thousands of lives – and easing the massive pressure that is being put on the NHS. Sporting and financial pressures should not lead to the pre-emptive opening of any leagues, clubs or gyms that put others' lives at risk.

For example, I've been speaking to athletes about the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They agree it was the right thing to do. Their personal stories pale into insignificance in the face of curbing the pandemic – even if it means that those due to retire in 2020 may now not get their swan song in 2021.

I understand the financial impact too – as it is also affecting our own work. Income is plummeting and we're cutting to the core. Somehow, we need to all look after each other as soon as things are opened up again!

LEARNINGS
If there is anything positive to take from this terrible situation, it has been the embedding of the message to stay physically active at the heart of the government response. The speed of innovation to enable 'virtual' classes to be delivered has also been impressive. It has also enhanced the case we've been making about the need for public green space in all communities for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Perhaps this crisis has finally helped the importance of physical activity to be recognised. We now need to make sure the recognition isn’t lost. The fact that Joe Wicks racked up 16.3 million views in the first week of his PE sessions online – with many of those doing exercise at home for the first time in their lives – needs celebrating.

These are the most extraordinary times of our lives. Even before the pandemic, my definition of "normal times" had changed beyond all recognition. What is certain, however, is that the post-Covid-19 world will look completely different. Over the next few weeks, we will see both the worst and the best of human nature. Let’s hope that it is the kindness and heroism that wins and society ends up stronger at the end of this all. l

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