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Physical activity fights back. Organisations challenge lockdown and suggest "Get fit to fight COVID' campaign as an alternative

By Tom Walker    03 Nov 2020
The sport and physical activity sector is looking for ways to keep doors to facilities open during 'Lockdown 2' / Shutterstock.com/Aleksandar Mijatovic
The SAGE analysis shows that the loss of access to facilities will have a detrimental impact on mental wellbeing and potentially increase health inequalities
– Huw Edwards

The sport and physical activity sector is mounting a challenge to government plans to shut down the sector during "Lockdown 2", set to come into force on 5 November.

Industry body, ukactive, is calling for gyms and leisure centres to be classed as an "essential service" and is mobilising its members to send letters to individual members of parliament – asking them to support the motion at a crucial vote in parliament tomorrow (4 November).

You can take part in the efforts by downloading a template of the letter here

The effort to keep fitness facilities open is supported by data, which shows that regulated gyms are safe spaces which have "extremely low" transmission levels of COVID-19.

The latest ukactive data shows a rate of just 2.88 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 gym visits in the UK between 5-11 October (and just 0.99 cases per 100,000 visits across the UK since the sector re-opened in July).

Liz Terry, editor of HCM said: "We know when it comes to fighting the virus that people who exercise regularly have a huge advantage, are less likely to be hospitalised and if they are hospitalised, are less likely to need to be ventilated."

"We'd love to see the government acting on this science and taking the opportunity to tackle this challenge positively, by keeping gyms, leisure centres and sports facilities open and encouraging everyone to get fit to fight COVID in the run up to Christmas.

"Locking down and preventing people from exercising and keeping fit is counter-intuitive in the middle of a health crisis.

"We're calling on Boris Johnson to choose this positive way forward, give the nation a health boost at this vital time, and stressing to him that keeping gyms open will relieve the burden on the health service and – importantly – will cost the government absolutely nothing."

ukactive CEO Huw Edwards said: "We're deeply concerned that gyms and leisure facilities are closing again in England.

"Our sector is essential to the battle with COVID-19 directly supporting the nation’s health

"The SAGE analysis shows that the loss in access to facilities will have a detrimental impact on mental wellbeing and potentially increase health inequalities with some BAME and vulnerable groups.

"The reality is that millions will be impacted by a deterioration in both their physical and mental health, with implications to longer term public health challenges. This should be of deep concern to the Prime Minister and all political parties."

As well as depriving people of facilities in which to stay healthy, the lockdown will threaten the financial viability of physical activity providers – both in the private and public sectors.

Tara Dillon, CEO of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), said that while the government had made some additional financial help available, it didn't go far enough for many in the industry.

"The extension of the furlough scheme, for example, will help individual workers, but there is a very real danger that we will see more leisure facilities being permanently closed and tens of thousands of jobs being lost," Dillon said.

"It is essential that the government steps forward with an enhanced financial support fund to protect this sector which has a crucial role to play in the nation’s health, during the pandemic and beyond.”

A number of sports organisations – including national governing bodies (NGB) of sport – have voiced their disappointment to include all sport (indoor and outdoor) in lockdown measures.

One of these is England Golf, which said it would “respectfully challenge” the decision to close golf courses and driving ranges as part of lockdown restrictions.

A petition asking for golf courses to be made exempt from the measures attracted more than 257,000 signatures within hours – which will mean the government will have to respond to it in parliament.

Another national governing body, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), said that if sports and physical activity facilities are forced to close, the government should ensure there is ring-fenced funding to secure their financial futures.

"The long term future of sports venues is vital and many are already facing severe financial challenges, so we will continue to argue for further support from the government in the form of a Sports Recovery Fund," said LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd.

His views were mirrored by Lisa Wainwright, CEO of Sports and Recreation Alliance (SRA), who said she was "deeply concerned" that, without extra funding, restricting access to sports facilities may be the "final nail in the coffin" for many.

“The closure of our facilities will once again place a financial burden on thousands of community clubs who are already reeling from the initial lockdown," Wainwright said.

"We fear that many may never re-open their doors without a comprehensive Sports Recovery Fund provided by the government.

"With another lockdown looming, this funding is now essential."

Meanwhile, Swim England CEO Jane Nickerson has strongly criticised the government for including swimming pools in the lockdown measures.

She said she was "frustrated and extremely disappointed" and openly questioned why the government was seemingly ignoring the science which shows that pools – like gyms – are safe, regulated spaces with extremely low COVID-19 transmission levels.

"Why does indoor leisure have to close down when the science has also shown that the risk of catching coronavirus in swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms is extremely low," Nickerson said.

"For months, the Government has said it would be led by the science.

"There are many things that need further clarification following Mr Johnson’s statement and we will be seeking the answers as soon as we can in the coming days.

"We’ll keep on fighting on behalf of the Swim England family and the millions of people who are struggling, like us, to understand the reasoning behind this latest closure of pools."

She also highlighted worrying data which shows that around 20 per cent of public pools are still closed following the first lockdown – and some that did reopen are now struggling to make ends meet.

CIMSPA  ukactive  lockdown  LTA  Scott Lloyd  huw edwards 
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