An extra £50m is being directed towards grassroots sport after a “significant hit” to activity levels amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Funding agency Sport England – which has already invested £220m since the start of the crisis – announced the additional money as part of a new 10-year strategy.
Thousands of clubs, swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms have been forced to shut in recent months.
With many children having done no sport outside of PE lessons since the start of November, and schools now shut across the county, emphasis will be placed on supporting young people to get active.
Earlier this month, figures showed the majority of young people failed to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise in the last academic year. Almost a third of children were classed as ‘inactive’ as a result of the first lockdown, not even doing 30 minutes.
Another focus in the new ‘Uniting the Movement’ strategy will be tackling the long-standing inequalities that have existed within the sport sector and reinforced by the recent disruption.
New data shows the pandemic has disproportionately affected people from lower socio-economic groups and BAME backgrounds, for whom there was already a clear pattern of low activity.
“This strategy comes at a critical time” said Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of Sport England.
“We have made significant funding available, but many organisations are struggling, and activity levels have taken a significant hit.
“At the heart of all this is a ruthless focus on providing opportunities to people and communities that have traditionally been left behind.”
Andy Reed, Chair of the Sport for Development Coalition, said: “The impact of the pandemic, growing social challenges and subsequent widening inequalities mean we urgently need a new social contract with sport and physical activity, focused on the wider social outcomes that sport can deliver.”
“We must expand understanding, recognition and investment in the contribution that sport can make beyond health and wellbeing, to addressing loneliness and social isolation, improving educational attainment and employability, to community cohesion, and reducing anti-social behaviour and entry into the justice system.”
A group of more than 50 sports bodies have called for a new government action plan and emergency funding to help them survive the pandemic. The Save Our Sports campaign has warned that the activity sector – which employs nearly 600,000 people in the UK and contributes £16bn to the economy each year – faces an unprecedented crisis.
Huw Edwards, the chief executive of Ukactive, which represents the physical activity industry, said: “Crucially, before the sector begins its recovery from the impact of Covid-19, it must first survive it.
“The publication of this strategy needs to be accompanied by a new level of urgency and commitment from the government that it will not leave parts of this sector behind, and provide the necessary financial and regulatory support so desperately needed.”
But Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said it was “placing sport and physical activity at the heart of its coronavirus recovery plan, and Sport England’s new strategy provides a strong base to invest in sports organisations, facilities and people”.