Welsh sport is slowly inching out of its enforced hibernation with football and horse racing leading the way. But for ordinary people who use sport for physical and mental well-being, the message from the man at the top of Sport Wales is clear: the barriers to entry have to stay down, as he tells Graham Thomas.
Sport must continue to be given a central role in the health of the nation following lockdown, argues the leading figure in Sport Wales.
Brian Davies, acting chief executive of the organisation, has given a clear message of the vital role sporting activity has to play as the country starts to slowly move out of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to Senedd members of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Davies stressed that sport’s vital role in health and well-being over the past three months must be allowed to extend into the future.
For that to happen, says Davies, there needs to be a positive commitment from all those involved to extend the benefits of physical activity to everyone in Wales.
“It’s really important that governing bodies and government show some optimism for the sector as we come out of this crisis,” said Davies.
“One of the few positives that was immediately evident as we went into lockdown was the importance that was placed by the public – and also by government – on physical activity and staying healthy through physical activity.
“We really need to build on that directive given by government. We shouldn’t just expect it to continue in those areas that have increased.
“Clearly, there are some groups where that activity hasn’t increased and we have gone backwards. Those gaps are in danger of widening.
“The sooner we can get some financial security for the future – to help who have rediscovered activity to continue it and help those who’ve yet to find it, to find it – then the better it will be for our nation.”
Davies conceded that while sport in Wales has proved to be an immensely valuable release for people during the current crisis, the access to sport and its benefits is not an even spread.
Recent research commissioned by Sport Wales has shown that children’s level of sporting activity has gone down markedly during the period when most schools have been shut. *
In the under-16 age group, 35 per cent of children are doing less physical activity than before lockdown. A total of 26 per cent are doing more, but an alarming nine per cent of adults said their children were doing no physical activity.
People from disadvantaged backgrounds were also found to be doing less activity, the research showed.
Responding to questions about levels of activity, Davies told the committee: “For adults it has been broadly similar to before lockdown, but for children there has been a downturn.
“It also would appear that there are slight differences in gender, with female participation slightly up.
“The more worrying area from the survey is that it suggests inequality gaps and intersectional issues that we faced before the pandemic are actually widening. That is a concern and we need to do more research in that area.”
Davies was also quizzed about how Welsh sports clubs and organisations have coped during lockdown – an issue Sport Wales have been addressing through £500,000 given out via the Emergency Relief Fund.
He stressed that help has currently been targeted towards those clubs most in danger of collapsing, but that a further £9m of re-directed funding will go towards sustaining sports clubs and organisations into the future.
“We haven’t done a specific assessment on those clubs whose survival is threatened,” added Davies.
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“However, the emergency fund has had around 630 applications for that fund, which gives some sort of idea of the situation that clubs are facing.
“The evidence varies as to the degree of threat. Our support has been provided to those who were deemed to be at threat immediately.
“We have repurposed £9m of our current budget to try and help the situation. There was over half a million pounds in the first emergency phase and the rest now is part of our resilience fund. That will have an impact when we get out of this situation because it will no longer be available to us.”
The CEO also acknowledged that jobs of athletes, coaches and instructors had come under threat.
“In terms of sporting professionals and instructors, everybody has been impacted. But different sectors have been affected to varying degrees.
“In the self-employed instructor sector, some of these people will have potentially fallen through the gaps.
“We have just had the first phase results from the research we commissioned from Sheffield Hallam University on the economic impact of the pandemic. It’s pretty significant. We are talking about an 18 per cent reduction in the level of economic activity for sport and an additional 17 per cent reduction in the gross value added for sport as well.”
Davies also offered hope that summer sports – such as cricket and tennis – would be able to start up, but that it may well be in limited form such as cricket coaching ‘nets’ sessions, rather than competitive matches.
“I fully understand the frustration of some summer sports,” he added.
“But the overall message I’m getting from sports is that they understand the public health messaging.
“They don’t want to impact negatively the current good work that’s been done on public health, but they do need some pathway for them to return.”
*Source: ComRes survey for Sport Wales – 1,007 Welsh adults