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MPs heard today that the return of all community sports groups when lockdown restrictions are eventually lifted later this month could not be guaranteed.
From March 29 organised outdoor sport for children and adults can resume as part of the government’s “road map” for the easing of coronavirus restrictions, but there are fears there will be a lack of provision when that date arrives.
Nicola Walker, the chief executive of Sported, the UK’s largest network of community groups, told politicians on the digital, culture, media & sport committee: “We think that around a quarter of groups may not restart, that the sheer effort of getting back up and getting everything sorted out again may be too much for them.
“The inequalities of sport provision were already huge, whether that was by gender, ethnicity and disability, before Covid hit, and those inequalities have got even worse.
“Certainly if you look at disability sport, for example, they are much more nervous about reopening because of some of the implications of so doing.”
Walker said there was a fear that the owners of sports facilities who may have to limit access due to social distancing would focus on the highest-paying customers.
“Eighty-five per cent of the grassroots sports that we support don’t have their own facilities, and the operators of those facilities are going to have to create social distance and have potentially less groups and customers coming through [their doors],” she said.
“The nervousness is that community sports are disadvantaged in that respect in that they don’t necessarily pay the same rates as others might do.”
She said community sport was a “fragile environment” even before the pandemic struck, but that now only one in 10 thought they would not survive the crisis thanks to the swift delivery of emergency funding from grassroots bodies such as Sport England.
She pointed out that a third of groups in Sported’s network did not open between the end of the first lockdown last summer and the start of the second in November, even though they were able to.
“A lot of it was to do with nervousness, both among the volunteers and whether or not they felt safe to be delivering sport, and the habits of the young children, and getting the children back to their activities,” she said. “There wasn’t quite enough time in that middle period to really get that sector up and running.
“What I am nervous about now, as we look to open these groups again at the end of March, is we’ll face very similar issues, which is how these groups get to a position where they can afford to open.”
MPs were also told about the difficulty in retaining volunteers, especially those who provided off-field assistance to keep sports clubs running.
Nahimul Islam, the founder and director of Wapping Youth FC in east London, said: “We tend to get a lot of coaches wanting to volunteer but we don’t really get board members wanting to volunteer with skill sets like accounting, treasury, to be a secretary or admin staff.
“A lot of organisations really collapse [as a result]. We’ve been fortunate to have people from different sectors lend their expertise to us.
“These are roles that are very highly incentivised in industry, and people expect some form of incentive — we can’t give them a qualification, it’s a matter of what we can find to motivate those people. People tend to want something out of it.
“We have a high turnover. We might get a volunteer for six or seven months and then they leave; then we’re spending three or four months trying to find another person.”
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