8.Every year, Sport England conducts surveys and produces reports on activity levels across England: Active Lives Adult, published twice a year and Active Lives Children and Young People, published annually.12 Between November 2018 and November 2019, Sport England found that 24.6% of adults were inactive (less than 30 minutes a week), 12.2% were fairly active (an average of 30–149 minutes a week) and 63.3% were active (at least 150 minutes a week).13 The World Health Organization states “low or decreasing physical activity levels often correspond with a high or rising gross national product”, and that, globally, 28% of adults were insufficiently active.14 Using 2018–19 as the most recent example of a ‘normal’ year, 36.8% of adults in England were insufficiently active: almost 9% more than the global average.15
9.In December 2020, Dr Esther van Sluijs, Group Leader, MRC Epidemiology Unit & Centre for Diet and Activity Research, told us of the potential impact of lockdowns on peoples’ activity levels, health and wellbeing:
Such a prolonged period of inactivity will not only have a significant influence on later morbidity and mortality but also have an impact on people’s ability to restart their physical activity after the pandemic, as they will have likely lost their levels of fitness. They might have increased weight and will have established sedentary habits that are really difficult to overcome. A lot of these factors are barriers to increasing physical activity.16
10.There was a significant drop in activity levels during the first lockdown between mid-March and mid-May 2020,17 but the overall drop in activity levels for the survey period ending November 2020 was not as bad as initially predicted.18 The most recent Active Lives survey, which covers the first nine months of the pandemic in the UK, showed that the number of inactive people rose by 2.5%, the number of fairly active people fell by 0.7%, and the number of active people fell by 1.9%.19 In May 2021, Tim Hollingsworth CBE, Chief Executive of Sport England, told us:
The reduction [in activity levels] that we did see—and the latest figures is through to November last year so it does not take into account the period earlier this year of further lockdown. The reduction that we did see, which was about a 1.9% reduction, was expected and perhaps if anything was not as deep and was not as profound as we might have feared.20
11.The impact of successive lockdowns on activity levels was not as bad as initially feared but the Committee is concerned about the consequences of the final lockdown from December 2020 onwards which has not yet been covered by an Active Lives survey. The Government and Sport England must renew their efforts on encouraging people back into sport to pre-empt any further drops in participation during ‘Lockdown 3’. We recommend that the Government initiate a sporting equivalent of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign, entitled ‘Work Out to Help Out’, to incentivise volunteers and participants to get involved, participate in organised sport and support the sporting infrastructure, both in England and across the UK.
12.Data collected by Sport England showed that during academic year 2019–20, the number of children and young people in England who were active decreased by 1.9%, although activity levels still remained higher than in 2017–18.21 Whilst some of this drop could be attributed to children not taking part in physical education classes during school closures, even in the summer term of 2020 when schools reopened, the number of active children was down 2.3% compared with the same period in 2019. The equates to over 100,000 fewer children meeting the level of activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officer compared to the previous year.22 Overall, in 2020, just 51.1% of children and young people met the recommended level of activity of, on average, 60 minutes of activity a day.23
13.As with the findings of the Active Lives Adult survey, which we refer to later, Sport England found that there are significant inequalities between demographics: boys are more likely to be active than girls, those from low affluence family are least likely to be active, and of all the ethnicities, Black children and young people are the least likely to be active.24 However, Sport England did find that activity levels amongst children and young people with a disability or long-term health condition were the same as for those without one.25
14.The Mayor of London told us that some clubs had already reported “marked drops in agility levels in the primary schools where they deliver” programmes as well as “an estimated 3–6kg average weight gain March-September  for 8–10 year olds”.26 Some organisations have also raised concerns about the risk of school closures and lockdowns to physical literacy among primary school children,27 and the England and Wales Cricket Board told us that it is concerned about the risk of “losing a generation to sport, depriving them of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits of taking part in sport, whether it’s playing, coaching, volunteering or indeed deriving a living from the game”.28
15.The proportion of children and young people not achieving the minimum amount of daily activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officer is of significant concern. Before the end of this year, the Government should initiate a nation-wide communications campaign, similar to that of the ‘5 A Day’ campaign, to emphasise the importance of children and young people engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate activity every day.
16.Participation in sport across England varies greatly between demographics and, year on year, Sport England repeatedly finds that there are significant, persistent inequalities in terms of activity levels.29 Men are repeatedly more likely to be active than women, those in lower socio-economic groups are less likely to be active, and those with disability and long-term health conditions are less likely to be active than those without.30 Written evidence pointed out to us that these inequalities have been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.31 Sport England provided £20 million through the Tackling Inequalities Fund,32 with “awards made to key local partners to maximise the ability to support the activity of those in more socially deprived areas of the country”,33 but this fund is described as a “targeted fund that’s been designed to deal with the ‘here and now’ issues caused as a result of coronavirus”34 rather than as a permanent, long-term funding opportunity.
17.The Sport and Development Coalition told us that inequities in sport go further than the issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic:
inequalities and discrimination in the sector mirror broader societal inequalities and extend to customer service experiences, the workforce and leadership of the sector
[ … ]
Sector-led research showed 40% of BAME participants report a negative customer service when taking part in community sport and leisure compared to just 14% of white British. Across the signatories of the Sport and Recreation Alliance Black Lives Matter pledge, just 1% of paid coaches, 2% of volunteers and employees were black.35
18.Ollie Dudfield, Executive Director of the Sport and Development Coalition, expanded on this point when he appeared before us: “There may be cultural practices not being respected. There may be no opportunity to have coaches or activity leaders from the communities of individuals who are looking to participate”.36 Lisa Wainwright, Chief Executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, told us that the sector needed to “ensure that there is a welcoming environment for anybody who wants to take part and contribute” by “understanding the needs of different communities”.37
19.In our Report, The impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors, we recommended that DCMS should establish:
a fund to invest specifically in helping those people whose activity levels have been adversely affected by the lockdown restrictions—including older people, BAME people, disabled people, women, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and those unable to access physical activity content online—to ensure that the progress that was being made in physical activity levels within these groups is not set back by Covid-19.38
In its response to that Report, the Government said that “tackling inequalities and focusing on the people who need the most help to live active lives [would] be a key focus of Sport England’s new strategy”39 which was subsequently published in January 2021.40 Within the strategy, Sport England says that it will “have a laser focus on tackling [inequalities] in all that we do, because providing opportunities to people and communities that have traditionally been left behind, and helping to remove the barriers to activity is vitally important”.41 It states that it will “experiment with different approaches to tackle inequalities [ … ] and share learnings”42 and provide “effective investment models” to, among other things, reduce inequalities.43
20.Year on year, we continue to see persistent gaps in activity levels between different demographics. This issue has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and certain groups in society continue to be disproportionately impacted. We acknowledge the support provided through Sport England’s ‘Tackling Inequalities Fund’ but support must be focused, as a matter of priority, on ensuring that activity levels among, in particular, women, disabled people and people from a BAME background recover and improve in the long-term. We recommend that the Government reconsider our previous recommendation to ring-fence further funds to ensure that the progress that was being made in physical activity levels within these groups is not set back by Covid-19, both by encouraging participation and by attracting leaders and volunteers from a range of communities and backgrounds across the UK.
21.Much of the community and grassroots sport sector in the UK is facilitated by volunteers: Sport England told us that “sport and physical activity has traditionally been dependent on a disproportionately high number of older adults volunteering to support grassroots activity”.44 However, that group of volunteers is shrinking and the problem has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.45 For example, Nahimul Islam, Founder and Director of Wapping Youth FC, told us that many volunteers were “struggling to adapt to the virtual lifestyle” which suddenly emerged during lockdowns,46 but that volunteers were essential to his grassroots football club:
We have 46 volunteers who operate in our organisation, and that is it. We barely employ anyone. For us it is crucial to increase and retain our volunteers at all times. From our management board to our trustees to our parent governors to our youth council, it is all voluntary.
[ … ]
With the reduction in volunteers coming through recently, it has been super tough for how we operate our organisation logistically—the admin side of things, the paperwork, the funding applications. We tend to get a lot of coaches who want to volunteer, but we do not really get board members who want to volunteer their skills in accounting or treasury, or to be secretaries or admin staff.47
22.Louise Morby, Senior Lecturer in Sport Development, Leeds Beckett University, also told us that sports like netball are “99.9% dependent on volunteers” but that “the biggest barrier [ … ] is the burden that comes along with being a volunteer who is not necessarily a coach”.48 Louise told us that, when she was Chair of, and a coach at, her netball club, as well as Chair of the West Yorkshire Junior Netball League, she was dedicating an average of five hours every night to her voluntary roles.49 It is likely that scenario has become all too familiar to many volunteers across the county during the pandemic: clubs still needed to apply for funding opportunities, produce return to play guidance and keep their membership as engaged as possible whilst not actually being able to meet or play.
23.During our roundtable events, a summary of which can be found in the Annex to this Report, we heard from many clubs about the challenges their volunteers had faced. For example, participants told us that over the last year they have had to take on additional roles such as navigating club finances to calculate how, or if, they could amend subscription fees in light of not being able to play, trying to support club members’ mental health and well-being during lockdowns, and setting up remote, online sessions for people to take part in from home.50
24.One theme which emerged during this inquiry was the call for more support from local authorities. Louise Morby told us that “there are not many sport development units remaining within the local authority setting” and that whilst active partnerships and district activity partnerships had a role to play, community sport organisers “really miss that voluntary sector support at a local authority level”.51 The Local Government Association cautioned that sport spending may be “more vulnerable” to funding cuts as councils have to balance increased financial pressures with funding their statutory services such a social care. However, the call for more support from local authorities was echoed during the roundtable events. For example, some clubs highlighted the deficit in skills among volunteers (such as accountancy and skilled trades) and some suggested that local authorities could provide skilled council workers to sports clubs on a cost basis to avoid clubs having to engage external services at the market rate.52 Other clubs also highlighted the difficulties they faced in navigating the grants system and suggested that advice from their local authorities on how to do so would be welcome.53
25.Sport England has made the issue of the declining volunteer workforce in sport a key focus in its new ten-year strategy, Uniting the Movement. It says that it will focus on “working with others to take an honest look at the support and experience for volunteers [ … ] focusing on what’s needed to make giving [volunteers’] time easy, meaningful and supported, now and for the future, and in doing so, reducing the drop-out rates”.54 However, declining volunteer numbers have been an issue for a number of years and the strategy provides little detail on how Sport England intends to tackle this issue.
26.Community and grassroots sport is heavily reliant on a relatively small volunteer workforce who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic to keep their clubs going. This shrinking workforce is one of the biggest challenges facing community sport post-pandemic. Sport England has placed an important focus on the issue in its new ten-year strategy, Uniting the Movement, but the sports groups affected by the declining number of volunteers need help now. In addition to our proposed ‘Work Out to Help Out’ scheme, we recommend that the Government should set out, in its response to this Report, how else it will work with Sport England over the next 18-months to encourage people to volunteer across the community and grassroots sport sector and reduce drop-out rates among existing volunteers.
12 Sport England, ‘Active Lives’, accessed 22 June 2021
13 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2018/19 Report (April 2020), p 5
14 World Health Organization, ‘Physical activity’, accessed 22 June 2021
15 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2018/19 Report (April 2020), p 5
19 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2019/20 Report (April 2021), p 6; Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2018/19 Report (April 2020), p 5
21 Sport England, Active Lives Children Survey Academic Year 2019/20 (January 2021), p 6
22 Sport England, Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Coronavirus (Covid-19) Report (January 2021), p 6
23 Sport England, Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Coronavirus (Covid-19) Report (January 2021), p 6
24 Sport England, Active Lives Children Survey Academic Year 2019/20 (January 2021), p 7
25 Sport England, Active Lives Children Survey Academic Year 2019/20 (January 2021), p 7
29 For example: Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2019/20 Report (April 2021), p 9; Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2018/19 Report (April 2020), p 7; Sport England, Active Lives Survey November 17/18 Report (April 2019), p 2
30 Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2019/20 Report (April 2021), p 9; Sport England, Active Lives Adult Survey November 2018/19 Report (April 2020), p 7; Sport England, Active Lives Survey November 17/18 Report (April 2019), p 6
31 For example: Sported Foundation (COM0018); Mayor of London (COM0114); Zamma Fit and RimJhim Consulting (COM0082); UKactive (COM0050); Sport for Development Coalition, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University and Division of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Brunel University (COM0061)
32 Sport England, ‘Tackling Inequalities Fund’, accessed 6 July 2021
34 Sport England, ‘Tackling Inequalities Fund’, accessed 6 July 2021
38 Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Third Report of Session 2019–21, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors, HC 291, para 11
39 Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Third Report of Session 2019–21, Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors, HC 291, para 2
40 Sport England, ‘Uniting the Movement’, accessed 24 June 2021
41 Sport England, Uniting the Movement (January 2021), p 9
42 Sport England, Uniting the Movement (January 2021), p 10
43 Sport England, Uniting the Movement (January 2021), p 35
45 For example: Mayor of London (COM0114); Active Essex (COM0054); Sport for Development Coalition, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University and Division of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Brunel University (COM0061); British Fencing (COM0027)
50 Annex 1
52 Annex 1
53 Annex 1
54 Sport England, Uniting the Movement (January 2021), p 37
Published: 29 July 2021 Site information Accessibility statement