Sport in our communities Contents

Annex 1: Summary of roundtable sessions

1)Between December 2020 and February 2021, the Committee held five roundtable sessions with sports clubs across the country. Participants came from the UK Parliament constituencies of East Hampshire, Ochil and South Perthshire, Pontypridd, Sunderland Central and Winchester, and represented a wide range of grassroots sports and clubs. In this summary of the roundtables, the clubs are not named and are referred to by titles such as ‘a rugby club’ or ‘an indoor racquet sport’.

2)Each session began with participants being asked about the impact that the last year, and Covid-19 restrictions, had had on their clubs and teams. Many participants, particularly those representing clubs who manage their own venues and facilities, spoke about the significant financial burden that the last 12 months has had on their groups. One martial arts club told us that it had to “close [the] facility, which is usually open to other martial arts clubs- [the] income is down 95%. It’s actually having a devastating impact from [our] point of view”. In addition, an indoor winter sports venue, which relies on money made in the winter to cover summer costs, told us that it had “lost 20% of business”. It added that it had to close four weeks earlier than it usually would which caused a cash flow problem; it couldn’t refund money to groups which had pre-paid but stated that this had gone down “surprisingly well” with its clients. The closure of clubhouses, bars and catering stands, which are a key part of clubs’ revenue was also discussed. One rugby team shared that “last year the clubs revenue from the bar and café was about £108,000, this year it’s around £8000”, and another rugby club told us how it “[uses] clubhouse revenues to fund activities but the club has only been open 16 weeks of the year so takings are around 30–40” per cent of normal levels. A cricket club also shared that even though the bar is its main source of income, due to Covid-19 restrictions, it had decided to keep it closed- even when play resumed- because “it caused all kinds of complications when we tried to open that”.

3)A further financial pressure faced by some clubs was the cancellation of annual events, competitions and tournaments which are a vital source of revenue and often their main source of income. One martial arts club usually runs two competitions each year which “are a major income for us and help carry us through the rest of the year”. Both of these had to be cancelled in 2020 and the club stated that without these it has “been struggling”. A women’s football club was also unable to hold its annual tournament and the manager told us that this “was a financial burden for us, a massive loss, because it’s a very well populated and well attended event”. An outdoor athletics club also had to cancel two of its high-profile events, one of which had to be cancelled in 2020 and 2021. Though it felt confident that it could “weather the loss of income”, it was concerned that it would not be able to raise funds for local charities as it normally would. It also highlighted that these events help to raise publicity for its group and are an important way to recruit the majority of its new members, so the cancellation of these event was a loss for the club in more ways than one.

4)Some of the clubs present at the roundtables had been able to access grants from local authorities and National Governing Bodies (NGBs) to help alleviate some of these financial pressures. One club from Pontypridd had been able to access the ‘Be Active’ grant and said it “was vital” because the club’s main form of income was fundraising which it had been unable to do during most of 2020. An outdoor racquet club shared that it had received a grant for “£1500 which really helped us towards maintenance and without grants we couldn’t survive”. Those from smaller, minority sports had received some money which they stated was in small pots but “was enough to get over some of those hurdles that we’re facing”. Many participants noted that the funding seemed short term and was largely around floating people through the pandemic, and not for any long-term development or investment. A martial arts clubs also called for more funding stating that without that “we are going to lose clubs”. As well as relying on grants, many clubs also praised their members who had continued to play subs and membership fees during this period, despite not being able to play or train. One rugby club told us that “we’ve still got parents very happy to pay their subscriptions which has been an absolute life blood”. A martial arts club added “students have carried on paying even though they didn’t need to, and I did say to them they could reduce their fees”.

5)A small number of clubs taking part in the roundtables did report that they had lost members during this period. A martial arts club told us that it was “down from 80 members, to having 10 regularly coming to [our] training sessions”. This reduction in numbers had left the club feeling that it will need “to rebuild the club from the ground up”. Another marital arts club told us that pre-lockdown, it had 150 students and were now down to 100. An outdoor athletics club told us it had lost 100 members over the last year. However, it believed this was largely due to people “looking at their finances and thinking I’m not going to get much of the running club over the 12 months” and so felt that these may return once races and events were permitted.

6)Though many clubs discussed the negative impacts of the last year, some participants shared some positive experiences for their clubs since March 2020. A cricket team shared that it had been able to start a softball team last year and now has 49 women signed up. This is the first in the club’s history and it told us it had “already got sponsorship and they love it. It’s been brilliant.” A cricket team from another location told us that “we normally run four adult sides on Saturdays in the summer and we managed to field seven teams at one point as we had so many people who wanted to play”. A tennis club from the South East told us that membership has “never been as high as it’s been this year” and that many of those were people who “were previously working in London and couldn’t get back in time” were now working from home, meaning they have more time and flexibility to take part in sporting activities.

7)The next discussion point was around how confident the participants are that their club will be in a good shape next year. Many participants expressed concern about retention levels and how many of their members would return once restrictions were lifted. Many believed that the extended period without organised sport, and the stop/start nature that existed last year around restrictions, may have left members feeling disengaged or have caused them to move on. This was a view expressed by a hockey club which stated that “there is a risk that people have been sat doing nothing and got into other things and won’t come back at all”. A women’s football team shared this concern stating it will “probably lose some ladies because they’re balancing university and work and parenting and if you keep them fully engaged it’s great but once you stop engaging with them, or have nothing to offer them they start to reconsider their options”. An indoor racquet club supported the idea that months away will cause people to leave stating that without the “common interest” they start to “slowly disappear and do other things and it’s hard to get them back”. Cricket teams from three different locations expressed concern that the lack of indoor winter net training would have a negative impact on people returning to the sport as they would not have played for seven or eight months by the time the summer season begins again. Concerns about the impact of extended time away was greater when participants were referring to older members, or those coming towards the sport’s retirement age. An outdoor water sport said they feared older members saying “I think this is us for sport, we’re getting on a bit” and an indoor racquet sport said that their older members were “really nervous about getting back into sport after a year off, and are they going to play competitively again and that’s really upsetting them”.

8)As well as long periods of closure, the lack of competitive and contact sports as well as the reliance on intra-club friendlies, were also cited as reasons for why clubs may struggle to retain members. For sports that play during winter, many of them had not competed competitively for over a year which had impacted morale, and a football team noted that if restricted play and friendlies continued, players would start wondering “what is the point?”. A cricket team told us that when it announced that it would not be playing a competitive league, “all our team except for one decided they didn’t want to play. They wanted to play for medals, they wanted to play competitively”. A martial arts club shared that it is difficult “to keep the interest going if they’re not allowed to compete and win medals”. All of the martial arts teams who took part in the roundtables stated that it would be hard to maintain interest if they were not allowed to engage in combat, contact or pair work. One martial arts leader talked about a young person in their group who was trying out for the Olympic team, which had since been put on hold, and that she is now telling coaches “I don’t see the point, there are no competitions, why should I bother?”. For him, and others taking part, there was a concern that a large group of young people, who may have had the ability to compete at elite level, “may fall through the gaps and miss out”.

9)However, not all participants were concerned about retention of members and were extremely confident that members will return once restrictions are lifted. An indoor racquet sports club said that it knew that members were waiting for that safe to return email and would be there as soon as they could. A rugby club told us that the “kids are chomping at the bit to get back” and an outdoor athletics clubs shared that “all of our members are looking forward to getting back to competitions”. Others hoped that the impact of being at home for prolonged periods of time, and the focus on health during the pandemic, would inspire newcomers to sport. A tennis club said “they’ve been locked down and haven’t been able to do an exercise so I’m hoping it may be a good things for sport in general; that people are fed up of sitting and watching Netflix”.

10)One of the biggest challenges raised by the sports clubs is access to facilities, and though this has been exacerbated by the pandemic it is a long-standing issue. A football team told us “there aren’t enough facilities. We haven’t got enough space for what we do now and as we grow it’s going to get harder” whilst a cricket team shared “places to access the sport are being squeezed even tighter and there is more and more competition to access them all the time”. The belief that this access to facilities would be harder due to Covid-19 was shared by a netball team which said “there has always been a shortage of indoor facilities. We used to have a ‘punch up’ over who had first dibs at a school’s sports hall. I don’t know where we rank now in terms of priority, have we lost our place in the queue?”. All teams expressed a belief that if sports were to return, there needed to be enough facilities to do so. As well as Covid-19 restrictions impacting access to venues, there were also concerns that the actions and aims of leisure centres were further decreasing the facilities available for community sports clubs. An indoor racquet sport told us how courts were looked at in terms of square metres, and that leisure centres determine that “we can make more money out of that box if you do fitness, rather than two people running around a box”. A martial arts team also shared that a sports hall it had previously used had been split in two, with half of it becoming a spinning suite, and it now has to schedule its classes around the spinning schedule, at times having to have a 45 minute break in the middle of its martial arts session.

11)In addition to leisure centres, many of the clubs who took part in the roundtable sessions rely on community halls and schools, and a number of these informed us that they have not been able to return to these venues, even when restrictions were lifted in the summer of 2020, and have not been told if these centres will reopen. Not only does this have an impact on the clubs who rely on these venues but, as raised by an indoor racquet club, it will also affect leagues which need a variety of clubs taking part to be successful and enjoyable for all. Teams shared that they have approached these venues with risk assessments and details on their Covid-19 protocols, but that they have remained resistant to hiring externally. An indoor racquet sport stated that “small venues need to be encouraged and some form of incentive to open themselves us so people can use them again; it will hurt a lot of clubs in a lot of sports if they don’t”.

12)The costs of hiring venues was cited as a significant challenge for a number of clubs which took part in the roundtable sessions. One martial arts club stated that it has “been running the club for 15 years and for those years [it has] been struggling to find a venue that was affordable for a small martial arts club. Everyone was charging commercial rates and most small community clubs just cannot afford commercial rates available at sport centres”. Due to the higher costs of hiring space in sports centres, many of the clubs involved relied on school halls and community spaces such as church halls. Though for many these were the only affordable venue, it was noted that “they’re not set up for sports” which creates further challenges for sports clubs. Some participants also voiced frustrations that venues continued to raise their prices, despite making no improvements to their facilities or offering any new services to clubs. One martial arts club said that it “was in a local school and it was quite an affordable rent, was there twice a week, been there 5/6 years then a new facilities manager came and increased hall rental but 150% got nothing extra for that price”.

13)Though venue costs were highlighted as an issue that existed before Covid-19, some of the roundtable participants expressed concerns that costs would increase, or become a bigger issue, due to restrictions related to the pandemic. One hockey club stated that Covid-19 restrictions would mean “reduced numbers on the pitch, but you would still have to pay for that pitch” and there was no indication that venues would charge less to reflect this change. This was a concern for the club, which had expressed that it wanted to keep fees as low as possible to ensure that players would return to the club. The concerns about venues charging the same fees, despite smaller numbers being able to take part, was shared by an indoor racquet club which said “If there is a church hall then normally we might have four matches going on, maybe we could have one match going on, because of the numbers involved but still have the same financial implications”.

14)A number of the sports clubs who took part in the roundtable sessions also stated their belief that sports and leisure centres were not doing enough to support the growth of community sports clubs. One racquet club noted that as courts were behind turnstiles or gates, people were no longer able to “see the sport being played” which could be a key way of attracting newcomers to their sport. Others added that leisure centres do not support clubs promoting themselves with one racquet sport stating “getting marketing through the leisure centre is impossible. I can’t put anything through there, they say if it’s not being run by us, we’re not going to promote it”. Another club added that when it was starting out, it approached a local leisure centre which “wanted £10,000 to put a banner up in the foyer. I was a brand-new club so how was I supposed to afford £10,000 to put a banner up?”.

15)As well as problems with accessing indoor facilities, a number of clubs at the roundtables talked about issues with accessing outdoor facilities. One rugby team told us that it has 19 teams playing on one pitch which is “a lot of rugby on one pitch”. Outdoor teams also spoke about the difficulties of not having access to toilets or changing facilities leading to players having to get changed on the side of the pitch. But the biggest challenge with outdoor facilities is their maintenance, or lack thereof. An outdoor athletics club told how its track was in a “very bad state of repair” and that it feared that “a higher standard of runners who are looking to compete at a higher level, with the facilities they’re going to look to places where they are not at risk of injury”. A tennis club also shared that two of the outdoor courts at the centre it uses “are completely and utterly unusable” and if it grows as a club, or even retains its current level of membership post-Covid, it will “potentially struggle with facilitating the number of people on court at peak times”. A cricket team also spoke about how it needed to raise £65,000 to replace outdoor nets and astro-strip because its pitch is at “end of life, it will become unsafe this summer” and that it soon won’t be able to provide the facilities needed for its sport to continue.

16)Within two of the roundtable sessions, there were discussions around the apparent bias towards football when it comes to facilities, and the impact that this has on other sports. One hockey team shared that “a lot of pitches are being changed to 3G and 4G pitches that are suitable for football and not for hockey” and that this lack of facilities does not help get people into hockey. A rugby club shared that “everything has been put on hold in the city because they’ve had all the 4G pitches put in but there is no consideration really for any other sport”. Away from facilities, clubs shared other concerns about the apparent focus that football receives from schools, media and local authorities over other sports. As one indoor racquet club shared, “when everyone talks about sport, usually it’s about football”. A tennis club shared that over recent years football has become a club played 12 months a year, rather than just in the winter, and that this has seen a “huge drop off” in numbers because “traditionally the kids would play football in the winter, and once the season was over in April/May they then converted to tennis and cricket”. Others stated that schools should work with minority sports to work with kids who might not be interested in football but could find another sport that they are interested in, and ultimately get more people into sports. Those who were expressing concerns were not anti-football, but wanted to ensure that all sports were “given a fair crack of the whip” and felt that the current focus on football could be alienating young people who dislike of football, or team sports, may prevent them from engaging in any sporting activities.

17)All of the clubs that took part in the roundtable sessions were part of the National Governing Body (NGB) for their sport, and during the sessions they were asked to talk about the support and information provided by NGBs during the pandemic. The majority of them shared that during the first lockdown, and when restrictions were first lifted, there was a delay in information being shared with clubs, but many accepted that this delay was understandable. Many also shared that as the months went on, NGBs became more effective at interpreting Government advice and sharing this with sports teams. Some teams provided particular praise to NGBs with one indoor racquet sport saying it had “superb support from our governing body both in terms of dialogue and funding and set out a clear roadmap for returning”. A rugby team stated that its NGB had been “absolutely fantastic about interpreting what the government was saying, giving us a huge amount of information sometimes on a daily basis, clear guidelines for all levels”. Some clubs also shared that they had been able to access webinars and complete coaching sessions from elite players over Zoom.

18)Though some people spoke positively about their NGBs during the roundtable sessions, others have had negative experiences during the pandemic. One outdoor athletic club spoke about the constantly changing information that was coming from its NGB and shared how it “got to the point where we were informing the club members on a Wednesday afternoon that ‘Sorry, training is cancelled tonight because the rules have changed’”. An outdoor teams sport also shared how it had to “pay full fees for our subscription even though we’ve had no financial assistance coming the other way”. This experience was echoed by a different outdoor sport team who shared that it had received “about two emails” from their NGB and that, when it has heard from the NGB, it has just been to take “take money off of us”. This club told us that it was required to pay all membership and registration fees for the season and that the NGB has “hidden behind the fact they are providing insurance, but the players can’t play” and that if it had not paid them by a set date then the club’s players could not have played if the season returned.

19)Teams were also concerned that money provided to NGBs from central funding, or the National Lottery, was not being trickled down beyond elite level to the grassroots. An indoor racquet club also that its NGB had informed them that if the club did not use their booking at a local sports hall, the NGBS would take it from the club and give it to elite players. A further frustration that people found was around how different NGBs interpreted the rules set by the Government. A martial arts club shared how it would be running outside, non-combat work (within the rules set by its NGB) and would see football teams engaging in sport with no restrictions. A final problem raised in relation to NGBs during the pandemic was around the passing of information from the Government through NGBs to regional bodies and then finally to individual clubs and teams. Some clubs felt that this caused a delay in information being shared, a “chopping and changing” of information and that there was “no doubt that something was missed”.

20)The majority of those who took part in the roundtable sessions were volunteers and as a participant from a football team told us, “we do it for the love of sport”. Over the last year, these volunteers had to take on different roles, outside of traditional coaching or administration, which have been an additional burden on people’s times. An outdoor water sport shared how a “big change has been trying to facilitate a decent atmosphere and keeping tabs on people’s mental health and well-being which is normally not too challenging if you can see them or have social contact with them”. Others have had to spend time trying to navigate finances to calculate how they will amend subs and whether they will have to give a discount. Many of the volunteers also shared how they have developed an online presence to engage members, share information and provide support and reassurance to members who may be struggling during the lockdowns.

21)During the roundtable sessions, some of the participants shared ideas for how volunteers and clubs could be further supported. One cricket club spoke about how its team tends to have a deficit in skilled areas (such as accountancy and skilled trades) so have to cover these costs by engaging external experts and tradesmen. This particular club suggested that issues like this could be helped if local authorities could provide an accountant that could be shared amongst clubs. They also asked whether skilled council workers to undertake things like plumbing could be provided to sports clubs on a cost basis. A martial arts club shared that, for many of its members, instructors were key role models who spend as much time mentoring young people as they do training. During the roundtable, the club asked if “the Government could offer support, whether it’s financially or whatever, to free up time for coaches to mentor, to engage and to inspire”.

22)Finally, a number of volunteers spoke about difficulties in navigating the grant system. A martial arts club called for someone from local government to provide advice on “how you can run your club, this is what you can apply for”. This was supported by a hockey club who said it needed someone to help it to navigate the system and “get the best response”.

23)To finish the roundtable sessions, participants were asked if they had any further comments on how to engage people in sport, particularly once Covid-19 restrictions began to lift. A football club suggested “an incentive, like a payment to a club, if they get so many people involved”. A rugby club stated that rugby should remain on terrestrial television as they see “big uplift in our club when England have done well in the World Cup” and that it encourages people who may not previously have thought about the sport. This viewpoint was shared by a cricket team who said that “they see a huge injection of numbers” when England are doing well and on the TV.

24)A number of participants felt that in order to encourage participation in sport there needed to be a “tide change in people’s attitudes” towards sport. One netball club told us that there needed to be “active campaigning” from the Government and local authorities as well as the individual teams “to encourage a return to sport, because I think the lethargy has set in behind the confusion”. For these participants, active campaigning should focus not only on the benefits of sport on physical health but also on mental health. It should also focus on promoting to people who may be nervous about taking part in sport that it safe, and that guidelines and PPE are in place to ensure that people can engage in a Covid secure way. One indoor racquet sport stated “more needs to be done to think about attitude change to ensure that sport is integrated back into the community. I don’t think it’s about finance, it’s about attitudes towards it”.

Published: 29 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement