by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Elevate Conference in London.
I was delighted to give the keynote speech – one of the first I’ve been able to give in person for almost two years.
It was an opportunity to talk about the work we’ve been doing with our partners to deliver on our long-term strategy – Uniting the Movement – as well as what our work will look like over the coming months and years. I wanted to share here some of what I said about our view of the world in which we operate.
Without doubt, the last couple of years have been very difficult, and the sport and physical activity sector is still recovering from the unprecedented challenges brought on by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Thanks to our latest Active Lives Surveys, we know that despite activity levels dropping significantly during the national lockdowns we are now starting to see a recovery.
This is testament to the investment and work of so many dedicated individuals who worked unbelievably hard to help people stay physically active despite a level of restrictions few of us could ever have imagined.
However, while it could have been so much worse, we can’t be complacent. Activity levels are still down compared to pre-pandemic with 600k (1.9%) fewer active adults and 1.3m (2.6%) more inactive adults than there were in 2019.
Furthermore, while the pandemic impacted everyone in some way, certain parts of our sector have been hit harder than others.
The leisure industry is a good example here, and while it is great to see good numbers of people returning to use their facilities, we know the additional burdens around rising energy costs, and recruitment and retention of the workforce continue to present challenges to this part of the sector.
Certain groups have also been hit much harder than others and this is exactly why our strategy has tackling inequalities at its heart.
A few weeks ago, just two years after our Sport for all? conference, which looked at the ethnicity gap in sport, we co-hosted Closing the gap in Manchester where more than 100 delegates from community organisations, governing bodies, athletes and politicians discussed some of the solutions to tackling inequalities in the sport and physical activity sector – many of which we’re working hard on already.
It was a fascinating and thought-provoking event, the insight from which will continue to fuel all of our work with our partners in helping to break down the barriers that stop certain people from reaping the benefits of taking part in sport and physical activity,
In recent years, we’ve shown that Sport England can adapt and help our sector face challenges head on.
From providing £270m worth of quick and essential support to sport organisations and to tens of thousands of clubs and community groups during the pandemic, to the development of our new strategy, we have sought to provide the leadership and support needed to our sector so that grassroots sport, leisure and physical activity can thrive.