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An inclusive return to sport and physical activity

As we enter Step 3 of the government's roadmap to recovery from the coronavirus, our strategic lead for disability Adam Blaze blogs about why an inclusive return is so important.

17th May 2021

by Adam Blaze
Strategic lead for disability, Sport England

We know that for many disabled people the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has made it much harder to access services and it is vital we do everything possible so that this doesn’t happen in sport and physical activity.

In November last year, our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth said there was a real danger that disabled people will be left behind as the sport and physical activity sector recovers from the pandemic.

That statement is even more relevant today as we reach the next step in the roadmap and we see more and more sports and activities restarting.

The below infographics highlight the activities that can now take place, and our view is that this is an incredibly important moment to reiterate and champion the importance of making sure all of the opportunities opening back up again are accessible, inclusive, or relevant so that disabled people have the same choices as everybody else.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Recent polling from Activity Alliance showed that only 50% of disabled people agree they’re made to feel welcome in sport and physical activity settings.

We have a chance to change things for the better, reinventing what was there before and reopening in a way that is more inclusive, more accessible, and more relevant.

We need to work alongside the people who’ve been most impacted by the past 14 months and take time to understand how they’re feeling about returning and continuing the activities they did in lockdown – or starting something for the first time.

We have a chance to change things for the better, reinventing what was there before.

Insight on the impact of the pandemic is highlighting surmountable issues the providers of sport and physical activity need to consider.

Simple changes and planning can make a real difference for disabled people and tools such as Activity Alliance’s reopening resource can help providers understand what’s needed.

We know disabled people, and those with long-term health conditions, are most likely to be among the groups of people who do not intend to return any time soon.

And issues like the digital divide and the lack of informal communication opportunities are affecting people’s confidence to come back to activity – with new rules and safety concerns also making people more anxious.

These issues need to be considered as sport reopens.

Reasons to be positive

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, over the past 12 months there’ve been numerous examples of providers doing amazing work, delivering sport and physical activity opportunities that have enabled disabled people to stay active.

Whether that’s the online sessions developed by WheelPower, Sense and Cerebral Palsy Sport creating new activity finders, Sport for Confidence finding new and innovative ways to deliver opportunities to their beneficiaries, or British Wheelchair Basketball launching their Inspire a Generation programme. There are so many great examples, too many to list in one blog.

At Sport England this work is central to what we do.

We have recently announced that a further £20 million will be spent through the Tackling Inequalities Fund, which has already reached 1,103 clubs and organisations that deliver to disabled people or people living with long-term conditions.

The second round of the Toyota Parasport Fund, which we deliver in partnership with the British Paralympic Association and Toyota, is now open – focusing on organisations looking to support disabled people to return to sport or activity following coronavirus.

And we’ve also committed to ensuring everything we do in the first year of delivery of our Uniting the Movement strategy will aim to try and reduce inequalities in sport and physical activity. To do this, we must directly engage disabled people and use their lived experience and expertise to co-produce a more accessible and inclusive system.

It is the responsibility of all of us to do more, as we seek to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

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