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The new normal

Our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth writes about the importance of sport and physical activity to the nation, and how we as an organisation are helping to keep the nation active during the coronavirus pandemic.

22nd March 2020

by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

Saturdays seem to be the hardest. We’re all getting used to a ‘new normal’ in our lives, but it hits home most at the weekend. Not just the complete absence of high-level sport. Not just the loss of the feeling you get thinking about your own team’s game and whether the vital three points away at QPR will be won.  

Rather, it’s the absence right now of usual opportunities to feel the true power of sport on your life.

No parkrun. No spinning or Zumba workout. No football or rugby game. No mixed doubles on the badminton court. 

A woman runs on a playing field

I don’t write this thinking it should be otherwise. To do so would be not just irresponsible but, given my role as our chief executive, completely against everything I’ve heard from the government and its scientific advisors about what is needed to combat the pandemic we’re encountering. And I know this is shared by everyone in our sector – from a local sports club and community group, through to the Premier League, we all know that right now what matters most is what needs to be done to contribute to our collective fight back.

What that can’t and mustn’t mean is we stop being active which we believe is now more important than ever. 

From the Prime Minister down, everyone recognises the vital benefit that being active can have. It's not just a means of building and retaining your physical wellbeing, but also crucially it's a way of supporting your mental health and battling back against some of the worst moments of isolation and fear that the coronavirus has instilled in all of us.

While public buildings may be shut, people can still go outside as long as they’re following the government’s advice on how and when to do so.

Observing social distancing protocols, it remains perfectly possible to build activity into your daily routine – going for a run, or a walk or a bike ride – and we believe it is best to do that local to where you live. The opportunity has always been there and the need has never been greater.

But I cannot reiterate enough the importance of following the official protocols.

Going outside means staying two metres from others. People should also stay local to where they live and avoid going anywhere where it might be hard to follow the guidelines.

Helping the nation stay active is in our DNA and I believe it’s now more important than ever

And even if social isolation means being inside – if you feel well, it's easier than ever to get active.

There are now literally hundreds of options online helping people to keep fit and stay healthy

We’re launching our own campaign in the coming days seeking to bring much of that together and showcase some of the ways we know being active in and around the home is possible.   

As many organisations have already introduced daily workout routines over the internet that are proving immensely popular and beneficial, we’re using #StayInWorkOut as a way to help bring some of this together online. There are already some brilliant contributions, from parents and kids dancing to our This Girl Can Disney workouts, to people trying yoga from their living room for the first time.

This is only one side of the equation, however. As the shutdown intensifies, we’re seeing more and more how sport is part of the fabric of our communities. Whether it’s the professional clubs opening up their stadium hotels to NHS workers, or the community trusts of many of the Football League sides reaching out to the most vulnerable among us to offer support. At a grassroots level it’s the local hockey or cricket club turning its energy to mobilising its members as local volunteers to help make sure the most in need have help.

Two thirds

A YouGov poll showed two thirds of people surveyed said sport and sporting events play an important role in public life

Wherever you look, we’re seeing how the nature of sport as a true team game can be brought to life and its ability to bring communities together, to give individuals a sense of identity and purpose and, most of all, to matter to people in a way that helps them, and others, get through the day. 

In a YouGov poll last week, two thirds of respondents said that for them sport, and sporting events, play an important role in public life. Almost half said they thought major sporting events were good for the nation’s spirits. 

There’s no doubt that when the time comes we’ll embrace once again our weekend routines, look forward once more to the goals being scored, the medals being won, the dressing room camaraderie with our teammates and friends, the joy of just getting out in a group and doing something together.

I believe, however, that we’ll also see a profound change in the relationship in our communities towards sport and the need for physical activity, realising more than ever how much it matters to our own sense of wellbeing and, more importantly, how powerful it can be in ensuring the connectivity of communities and in bringing people together.  

Until then, our message is to stay active – do it safely, do it locally and enjoy doing it differently.

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