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A young boy playing football as his coach observes
A young boy playing football as his coach observes

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Inequalities must remain front-of-mind in our continued response to covid-19

Chris Scott, London Sport's Head of Corporate Communicationsdiscusses the issues around inequality within the sport and physical activity sector, the impact of covid-19 on those inequalities and the importance of London's Sport work to close the inequality gap.

Concerns around inequality in physical activity and sport are not new. Indeed, for almost everybody working in the sport sector, the facts of inequality are impossible to escape. 

At pure participation levels, white males with a degree of economic stability and no long-term health conditions or impairments are the most physically active group in society; all other groups face, in one way or another, barriers that impact on their activity levels. 

And these inequalities are a concern, not only because of their inherent unfairness, but because it means that anybody falling outside of that group is therefore less likely to benefit from the positive health, wellbeing, social and economic impacts linked to living a physically active life.

The impacts of the covid-19 crisis, though, do present us with a new challenge; a very real risk that existing inequalities will be entrenched, and that progress made through years of work to address those inequalities will be undermined at the time it’s most needed. 

It’s a challenge that is being borne out in the data, with national surveying from Sport England showing that women, people aged 55+, people in lower socio-economic groups, people with longstanding health conditions or illnesses, and people from some BAME groups are all less likely to be doing more physical activity than usual during the period of lockdown that has been in place across the country. 

Those that live alone and people without access to private outdoor space are also less likely to be taking part in increased levels of physical activity.

These are sizeable concerns, and their impact becomes even more important to reflect on when we consider that they don’t exist in a vacuum. 

While the condition and contributing factors may be different, the inequalities mirror existing knowledge on wider health inequalities and in part echo concerns raised in Public Health England’s recent report into the disparities in risk and outcome of covid-19.

The direct health and mortality impacts of covid-19 may themselves be mirrored by a wider impact on physical activity levels among some of the most impacted communities.

What, then, does that mean for a physical activity sector trying to plot the pathway towards recovery? And what does it mean for London Sport in the context of the nation’s capital? To our mind, it points us towards two things, at least initially.

Firstly, a restatement of a clear focus in our own work on addressing inequalities in physical activity and sport.

We have already made positive steps towards making our own workforce more representative of London’s population because we know that doing so will mean we are better equipped to understand and address the inequalities that exist in our industry. 

And we will redouble our efforts to ensure that our work contributes positively to closing that inequality gap, building on progress we have made in recent years including around supporting deaf and disabled Londoners’ participation levels, and around understanding the links between health inequalities and physical activity.

Secondly, and more immediately, it will help us to tailor our own approach to supporting national covid-19 emergency response efforts within the sector. 

In the coming weeks, we expect to be able to announce details of a new series of projects that look to work directly with communities of Londoners whose access to physical activity has been most heavily impacted by the covid-19 outbreak and containment measures.

While we know that this work alone cannot hope to address all of the equality of access challenges that the last few months have triggered, we are determined that it should be a step in the right direction.

We expect to announce details of our covid-19 emergency response projects in the weeks to come. For the most up-to-date information, follow us on Twitter or sign up to our newsletter.

For more information on Sport England’s monitoring and surveying around the impact of covid-19, visit Sport England’s Coronavirus web hub.

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London Sport aims to ensure Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity

About London Sport

London Sport aims to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England, our target is to get Londoners more physically active.

For more information on London Sport, visit www.londonsport.org

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