Government called on to ‘protect health and leisure sector before it’s too late’

PA Sport Staff
·5-min read

The health and leisure industry has called on the Government for urgent financial support to safeguard “the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the UK”.

Fitness centres, gyms, swimming pools and tennis courts have all been forced to close again following the latest lockdown measures in the fight against coronavirus.

Ukactive, a non-profit industry association which represents more than 4,000 gyms and leisure centres, has also warned that jobs and businesses are under threat.

“Operators of all sizes across the UK are sounding the alarm that their businesses are unsustainable and facing substantial job losses if they are forced to close again without a comprehensive package of tailored financial and regulatory support,” said ukactive chief executive Huw Edwards.

“Therefore, they must be prioritised and protected or we risk widespread business failure that will have major health impacts for a generation.”

Edwards said it was “crucial” the further restrictions were respected, but urged the Government for “credible plans to minimise the damaging impact lockdown has on the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the UK”.

“We cannot afford to wait until the vaccine rollout is advanced before we act, so the Government must explore all options at this time and provide a credible plan for maintaining this support to millions of people who rely on these Covid-secure facilities to stay strong and healthy.

“Furthermore, the UK governments must protect this sector before it becomes too late. They must acknowledge that January and February represent a vital period for gyms, pools, and leisure facilities to trade but they currently have zero income, unlike other sectors.”

Outdoor team sports and golf will be prohibited in England, although the latter will be allowed to continue in small groups in Scotland.

England Golf, which campaigned hard for the reopening of courses when they were closed first time around, expressed disappointment.

“England Golf – as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf along with other leading industry bodies – is extremely disappointed with the news, having made a strong case in recent months to keep golf open during the national lockdowns and in the regional tier system,” said a statement.

“It is with great regret that we share this news with you, but please be assured that we will continue to make the case for golf to reopen whenever possible.”

Elite sportspeople and their coaches will still be able to compete and train, including those who are under 18 in an environment with established Covid-19 protocols.

Organised outdoor sport for disabled people is also able to continue.

Football below the Premier League and English Football League – steps three to six of the National League system and tiers three to seven of the women’s football pyramid right down to grassroots – must stop.

The Vitality Women’s FA Cup will also be halted as it is classed as non-elite at this stage of the competition.

“Dialogue will continue with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, leagues, competitions and County Football Associations and we will provide further updates for the 2020-21 Vitality Women’s FA Cup, Buildbase FA Vase and non-elite football when relevant,” a Football Association statement read.

The Lawn Tennis Association also made its case for their sport to continue, while the British Horseracing Authority confirmed racing would go ahead behind closed doors.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose club play Manchester City in their Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday, said elite sport was in a “privileged” position.

“Of course it’s a hard and difficult situation for everyone,” Solskjaer said.

“Last year, since March until now, has been a testing time for everyone and we are privileged to be able to play football under the protocols that we are working under.

“Hopefully we can continue. I think mentally for many it would be a release to watch games now, especially in full lockdown again, so hopefully we can continue.

“But we know that we have to work hard to stay within the rules and guidelines and that we’re doing our best to keep the show on the road.”

WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix 2018 – Day Three – Regional Arena
Future taekwondo stars may be few and far between (Martin Rickett/PA)

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall warned the impact of the closure of sporting facilities would not be fully appreciated for a number of years.

Hall said: “The long-term damage could be significant because you are switching so many young people off.

“You’ve got to stimulate the grassroots and it’s an issue that will come back to haunt us in two or three years because there will be fewer people doing sports.

“I believe there is always a way to keep activity going, and I think there should have been a way to maintain it, in a limited and carefully-controlled way, for the next six weeks.”