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Grassroots Sporting Fixtures and Facilities

Volume 809: debated on Monday 11 January 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to permit (1) the resumption of grassroots sporting fixtures, and (2) the re-opening of sports facilities.

My Lords, sports and physical activity are vital for our physical and mental health, and important weapons in our fight against coronavirus. However, we have now had to take decisive action to enter a national lockdown, to save lives and to protect the NHS. We will make the return of grassroots sports and the reopening of facilities an immediate priority as soon as it is safe to do so.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer; we understand the public health crisis that is upon us. Research for Sport England demonstrates the many positives of community sport and a more active lifestyle. As my noble friend said, we need people to be able to build resilience to Covid, and to tackle longer-term challenges relating to obesity and mental health. Sport and an active lifestyle do that. Can the Minister say when, in England, sports such as golf and tennis, which enable social distancing, as well as outdoor activities for children under 12 —still allowed in Scotland—will be prioritised for reopening?

As my noble friend knows, I cannot give her an exact date on which those sports will reopen, but in recognition of the importance of physical activity, outdoor exercise within households, or with one other person from another household or your support bubble, is still permitted once a day in your local area. That obviously includes things such as walking, running, swimming and cycling.

My Lords, picking up the theme of the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, before the pandemic, 20% of children aged between 10 and 11 were obese, with a further 14% overweight, and only 46% of children and young people were meeting the recommended level of physical activity. The CEO of ukactive has reported that during the previous lockdowns physical activity levels fell sharply and significantly. The Minister has said today that it is a priority to get these sports facilities open when they can, but is there also a concerted plan, with resources, to boost and increase physical activity among young people?

The noble Lord is right to highlight the importance of physical activity among young people. We are grateful for all the action of Sport England and others to encourage that, both at the moment and, I am sure, well into the future. The noble Lord may be pleased to hear that, last week, specific clarification was made about the status of youth workers, many of whom will be carrying out sporting activities with particularly vulnerable young people; they have been confirmed as key workers.

My Lords, I want to carry on the theme of grass-roots sport for schoolchildren. I live in London and when we were in tier 4, before the national lockdown, guidance went out from the department about what sort of activities could continue, but it caused great confusion at the local level. One local rugby club was open and another was not, and the football club was not sure what to do. Given that this patchwork of provision cannot be sustained if we are to get young people exercising after the lockdown, I encourage my noble friend’s department to give much more direct guidance about what can be done, so that we see that provision come back at the earliest possible opportunity.

I thank my noble friend for highlighting those specific examples. If he can share more such examples with me and with officials, we can make every effort to ensure that there is clarity, so that when we do bring back grass-roots sport, the maximum number of children and adults can benefit.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not only children but young adults and middle-aged people who are the backbone of amateur sport? We must ensure that these people are given some encouragement and we must assist the governing bodies in ensuring that they know that they can get back to training to play that sport. Habits have been broken by people not being able to take that up and other habits have come in their place. There must be a coherent effort to keep a sufficient core to allow these activities to continue.

The noble Lord is right. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport has been very clear in his statements about valuing the role of just the people who the noble Lord refers to.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend Lady Morgan’s Question, given the need for social distancing, minimising sporting physical effort and protecting mental health, can my noble friend clarify why angling and cycling are acceptable as outdoor pastimes but golf is not?

The noble Lord is not alone in his concerns about golf. He will be aware that a petition on that subject will be debated in the other place shortly. However, the answer is that, in the interests of public safety, we are allowing those activities which take place on public rather than private land.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of ukactive. While grass-roots sport and fixtures are vitally important, what provisions have Her Majesty’s Government made for opening up other leisure provisions which are so important for the long-term health of our nation?

As the noble Baroness knows, my colleagues within the department are constantly in conversation with other parts of the sport and leisure sector. We announced a £100 million support package for local authority leisure centres and continue to work on plans in that area.

My Lords, competitive sport below the elite level faces continued disruption due to the current lockdown, so given the evidence that other noble Lords have referred to—that earlier lockdowns led to a falling off of participation in sports—what plans have the Government got to develop a national sports recovery plan? Will the Minister commit to ensuring early consultation with all the relevant sports organisations in developing a recovery plan, so that we can get our nation playing again? Will the Government look at financial support, further to the winter survival package which was announced prior to Christmas, covering sports affected by the ban on spectators?

I can only agree with the noble Lord about the importance of keeping our nation active and those involved in sport having a chance to continue to do so. That is why we have kept those restricted options open, as I referred to already, on public land, which has not been the case in some other areas. Obviously, there are initiatives such as Join the Movement from Sport England. I reassure the noble Lord that we are in constant consultation with the key governing bodies about the future of sport and the funding required.

My Lords, sport is a lifeline of physical activities and mental well-being in areas where there is endemic housing overcrowding. I am therefore delighted that the Government are recognising youth workers as essential workers, because they have a vital role. I commend to the Minister and the House the work of London Tigers, under the leadership of Mesba Ahmed and Polly Islam, who have played an outstanding role in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere. Will the Minister look at their work and see the outstanding example they have set and perhaps consider it applicable elsewhere in grass-roots level community sports?

I would be delighted to look at their work. We are keen that everyone in this country has an opportunity to play and to enjoy sport.

Are the Government aware of the impact that the pandemic has had on grass-roots cricket? I declare an interest as president of Overbury Cricket Club, which has followed all the rules and, as a result, lost considerable income from cancelled fundraising events. To conserve this delightful and historic tradition, will the Minister look at ways of providing financial support to help local cricket clubs survive, particularly those in villages, where they are often one of the focal points of the local community?

We share the noble Lord’s concern about local grass-roots organisations such as cricket clubs, but we have already provided considerable support across the economy and to those with charitable status.