Sport faces an unprecedented challenge at every level because of the coronavirus pandemic, parliament will be told on Tuesday. The stark warning will come from Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of Sport England, when he speaks to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee about the damage that Covid-19 has caused throughout the industry.
Hollingsworth will also stress that while it is natural to focus on the professional game, the benefits of grassroots sport in helping people improve their mental and physical health and in bringing communities together must not be ignored.
Speaking to the Guardian, Hollingsworth admitted: “There is no question that Covid-19 represents an unprecedented challenge to sport at every level. Although it’s natural that much focus is on what happens in the world of professional sport, the benefits of community sport and activity to physical and mental health have surely never been more important – particularly as part of healthy lifestyles which can guard against the risk of illness in the first place and as a crucial part of reducing social isolation.”
A recent survey for Sport England found that people on low incomes were already finding it harder than normal to be active during the lockdown – while many local sports clubs are also struggling.
“We have a clear strategy to combat some of the biggest challenges the sector faces, through a £195m support programme and campaigns to encourage people to stay active, but it will be some time before the true impact is known,” added Hollingsworth.
“One thing for certain is that, when we start finally to emerge from the current lockdown, sport at grassroots level can and should be part of the solution to bringing communities back together, helping to repair the damage this period has brought to our social fabric, and keeping people fit and healthy.”
Senior executives from rugby and cricket, as well as the UK Sport chair, Katherine Grainger, will also reveal how deeply their respective sports have been hit by the lockdown imposed in March – and what needs to be done to secure a brighter future.
Grainger is likely to detail how many Olympic sports are facing financial difficulties and point to the need to ensure adequate funding to help Team GB is able to perform at its very best during next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile plans to announce when sport could get going again have been pushed back to Sunday, when the prime minister will reveal his plans to ease the lockdown. However the Guardian understands that tentative proposals to let people play golf, go fishing and play bowls from as early as next Monday have been pushed back indefinitely.