The Impact of Covid-19 on Sport Participation

As leisure centres and sport clubs begin to re-open across the UK, ORH takes a look at the impact that Covid-19 has had on sport participation.

Sport participation data from Sport England’s Active Lives survey is crucial for calculating the demand from the population for Sport England and sportscotland’s Facility Planning Model (FPM), which ORH operates and maintains. However, for a third of this year, there’s been no participation in activities involving indoor facilities such as, swimming, badminton and squash, and no team sports (at amateur level). So, what have we been doing instead, and will we maintain this behaviour?

On 23 March 2020 the British public were instructed to ‘stay at home’ but allowed one form of outdoor exercise each day such as running, walking or cycling. This caused massive disruption to physical activity. Sport England began monitoring the change in activity levels with weekly surveys through April and May, and monthly surveys in June and July.

In Sport England’s first survey, for the week 3-6  April, walking proved to be the most popular activity undertaken for 59% of adults. With gyms and clubs closed, 44% of adults took part in fitness classes and activities online and offline, or just exercised informally in their homes instead. Activities such as running were undertaken by 18% of adults, and 8% cycled.

After guidance on the number of outdoor exercise periods was lifted on 13 May, we reached peak activity levels in the week 15-18  May. The proportion of adults cycling doubled from the first week to 16%, almost two-thirds of adults (65%) were walking, and one-fifth of adults were running.

In July, with restrictions easing and more activities like golf and tennis becoming available, the proportion of people walking had reduced to 58%, similar to the pre-lockdown level.  The proportion of people doing home-based activities, which had peaked at the beginning of May at 48%, fell to 34%. However, cycling and running have managed to maintain some improvement since the start of lockdown, with 14% of adults cycling and 20% of adults running in July.

So, will athletes return to their previous patterns of sport participation or continue with the alternative activities discovered in lockdown? There definitely seems to be an intention to return to the same activities as pre-lockdown, but also to do more walking, running, home-based fitness and water sports. We’ll just have to wait for the next batch of data in 2021 to find out if people actually do this.

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