Changing Habits & Growing Inequalities
April 9, 2021
In this week’s Meet The Team piece, Joe Condon takes a look at how the demographics of people involved in sport have been changing since the pandemic begun.
Much of my life has been spent playing sports. I’ve tried my hand, and feet, at numerous sports, all with varying degrees of success. My main sport however has always been football; and returning to training 2 weeks ago for the first session post-lockdown here in the UK was a welcome step back to normality.
Throughout the pandemic, I changed my fitness habits like many, and took up running and, for my sins, participated in the odd Joe Wicks workout. I began to wonder how many people had done the same, and whether there had been a shift in participation levels for certain sports that may have a positive/negative effect in the long term post-pandemic.
“One that stuck with me is that children from affluent backgrounds remained the most active throughout the pandemic, whilst children and young people from a black background showed a 9% drop in activity.”
This is when I stumbled across the Active Lives report by Sport England, which I advise everyone takes a look at, whether working in sports or not.
I think we are all very aware that across all facets of society, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, but this report really reinforces that this is also the case in terms of activity levels. One that stuck with me is that children from affluent backgrounds remained the most active throughout the pandemic, whilst children and young people from a black background showed a 9% drop in activity.
The first question I asked myself is why? Is it fair to assume that the sports that were most accessible to this demographic were the team sports, like Basketball & Football, that were halted during the pandemic? How can we ensure that the most vulnerable within our society still have access to sporting provision to allow them to remain fit, healthy and engaged if we are ever to go through a pandemic again?
In Layman’s terms, it comes down to funding. Of course, in the UK, grassroots sports are funded by Sport England, and elite sport funded by UK Sport.
“In comparison to other smaller participation sports, the numbers just don’t add up.”
A great example of a sport where I feel a rethinking in strategy towards funding could present the opportunity for tremendous growth is Basketball here in the UK.
Basketball is the second largest participation sport amongst children and young people, with 1,041,700 playing at least once a week; yet in funding terms, basketball is a minority sport, only receiving £75,000 from UK Sport for the 2018-2021 cycle, and just 20 million since 2012 from Sport England.
In comparison to other smaller participation sports, the numbers just don’t add up.
How can a sport with such high participation rates, that generally engages with urban areas, and the large number of minority ethnicities within them that have seen a 9% downturn in activity levels throughout the pandemic, be receiving such low funding?
“There is no doubt that success is important in sports, no one gets into sports to lose, but there has to be an appreciation for the wider impact the funding can make in society.”
Of course from a UK Sport perspective, the criteria is currently that funding gets allocated to sports with medal chances, but in my opinion, this criteria needs serious revamping. There is no doubt that success is important in sports, no one gets into sports to lose, but there has to be an appreciation for the wider impact the funding can make in society, and the demographic that the sports serve when allocating.
It cannot be understated the impact that funding the top level of sports can have on the pyramid below it. Initiatives like the Aspiration Fund from UK Sport are a good start in helping smaller sports to grow and evolve, however, whilst many of these sports are not yet self-sustaining commercially, there must be a comprehensive strategy in place that does not detriment the grassroots participation of the sport overall.
To conclude, I strongly believe the beauty of sports is that it can completely transcend society and background when the right provisions are in place, so it must be a collective priority of the industry, the government and those who oversee funding allocation to view things with a wider lens; this way, sports really be true to its mission, and be accessible to all.