Written evidence submitted by the Sport and Recreation Alliance


Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Inquiry: Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS Sectors - Sport and Recreation Alliance submission

The Sport and Recreation Alliance


The Sport and Recreation Alliance is the umbrella organisation for the governing and representative bodies of sport and recreation. We have a diverse membership of more than 300 national and local organisations across the sector.


As the voice of the sector, the Alliance works with government, policy makers and the media to make sure grassroots sport and recreation grows and thrives. Having an active nation is important as it delivers huge benefits to society and the millions of participants, volunteers, staff and spectators who participate in it.


Impact of COVID-19 on sport and recreation - Key points



Alliance response to Committee questions


  1. What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sport sector?


Financial impact


The government-enforced lockdown has meant the closure of sports clubs, leisure facilities and gyms as well as other places where sport takes place including schools. In many cases this has meant a complete cessation of activities for many Alliance members and their clubs as well as individuals who coach, teach and instruct at all levels.


This presents a significant financial threat to the whole sector and at all levels: little or no income can be generated yet organisations and individuals face continued outgoings in terms of overheads, salaries, rent, utilities and other sport-specific costs. Many organisations and individuals in the sector, particularly at grassroots level, will not be able to survive for long under the current restrictions.


At the elite/professional level, the suspension or cancellation of major sports leagues and competitions has led to a significant loss of broadcast, commercial and event-related income (ticket sales, hospitality, merchandising etc). While some events may be able to take place once the crisis is over, where events have been cancelled or rescheduled with a view to taking place behind closed doors, the associated losses will be largely unrecoverable.


It is important to emphasise that these losses will affect the sums available for reinvestment into grassroots sport. As an example, some of the country’s largest governing bodies reinvest over 30% of their net broadcast income into the grassroots under the Alliance’s Voluntary Code on Broadcasting.[4] In the most recent year, reinvestment under the Code totalled £163m.[5]


More broadly, many national governing bodies (NGBs) and other representative bodies across the sector have been badly affected. NGBs are expecting to see sharp falls in income from membership, events, training and other income which for those not funded by Sport England or UK Sport can make up the majority of income.[6]


Our membership also includes many sports charities which do critical work in the sector to make sure young people and those with disabilities can reap the benefits from sport and physical activity such as Activity Alliance, Youth Sports Trust (YST), Association for Physical Education (AfPE), StreetGames and Greenhouse Sports.


As has been widely reported, charities face a loss in revenue of over £4 billion as a result of COVID-19.[7] Sports charities are no different and while some charities will be in receipt of grant income, all rely to a greater or lesser extent on charitable giving. In this context the enforced cancellation or postponement of fundraising events will have a serious impact.


The direct impact of COVID-19 on grassroots sport and recreation has also been profound.


The major challenges facing grassroots clubs and organisations relate to loss of income – primarily from membership subscriptions and playing fees but also other income, for example income from club bars and events. In the outdoor recreation sector income has been lost from other streams including around £240 million in school trip revenue.[8] While the vast majority of grassroots organisations are volunteer-run and not-for-profit, many have ongoing costs which must be covered, for example rent, utilities and other sport-specific costs.


Self-employed individuals in the sector are also facing serious financial hardship. The sport sector has almost 100,000 self-employed staff in a range of roles including coaches, instructors and teachers. While some have been able to adapt their coaching or business practices to offset the impact – for example by delivering sessions online – many have had to cease business operation and are facing substantial reductions in income.


Participation impact


The most recent Sport England Active Lives data indicates that a record number of people were active prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.[9] However, there remain persistent challenges in terms of the activity levels of adults with disabilities and from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds.[10]


Sport England data captured since the outbreak began indicates that lockdown and social distancing has had an impact on activity: 39% of adults participated in less physical activity in a given week compared to prior to the lockdown with a similar number (37%) of children reporting the same.[11]


However, there is some evidence that the lockdown has increased people’s recognition of the link between physical activity and improved mental health.[12] Similarly, there is evidence that more people are turning to active forms of travel such as cycling and walking.[13]


Looking ahead, the immediate challenge will be to ensure that the sector can bounce back and the levels of activity achieved in the period pre-COVID-19 can be reached again quickly. There is a huge risk that the longer the crisis continues and the more damage the sector sustains, long term participation levels will be impacted materially.


In the longer term, longstanding inequalities in participation will need to be pursued even more vigorously once we return to normality. Sport England’s Active Lives data shows 18% fewer people from lower socio-economic groups are active compared to higher socio-economic groups.[14] This will continue to be a major challenge, particularly given the likely long-term impact of COVID-19 on the wider economy and employment.


  1. How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?


Overall DCMS has been very supportive throughout and has been proactive in engaging with the sector and key stakeholders to address concerns. It has developed close links with other government departments to raise issues and identify solutions where possible.


Similarly, Sport England has acted quickly to deliver critical and very welcome financial support to the sector through the provision of a broad £195m package of funding alongside development and coordination of the #stayinworkout campaign.


More broadly the key Covid-19 business support packages provided by government have been extremely helpful.


However, while all of these support measures are welcome, in some areas they still do not address all of the sector’s needs. We have outlined some of the issues below.


Retail, hospitality and leisure (RHL) sector – Expanded Retail Discount (ERD) and cash grants



Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)



Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)



Support for not-for-profit and charity organisations



  1. What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?


The long-term implications of COVID-19 for the financial health of the sector and by extension participation in sport and recreation are significant. Unless the sporting eco-system governing bodies, clubs, community groups, charities and individuals – is protected through this initial period, it will be extremely difficult to re-engage communities in sport and recreation as the country returns to normality.


Government and Sport England help has been extremely welcome but as noted, it does not address all of the sector’s needs. Without additional flexibility and expansion of the existing support measures many organisations, clubs and self-employed may not survive this initial period.


In addition, government assistance will need to be extended over a longer time horizon as the sector’s return to operation will have to be phased in over time. Sport and recreation organisations and self-employed individuals will therefore face continued financial challenges as it will take time for activity to return to previous levels. In our view, government should address this problem through extended support notably the CJRS and SEISS schemes and continued support for grassroots clubs rather than risk losing a substantial part of the sport and recreation sector altogether.


We also believe government should look carefully at other policy levers which could support the sector in the long term. These include further consideration of a fair return from gambling to sport as well as ambitious changes to the tax system and charitable giving rules to support greater investment in grassroots sport.


More broadly, the postponed Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will provide a key opportunity for the government to make a substantial long-term investment in the sector to ensure it is fit for the future and can support the government’s ambitions to rebuild and ‘level up’ across the country.


  1. What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?
  2. How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with such challenges.


As already mentioned, DCMS and its arm’s length bodies have provided welcome support to the sector and regular contact between government and key stakeholders in the sector has been extremely helpful.


In our view the following initial conclusions can be drawn from the sector and government response:



In view of these lessons learned, looking ahead we believe there is a real opportunity to:



May 2020

[1] https://www.mountain-training.org/latest-news/impact-of-covid-19-on-the-professional-mountaineering-community

[2] ESSA-SPORT UK National Report: https://www.essa-sport.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ESSA_Sport_National_Report_United_Kingdom.pdf

[3] Savanta Comres, Sport England: Survey in to Adult Physical Activity Attitudes and Behaviours, Available at: http://www.comresglobal.com/polls/sport-england-survey-into-adult-physical-activity-attitudes-and-behaviour/ 20 April 2020.

[4] https://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/policy/campaigns-initiatives/broadcasting-of-major-sporting-events-the-vol

[5] https://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/news/grassroots/uk-sports-bodies-reinvest-163m-from-broadcast

[6] Sport and Recreation Alliance research and Haysmacintyre NGB Benchmarking Survey Report 2019: https://www.haysmacintyre.com/uploads/publications/ngb-benchmarking-survey-2019-public-amended-28022020.pdf

[7] https://www.ncvo.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/2748-every-day-counts-as-charities-still-wait-for-government-support

[8] Information provided by the Outdoor Industries Association based on an assessment of the school educational visits sector.

[9] Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey Nov 2018-19: https://sportengland-production-files.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-04/Active%20Lives%20Adult%20November%2018-19%20Report..pdf?BhkAy2K28pd9bDEz_NuisHl2ppuqJtpZ

[10] ibid.

[11] Savanta Comres, Sport England: Survey in to Adult Physical Activity Attitudes and Behaviours, Available at: http://www.comresglobal.com/polls/sport-england-survey-into-adult-physical-activity-attitudes-and-behaviour/

[12] ibid.

[13] See for example: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayors-bold-plan-will-overhaul-capitals-streets

[14] See note 9.

[15] Data on local authority distribution of RHL grants can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-grant-funding-local-authority-payments-to-small-and-medium-businesses

[16] Sport England Community Emergency Fund (CEF) data as at 3 May: https://www.sportengland.org/how-we-can-help/our-funds/community-emergency-fund

[17] For examples of how our members have engaged people in sport and physical activity during lockdown see: https://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/news/covid-19/member-activity-area