Olympic Games | The Guardian
UK sports clubs have been hit by the pandemic, but Alex Yee hopes his two Olympic triathlon medals will help rekindle the desire to participate in the sport. “I’ve seen so many people say they want to become a triathlete and now they want to go to the Olympics – that’s amazing to see,” he said. “And I think now the question is: where are you going?”
It is a good question. Many sports clubs are in a precarious position, including Crystal Palace Triathletes in south London, where Yee began triathlon at the age of nine – the start of a career that has resulted in a gold medal in the mixed relay at Tokyo 2020 Games and silver in the men’s .
Widespread coverage of the Olympics usually means a huge boost to popular sports as children inspired by their new athletic heroes get into sports. This time, however, it takes time to filter the expected boost for the Olympics.
Crystal Palace Triathletes had 60 members in its junior division before Covid. That fell to 30 during the depths of the lockdown and has only recovered to 43, according to Audrey Livingston, the club’s chairman who was one of Yee’s coaches in his early years.
“It’s not a quick process,” she said. “After the Olympic Games there is always an upswing, but maybe not until the new year. It takes a lot of preparatory work. “
Popular sports clubs have lost 60% of their members during the lockdowns, according to a survey for the Sport and Recreation Alliance by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University will require enormous effort and substantial financial resources.
“Despite the pandemic’s financial survival, the challenge remains to get all young people back on their toes,” said Nicola Walker, executive director of Sported, a charity that promotes grassroots sport. “Anecdotally, we know that those who have struggled the most through Covid – those who live in poor areas, young people with a disability, or those struggling with their mental health – are finding the benefits of exercise and the hardest regaining physical activity. “
Crystal Palace Triathletes relies on memberships and its annual triathlon event to raise money, but the event had to be canceled last year. Without funding, the club would have had to “drastically reduce” the sessions, Livingston said.
“We could probably have continued for another year,” she said. “But membership is dwindling because people think it’s not worth it.”
The club launched a campaign with Yee on the Crowdfunder platform and raised £ 8,000 which was topped up by Sport England as part of its Active Together fund, which was topped up by an additional £ 5 million last week – similar initiatives are running between Crowdfunder and the others Home nations. The campaign kept the Crystal Palace triathletes afloat and also helped cover the increased costs – the club had to hire the entire local pool for training, not half, due to anti-Covid measures, Livingston said. “I am optimistic that we will come back to 100 juniors and that our adult membership will grow.”
Murry Toms, Campaign Manager at Crowdfunder, said: “The pandemic has posed a number of major challenges for popular sports clubs, but we have responded quickly and supported more than 100 each month, and the number is growing. Unfortunately, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “
It is difficult to translate inspiration into participation, said Tim Hollingsworth, director of Sport England.
“This is inclusive, accessible, and impossible to do at the right cost without good local opportunities for people to take action,” he said. “We want popular sport not only to survive the pandemic, but also to thrive if we adapt to a different way of life.”
Facilities are a major problem, according to David Barrett of the Sports Industry Research Center in Sheffield Hallam, especially for clubs that do not have their own grounds – a common trait for sports such as soccer, swimming, badminton and volleyball. Last week, Swim England said that up to 2,000 pools – about 40% in England – could close by the end of the decade if they don’t get investment. Setting up facilities to be Covid-proof also had an impact.
Indiajane Cox, the founder of Just Row Gloucestershire, a charity that aims to make rowing accessible to people with mental or physical problems, said there were still restrictions after the lockdown. “If I wanted to rent a hall, some would say yes, others no – they have no staff.”
In August, the Observer reported how promising BMX riders and skateboarders suffered a severe blow when Rush Skatepark in Stroud, Gloucestershire, closed to make way for housing development.
Lisa Wainwright, executive director of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said a report by the Local Government Association last week showed that nearly two-thirds of recreational facilities had age-related issues.
“Returning to pre-pandemic activity levels will take time and targeted support,” she said. “As the Chancellor is due to present the spending breakdown this fall, we hope for a sports and leisure support package that will lead to tangible improvements in health and wellbeing for all as we understand the tremendous positive effects this can have for both individuals and Communities. “