Sport in England: 'Radical' new policy needed to address inactivity - Lords Committee

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Parents and children take part in The Body Coach aka Joe Wicks' UK PE Tour
A new Sport England study shows activity inequalities have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic

A "radical" shake-up of sports policy is needed to address "stagnant activity levels", says an influential group of peers.

The House of Lords Sport and Recreation Committee said efforts to get the public fitter had failed, with "uncoordinated and fragmented" delivery.

It said physical education should become a core national curriculum subject in schools, as part of a new national plan for sport, health and wellbeing.

It also called for a new statutory requirement for local councils to provide and maintain facilities for physical activity.

Sport England has released what it called "sobering and stark" data that showed activity inequalities have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The funding agency's latest survey revealed four million children aged between five and 16 failed to meet minimum recommended activity levels during the last year, with lockdowns drastically reducing organised sport.

In a landmark report following an inquiry into the physical activity crisis, the House of Lords committee also called for:

  • Responsibility for sports policy to move from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) because it "lacks the clout within government to deliver the cross-departmental coordination" required, with a new minister for sport, health and wellbeing
  • The establishment of an independent sport ombudsman to ensure "an inclusive environment around" which is "not possible without a robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding"
  • The introduction of "mandatory reporting" of abusive behaviour in sport and recreation settings to tackle the abuse of children and young athletes
  • Sport England to "improve its funding and support for organisations delivering to under-represented groups"

Sport England's new Active Lives survey showed the activity gap has widened between the most affluent and least affluent families.

There is also a broader ethnicity gap, with only 36% of black children getting active, compared with 45% of all children and young people.

The committee - whose members include former Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, West Ham vice-chair Baroness Karren Brady and Lord Moynihan, a former sports minister and head of the British Olympic Association - said it was "shocked" that many primary school teachers receive only a few hours' training focused on PE and found that the subject is "not valued highly enough in schools".

Lord Willis, the chairman of the committee, said: "The pandemic has made abundantly clear the pressing need to get the country fitter and more active. However, participation in sport and recreation is flat-lining.

"Something needs to change and now is the time to do it."

In response, a government spokesperson told BBC Sport: "We have supported the elite, grassroots and leisure sectors with an unprecedented £1bn to ensure sport remains accessible for all throughout the pandemic.

"We are working hard on how we can best increase activity levels through a new sport strategy and School Sport and Activity Action Plan.

"We continue to urge everyone across the nation, particularly children and young people, to enjoy the benefits of getting active and aim for the chief medical officer's target of 60 minutes a day for children, and 150 minutes a week for adults."

The Youth Sport Trust backed the report, saying: "There is a desperate need for new policy thinking."

It added: "We have been concerned that, in the face of a global physical and mental health crisis, getting children active is still not being treated as a core priority of our national recovery."

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