Indoor sports call for government protection amid coronavirus restrictions

Badminton England, England Netball, Basketball England, Volleyball England and Table Tennis England have come together to call on the government to protect indoor sports halls from being sacrificed as overflow gyms, or, in some cases, not reopening at all.

Indoor sports have seen their playing spaces almost entirely disappear with leisure facilities having to prioritise sports halls to accommodate gyms and group exercise due to social distancing. The majority of other regular venues, such as schools or universities, also remain closed.

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If these practices continue it is expected two in three indoor facilities will remain unusable into the autumn for the 2.4 million people who play indoors sports regularly.

Indoor facilities are vital to sports such as badminton, which reach into every community irrespective of physical ability, age, gender or ethnicity. These sports provide inclusive environments for a great many, particularly those who cannot get involved in other forms of physical activity due to ability or access.

The governing bodies have done all they can to restart their respective sports, including guidance to create COVID-secure playing environments and supporting clubs wherever possible to avoid collapse and believe a crisis is now looming because of the lack of facilities available.

As a result, they are collectively calling for the government to incentivise the reopening of indoor facilities to ensure leisure operators, schools and other venues are able to make the right choices to support the health and wellbeing of the nation and get participants back into community sport.

Badminton England’s Chief Executive Adrian Christy made the call to action alongside four other leading figures from indoor sports.

“It is vital that Government and providers of indoor sport facilities recognise the crisis that is heading our way if we continue to see indoor multi-purpose sports halls repurposed in favour of gym operations,” said Christy.

“More than 2.4 million members of local communities are at risk of seeing their indoor sports facilities disappear from use.

“Only 20 per cent of badminton facilities have been able to accommodate players since we were given the green light to reopen, resulting in more than half-a-million people unable to play the sport they love, and unable to stay, fit, active and healthy.

“While we understand the challenges facing facility providers, such as leisure centres and schools, there are unintentional consequences for badminton and the wide and diverse cross section of local communities who play our sport.

“We call on facility operators to make choices that reflect the breadth of sports their local communities enjoy, and on government to find ways to incentivise the unlocking of more doors.

“If they don’t, we risk millions of people, the length and breadth of the country, losing their community sports facility and irreparable damage to grassroots sport.”

Fran Connolly, CEO of England Netball, added: “As a sport that relies so heavily on the use of indoor sports halls for every part of the game, from grassroots to elite, it is extremely worrying to hear reports that a staggering proportion of our clubs and leagues across the country are struggling to book spaces in their local sports halls to deliver netball activity.

“Pre-lockdown netball participation rates were at an all-time high with record numbers of women and girls aged 5 – 85yrs taking to courts across the country.

“For many of the 1.6 million participants involved in our sport, netball is the only form of physical activity they undertake and there is a real risk that not being able to access vital indoor provision within both leisure centres and school environments will lead to a significant drop in female activity rates overall, an audience who are already reporting difficulties in reforming previous exercise habits.”

While gyms, swimming pools and some outdoor sports have returned, half of the sector remains closed and the 2.4 million people who play indoor sports regularly are being neglected. Without action, indoor activities will be left behind and community sport decimated.

Basketball England CEO, Stewart Kellett, said: “We call on the government to offer real support and guidance to make sure basketball and other indoor sports have access to the facilities they so desperately need both in leisure centre and education sector settings.

“Around 1.2million people play our sport, many from among the most disadvantaged communities in the UK.

“Basketball and other indoor sports have done a huge amount of work to provide safe, well-researched Return to Play strategies and basketball’s is among those already approved by government, but we now have another challenge – getting access to the playing venues.

“Now we need action to give venue operators the guidance and confidence to unblock access so our sport’s diverse and vibrant community of players, coaches and clubs can get back to playing.

“On behalf the nation’s second largest team sport, we urge the government to act to make sure we continue to thrive and provide opportunities to boost physical and mental health.”

Sue Storey, chief executive of Volleyball England, added: “The latest phase of our extensive return to play consultation has highlighted the inescapable reality of poor access to indoor facilities for volleyball clubs.

“Shockingly, only 6 per cent of volleyball teams have reported they will be able to book an indoor venue before September 1.

“We are also noticing a worrying trend with multiple volleyball teams who ordinarily use school based indoor facilities unable to make bookings until 2021.

“Clearly, as a sector, it is vital that we pull together to protect and preserve the physical, social and mental wellbeing benefits that sports provide in abundance. And yet we are faced with a situation where government has given the green light for indoor sports to return to play, however there are so few indoor facilities available to play in, and this is not a short-term issue.”

Table Tennis England’s chief executive, Sara Sutcliffe also said: “Only around 45 per cent of our clubs have been able to return to play or have a confirmed date for doing so and, of those which haven’t, two-thirds have given venue closure or venues not allowing external hirers as the reason.

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