Sport England warns of widening gender gap as a result of Covid-19

By Ben Ransom

Last Updated: 30/06/20 6:50pm

Sport England has warned of a widening gender gap because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, stating women have been less able to exercise than men.

Concerns were raised today during a parliamentary inquiry looking at the impact of Covid-19 on participation in sport.

Ali Donnelly, executive director of digital marketing and communications for Sport England, told MPs that disturbing evidence has arisen that, in some households, there has been a return to gender stereotypes.

There is also real concern over the impact of the pandemic on mental health, with 40 per cent of women telling a survey by the charity Women In Sport that they were concerned over the lockdown’s impact on fitness and wellbeing.

Donnelly said: “We are worried that women have found it difficult in recent months for a variety of reasons.

“There’s lots of interesting research out there from people like the IFS and Women in Sport around what has been particularly difficult; so burden of care, child care responsibilities, and so on – a sort of re-amplifying of gender-stereotypical kind of norms that existed before.

“So as we come out of lockdown, there is a widening of that gender gap. At its worst, it was 10 per cent (the difference in) the ability of women versus men that were able to be active at this time.”

Sport England is now calling on the government to reopen gyms and leisure centres to help bridge that gap.

Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be allowed to open their doors on July 4 as England moves to the next stage of the easing, but a date for indoor exercise facilities to do the same has yet to emerge.

And Donnelly told MPs: “The continued closure of gyms and pools and leisure facilities for women is worrying, because women disproportionately use those facilities.

“So if you take, for example, a regular fitness class, so the classes that are offered by leisure centres, 80 per cent of people who attend those are women.

“We were disappointed like others… that the next wave of reopening doesn’t include indoor facilities. We’re very hopeful that’s going to change soon, and those facilities are ready to go and, as I say, are very important settings for women.

“My understanding is that public health officials, in the coming days, are going to visit some facilities and some sites with a view to hopefully giving them the green light asap, so let’s hope that impasse ends pretty soon.”

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