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Coronavirus: Sports bodies warn Covid-19 crisis could cause ‘lost generation of activity’

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Plans for spectators to be allowed to return to stadiums and venues was placed under review earlier this month after a rise in Covid-19 cases

The leaders of more than 100 sports bodies have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ask for emergency funding, warning of “a lost generation of activity” because of coronavirus.

The coalition of organisations says they are “united in our concern that at a time when our role should be central to the nation’s recovery, the future of the sector is perilous”.

In a letter seen by BBC Sport, the group urges the government to provide a “sports recovery fund” so the sector can “survive and stabilise”.

Plans for spectators to be allowed to return to stadiums and venues was placed under review earlier this month after a rise in coronavirus cases, with pilot events restricted to 1,000 people.

A number of sports have urged the government to allow them to continue with their plans to open turnstiles from 1 October, with a decision due this week.

However, it is understood they are set to be told that fans will not allowed back from next month and that pilot events will be paused.

The letter written by the organisations, which include the Football Association, Premier League, Rugby Football Union, England and Wales Cricket Board and Lawn Tennis Association, adds: “We require a comprehensive support package for the sport and physical sector to aid its recovery.

“This package must combine investment, tax incentives, and regulatory reform.

“Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadiums and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity.

“The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact on those whose participation has been limited during the pandemic. Physical activity levels, especially in the most vulnerable groups, are significantly below where they were tracking pre-Covid-19.”

The arts industry was given a £1.57bn support package by the government in July.

Although Sport England has handed out £200m for emergency cases, many in the sector believe more is needed.

A series of sports bodies have announced job losses in recent weeks and warned they face major mounting losses if turnstiles are not opened soon.

The government is to ask sports bodies to assess the financial impact of several more months without paying spectators, and is understood to be preparing to work with organisations on what support might be needed to help them survive.

In the letter, the prime minister is told that sport and physical activity contributes more than £16bn and 600,000 jobs to the UK economy.

“Our sector will be at the forefront of your plans to improve the health and wellbeing of all communities…to solving societal issues…including reducing health inequalities, tackling obesity, cutting crime, easing loneliness, and enhancing social cohesion,” the group adds.

“But to do so effectively, we require your government’s backing.”

Lisa Wainwight, chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: “The strength of this coalition from the sports, recreation and activity sector cannot be ignored in its public call to the prime minister.

“The pandemic has put an incredible strain on our sector, which was forced to close for a prolonged period.

“It is imperative that our sector gets the support it requires from the government to get back to business, in order to ease the pressures on the NHS and play a central role in our nation’s recovery.”

Swim England has reported that 22% of public pools remain closed and all those that are open have reduced capacity. Some 36% of clubs remain without access to pools.

Industry bodies Community Leisure UK and UK Active estimate leisure centres, swimming pools and community services face a shortfall of more than £800m this year.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch added: “This isn’t just about the number of people on a pitch, field, court or in a pool or gym.

“This is about the whole ecosystem that supports sport, fitness and leisure and, if we’re not careful, historic clubs and the jobs that support them will be lost, potentially for good. If government is going to shut sport down then it needs to provide a package of support to stop its decimation.”

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