By RYAN BROWN
(OSS Research Assistant)
So after a week when Scotland celebrated winning a football match that took the country’s men’s team to a first major finals in 22 years, we find ourselves again asking why more of us are being denied the opportunity to take part in sport activity.
With the announcement from the First Minister that 11 local authority areas are moving into Tier 4 of COVID protection levels at 6pm on Friday night, people in these areas will again experience a sudden stop to activity as the doors remain closed to local facilities. We understand why, and share the need to ensure we can reduce the spread of coronavirus. Yet, the most recent research from UKACTIVE has shown the sport and leisure sector in the UK to be the cause of only 0.99 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 visits, with over 45 million visits to sport and leisure sites recorded between July 25th and October 11th.
We also know that sport and leisure provides numerous mental and physical health benefits, and the ability to be involved in regular activity plays a hugely important role in improving the quality of life of millions of people across Scotland. So one would think that it was a key consideration at this time of particularly mental health concerns. The OSS research produced last year, by OSS Head of Research Nick Rowe, ‘Sport Participation in Scotland: Trends and Future Prospects‘, showed that Scotland had become a ‘Divided Nation’, where an increasing number of people who relied on public sport and leisure facilities were losing access to activity. Professor Tess Kay’s 2020 research ‘Sport and Social Inequalities’ revealed that the greatest barrier to regular sport activity in Scotland was poverty.
The impact of sport and leisure centres and activities being locked down for much of this year is expected to accelerate that trend, and with over 100 facilities expected never to re-open the damage to the health and wellbeing of the entire population will not be short-term in a time where it should be more important than anything to keep everyone healthy.
With the increasing drain and costs of NHS resources, sport and leisure is an obvious area for the government to support and build to instead reverse those trends and keep up with the ever-increasing demands for the population. Through increased access and prescription sport and recreation can be the secret weapon to prevention of illness and also improving the lives of people with serious health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart and lung conditions, providing active rehabilitation that enables longer, healthier lives. We were already making it difficult for people to access facilities and now we appear intent on closing more community facilities, and removing those lifeline ties to physical, mental and social benefits, and push more people towards an inactive lifestyle.
Recognition of the importance of sport and recreation to people’s lives has been noticeable by its absence from Scottish Government daily updates throughout the entire pandemic, and despite many countries around the world putting community sport at the heart of Covid-19 recovery, Scotland has gone the other way. New restrictions in Scotland are not only a devastating blow to the sport and leisure sector who have worked extremely hard and invested significant money to remodel facilities and ensure the highest levels of cleanliness, social distancing and safety, but they are a real blow to the health of the nation.
The OSS is busy, meanwhile, collating the evidence to help the government and stakeholders understand the links between all forms of sport activity and the nation’s health as we strive to shape much-needed improvements to the quality of life for all.