Can the Coronavirus Make Us More Active?

With the public on lockdown, Owen Hathway asks if this is the moment we collectively get up and become more active.

 

As the UK continues into another week of lockdown it is not an exaggeration to suggest the way in which most of us lead our lives could change forever.

 Facing potentially months of social distancing, when we re-emerge into normality our approach to work and leisure, including what we value and the way we value it, will undoubtedly be different.

 

Like practically every aspect of our lives, sport in Wales is facing sector altering challenges.  The sporting calendar, from elite to community participation, has been decimated. Clubs, gyms, organisations and providers of sport and physical recreation face uncertain futures. 

From the financial implications of dealing with the lockdown to rebuilding clubs and participation opportunities after a prolonged absence from the day to day lives of the general public. 

 

We’ve seen a range of support packages put in place, including the recently launched emergency relief fund from Sport Wales and the Welsh Government. Our organisational strategy is to enable sport in Wales to thrive, but we recognise in the immediate term it is simply about doing everything we can to help it survive.

We want to make sure that those vital sporting structures remain in place and are supported into sustainable long-term assets. That comes in the form of new financial support, repurposing existing funds, being flexible in how investments are utilised and the range of other commercial, communications, training and human resources that can be put to use in these unprecedented times. 

 

While this challenge is the highest priority, and it will take a cross sectoral and government approach to meet it, we should also envisage the opportunities at the other end. The very fact that the first real registration of the seriousness of this virus amongst the UK public was when sporting fixtures began to fall by the wayside, shows the value we place on sport in our culture.  However, we haven’t always valued its impact on our own lives.

 

You don’t know what you’ve got until its gone

 

The old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder has perhaps never been so relevant to sport.  The inability to participate in physical activity has already cultivated a real desire to do so. Furthermore, we are perhaps seeing a reimagination of what physical activity means.  It is becoming, through necessity as much as design, an offer closer to home and encompassing a whole family approach.

 

Nearly 1 million people are tuning in to watch and join along with a 9am Joe Wicks workout daily as families are coming together within their homes to stay active. Home gym equipment is up there with toilet paper as an almost unattainable commodity at present. It is perhaps worth asking if we are seeing the green shoots of a new physical activity environment.

 

This remote approach may be a shift for some sports, but equally the experiences we have in the sport sector can lead to seizing the moment.  Some sports will already have an approach which sees athlete and coach working remotely, while elite sporting structures are used to using digital resources and approaches to support the development of skills.  Embracing what this could mean for the general public, could tap into the emerging desire to be part of a physically active community but outside a formal setting. 

 

Many commercial gyms and community clubs are already meeting this demand, creating home workouts through platforms such as YouTube, Zoom and WhatsApp.  This new approach is also very much in line with the ethos of the Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales delivery plan of creating healthy environments and innovative approaches to broadening physical activity offers.

 

Indeed, building on these early stages of lockdown Sport Wales has launched a new campaign to help focus the existing enthusiasm. The #BeActiveWales (#CymruActif) campaign is Welsh sport’s united voice to help people be active. Online routines, help to get moving, session plans, motivation, nutrition advice and other resources will be made available to cover a range of sports and activities. 

Creating the opportunity for numerous different, informal approaches to sport at home can have the additional benefit of getting away from early specialisation, establishing a future where children see sport as a smorgasbord of possibilities, all to be tried, enjoyed and learning experiences. 

 

Our national playing fields

 

Beyond the home environment, the restrictive nature of social isolation is also helping to focus the public on physical activity opportunities across Wales’s incredible landscapes. While some of us were appalled at the naivety of those who ventured to Snowdon and Pen Y Fan recently during calls for greater social distancing, that did at least have the underlying notion of people wanting to be active in nature. 

 

Capturing that desire, albeit misplaced in the current circumstance, could be a real boom for Wales in marrying physical health, sport and our incredible natural environment, and showcases the importance of things such as the Welsh Physical Activity Partnership approach from Sport Wales, National Resources Wales and Public Health Wales in future.

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The health of the nation

 

Finally, for too long we’ve collectively not appreciated the value of physical activity on our health. We of course all know doing sport and being active is good for us, but often the fact that those benefits are long-term rather than immediately recognised, has led to them being overlooked in our priorities.

 

The fact that when the UK government outlined its strict criteria for leaving the house it included daily exercise, really underpinned the critical nature of physical activity. Even within the confines of a social distancing strategy physical activity, albeit in a very different way, was a prominent consideration.  

 

We have also seen people acknowledge the significant advantages of retaining physical health in fighting the effects of this virus. This public and government recognition is an important reinforcement of the place sport and physical activity should have in our daily life, and while it may have needed a crisis to establish that for some people, that narrative is now here to stay.

 

The future

 

The difficulties I outlined at the start of this article remain the very immediate and overwhelming threat to sport in Wales.  We should make no mistake that if we truly do value the benefits that sport and physical activity provide, and increasingly that seems the case in society through this crisis, then we must ensure that it is still here in the coming months.  Its clubs, volunteers, coaches, buildings, programmes and potential.

 

If we succeed in that then we could very well come out of this with a culture and society which, in reaction to being in lockdown, embraces the natural environment in Wales; is exposed to multisport experiences and which builds a physical activity approach putting being active as part of the habitual nature of everyday life in a family setting.

 

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Owen Hathway is the Assistant Director of Sport Wales overseeing its insight, policy, public affairs and investments work.

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