Shapeshifting - From Ed Warner Sport Inc
Posted: Fri, 28 Apr 2023 08:51
An elite athlete cadges a lift to skip a couple of kilometres of an ultra race. Tough Mudder turns Finsbury Park into a swamp and is barred from using the venue next year. The London Marathon race director cycles to a key love-in with fossil-fuel hating activists ahead of the event, which is then won by men and women in prototype super-shoes. No shortage of publicity, but the hard data shows running is in gradual decline as the British population shifts shape. And it's not the only sport struggling for numbers.
Sport England has trumpeted its latest annual Active Lives survey as showing overall activity recovering to roughly the same level as before the pandemic. 63% of the population is said to meet the Chief Medical Officer's guidance of at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. Enjoyment in the process is not simply taken as read - SE provides survey evidence on mental wellbeing to back this up.
Look back beyond covid and activity is essentially flatlining though. It is tempting to use this as a stick to beat Sport England, which acts as the government's distributor of funding to grassroots sport. But its data showing lower activity levels among disadvantaged minority groups highlights the challenge of reversing the societal barriers to physical fitness. SE can often appear overly prone to fads and spin, but without the funding it dispenses I suspect that the nation's infrastructure of organised grassroots sport would crumble - with obvious consequences for health.
Running and cycling were clear beneficiaries of covid, outdoor pursuits that could be undertaken solo or in small groups. Swimmers were stymied by pool closures. Outdoor team sports were struck down by social distance restrictions, indoor ones by locked venues as well. Each of these trends is reversing (see chart) although swimming is still 10% down on pre-pandemic numbers. Most alarming for athletics bodies is that a million people have stopped running regularly over the past five years. And for all cycling's hype, it's just freewheeling.
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