Call to prioritise disabled people in sport and leisure as new research reveals huge pandemic impact

Posted: Wed, 03 Feb 2021 08:30

Call to prioritise disabled people in sport and leisure as new research reveals huge pandemic impact

Activity Alliance is urging decision makers in sport and leisure to prioritise disabled people as they strive to recover from the pandemic. The leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity is seriously concerned about the potential long-term damage on the nation's least active. The call comes on the day the national charity releases their latest Annual Disability and Activity Survey. The new research shows twice as many disabled people felt that coronavirus greatly reduced their ability to do sport or physical activity compared to non-disabled people.

Evidence shows disabled people's lives have been the hardest hit by COVID-19. Accounting for two-thirds of the deaths from coronavirus, this is a national crisis for public health and one that is being felt most sharply by disabled people. It has led to many disabled people, who count for one in five of the population, feeling more fearful and ignored.

The stark impact of this crisis on disabled people's attitudes towards sport and activity is clear in Activity Alliance's latest Annual Survey. This unique survey explores disabled and non-disabled people's activity and views to help grow insight and shape future opportunities.

Activity Alliance exists to reduce the fairness gap between disabled and non-disabled people's activity levels. Prior to the pandemic, collectively we were starting to close this gap, with more disabled people recorded being active than ever before. Yet, disabled people are still twice as likely as non-disabled people to be inactive.

This year's survey results show how the pandemic is not only widening existing inequalities for disabled people but creating new ones too. Key findings include:

  • Disabled people felt that they do not have the opportunity to be as active as they want to, compared to non-disabled people (29% vs 44%).
  • Almost a quarter stated that they had not received enough information about how to be active during the pandemic (23% vs 13%).
  • Respondents said the lack of activity has led to both their physical and mental health being harder to manage. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation were frequently voiced.
  • A fear of contracting the virus, the impact on their health, a lack of space and support to be able to exercise safely at home, have become significant barriers for disabled people.

Barry Horne, Chief Executive at Activity Alliance, commented on the latest research:

"The benefits of being active are clear. It matters for everyone's physical and mental health and has enormous impact on our daily lives. So, it is never acceptable that disabled people should not reap these benefits too.

"We appreciate we have a national crisis on our hands and leaders need to make tough decisions in sport and leisure. But we have not heard near enough about the impact on disabled people's lives during the pandemic. No disabled person should ever feel forgotten or overlooked in the communities we all serve.

"That's why this insight is so important. We have listened to disabled people and urge decision makers to do the same, and act swiftly upon the findings. If we do not act now, we will witness inequalities widen even further, or unthinkably they may become irreversible. Prioritising disabled people is the only way to prevent this from happening. Every plan, every action and every penny spent must be tested against its impact on disabled people's activity."

The Annual Survey follows Sport England launching their 10-year strategy, Uniting the Movement, which highlights their ambition to tackle inequalities, especially for inactive people. They pinpoint the need to invest in those who need it the most, with fairness and equity at the heart.

Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive at Sport England said on this latest research:

"This past year has highlighted the challenges we face in making sure sport and physical activity is a normal part of life – for everyone.

"We take our responsibility in tackling these inequalities and supporting organisations like Activity Alliance extremely seriously and working to remove barriers and make activity more accessible for disabled people underpins our new strategy.

"It is important that everyone is able to feel the benefits of being active, which can help unlock the door to a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life."

The full report is available to view at


Use #ActivityAllianceSurvey to share your thoughts about this report on social media. Find us on Twitter @AllForActivity.

Notes to Editors:

Key Findings

  • More than double the number of disabled people felt that coronavirus reduced their ability to do sport or physical activity compared to non-disabled people.
  • These findings are deeply worrying – before COVID-19, activity levels and perceptions among disabled people were improving but this is a huge set-back for the sector.
  • Disabled people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and this has had a negative impact on their opportunity to be active, increasing barriers like self-isolating, fear of contracting the virus and lack of space and support.
  • Disabled people feel that they do not have the opportunity to be as active as they want to be compared non-disabled people (29% vs 44%).
  • Almost a quarter of disabled people (23%) felt they had not received enough information about how to be activeduring the pandemic.

About the research

  • Activity Alliance's Annual Disability and Activity Survey was conducted by IFF Research from June to September 2020, with almost 2,000 disabled and non-disabled adults in England aged 16+ taking part.
  • In the study, Activity Alliance define a disabled person as anyone who had a long-term health condition, impairment or illness that has a substantial effect on normal daily activities.
  • The full report, including a detailed executive summary is available at

About Activity Alliance

Activity Alliance is the operating name for the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS). The national charity is the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity. We work collectively with our members to reduce the fairness gap between disabled and non-disabled people. Established in September 1998, Activity Alliance's vision is fairness for disabled people in sport and activity. Key areas of expertise include:

  • Striving for a more equal society in which disabled people can achieve more through increased opportunities and choice.
  • Enabling organisations to support individual disabled people to be active and stay active for life.
  • Working as England's leading expert voice advocating disabled people's participation in active recreation.
  • A team of Advisors across English regions, who increase connections between a diverse range of partners so more disabled people can access sport and physical activity. These partners include National Governing Bodies of sport, Active Partnerships, National Disability Sports Organisations and leisure providers. We also actively engage with Disabled People's Organisations, local authorities and third sector organisations.
  • Developing and rolling-out programmes to improve access to sport and physical activity for disabled people, such as Sainsbury's Inclusive PE Training, Inclusive Activity Programme and Get Out Get Active.
  • Providing participation opportunities through an events programme.
  • Actively raising the profile of all disabled sportswomen and sportsmen, as well as increasing the opportunities available for disabled people to take part at all levels.
  • Fundraising to provide more opportunities through Activity Alliance and attracting additional funds to sport for disabled people.
  • Activity Alliance receives funding from Sport England as its expert partner for disabled people in sport.

Charity Registration Number: 1075180

Tags: DCMS, Featured, Physical Activity, Sport, sport policy