Health and leisure sector to receive £4.6billion from Government amid lockdown

The health and leisure industry has welcomed the announcement that it is to receive £4.6billion in Government grants.

But officials also stressed the need to protect “the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the UK” in light of the latest coronavirus lockdown measures which have forced fitness centres, gyms, swimming pools and tennis courts to close again.

A spokesperson for the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which represents over 320 national sports organisations across the UK, said: “The Sport and Recreation Alliance welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement of additional financial support today and we will be working with our members and Government over the coming days and weeks to understand what further support may be required.

“While it is disappointing that tighter restrictions have been put in place, including the enforced closure of all indoor and outdoor sports facilities, we recognise the gravity of the situation and the importance of limiting further spread of the virus in our communities.

“We continue to believe that sport and physical activity are key to supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing during this difficult period and hope that, as restrictions are lifted, grassroots activities can be restarted and facilities reopened as quickly as possible.”

Ukactive, a non-profit industry association which represents more than 4,000 gyms and leisure centres, earlier warned that jobs and businesses were under threat.

“Operators of all sizes across the UK are sounding the alarm that their businesses are unsustainable and facing substantial job losses if they are forced to close again without a comprehensive package of tailored financial and regulatory support,” said ukactive chief executive Huw Edwards, speaking prior to the grant announcement.

“Therefore, they must be prioritised and protected or we risk widespread business failure that will have major health impacts for a generation.”

Edwards added that it was “crucial” the further restrictions were respected, but urged the Government for “credible plans to minimise the damaging impact lockdown has on the physical and mental wellbeing of people across the UK”.

Outdoor team sports and golf are prohibited in England, although the latter can continue in small groups in Scotland.

England Golf, which campaigned hard for the reopening of courses when they were closed first time around, on Monday evening said it was “extremely disappointed” with the news and vowed to “continue to make the case for golf to reopen whenever possible”.

The Lawn Tennis Association also made a case for its sport to continue, while the British Horseracing Authority confirmed racing would go ahead behind closed doors.

WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix 2018 – Day Three – Regional Arena
WTF World Taekwondo Grand Prix 2018 – Day Three – Regional Arena

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall warned the impact of the closure of sporting facilities would not be fully appreciated for a number of years.

Hall said: “The long-term damage could be significant because you are switching so many young people off.

“You’ve got to stimulate the grassroots and it’s an issue that will come back to haunt us in two or three years because there will be fewer people doing sports.

“I believe there is always a way to keep activity going, and I think there should have been a way to maintain it, in a limited and carefully controlled way, for the next six weeks.”

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose club play Manchester City in their Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday, acknowledged that elite sport was in a “privileged” position in being allowed to continue.

“Of course it’s a hard and difficult situation for everyone,” the Norwegian said.

“Last year, since March until now, has been a testing time for everyone and we are privileged to be able to play football under the protocols that we are working under.

“Hopefully we can continue. I think mentally for many it would be a release to watch games now, especially in full lockdown again, so hopefully we can continue.

“But we know that we have to work hard to stay within the rules and guidelines and that we’re doing our best to keep the show on the road.”

Forty positive coronavirus cases were discovered over two rounds of Premier League testing in late December and early January.

The league announced its latest figures on Tuesday afternoon which showed that of 1,311 players and club staff tested between December 28 and 31, 28 came back positive for Covid-19.