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Barry Horne, CEO, blog: "Rebuilding confidence must be the focus"

Our Chief Executive, Barry Horne, blogs on the importance of rebuilding confidence and reassuring disabled people as we reopen sport. 

From 29 March, the rules on social contact change. People will not be required to stay at home, and will be permitted to meet outdoors in groups of up to 6 people, or as a group of two households, for exercise or recreation. A group made up of two households can include more than 6 people, but only where all members of the group are from the same two households (or support/childcare bubbles, where eligible). Social distancing must be maintained between people who do not live together or share a support bubble.

EFDS106 Me Being Active 2017 Zack 2

Today is hugely significant as society begins to reopen following a year of upheaval and isolation. The impact of the last year has been felt by the whole nation, but disabled people and people with long-term health conditions have been hit the most. There is no getting away from it. The statistics are frightening. Disabled people account for 6 in 10 of the deaths from COVID-19 from January to November in 2020.  

The reality is that many people shielding or self-isolating for these last 12 months have been people living with disability or health conditions. And we need to be mindful people are officially shielding until after 31 March and may even decide to continue isolating until they feel safe. For many, it will be a matter of time.

As the leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, we are concerned about the huge drop in activity levels. Before the pandemic we were seeing glimmers of hope in disabled people’s activity levels improving.

But findings in our most recent Annual Disability and Activity Survey show we face a real crisis, in tackling disabled people’s fears and rebuilding confidence.

In some ways, it will be like starting again to reassure many disabled people that sport is welcoming, safe and inclusive. Rebuilding that confidence to return to an active lifestyle must be the focus for all of us right now.

We must use this moment in time to rethink and readjust things for the better. It is a chance to be more thoughtful and innovative. Every plan, every action and every penny spent on ‘the return to sport’ must be tested against its impact on disabled people’s activity.

I fear that if we do not act now, we will witness inequalities widen even further, or unthinkably they may become irreversible. Prioritising disabled people in sport and activity is the only way to prevent this from happening.

Disabled people must not become ‘the forgotten group’ because of the pandemic. We at Activity Alliance will continue to do all we can to fight for fairness for every disabled person.

Step 1 (phase 2) comes into force today, with some loosening of restrictions for outdoor activity. Outdoor sports facilities, like tennis courts, sport pitches and outdoor swimming pools can reopen. And organised outdoor sport and activity is once again permitted and exempt from the legal gathering limits.

Informal sport and physical activity are also allowed, providing individuals follow the legal gathering limits for outdoors: the ‘rule of six’ or two households.

And from today, disabled people can take part in organised outdoor and indoor sport without being subject to social contact limits. Non-disabled people are not permitted to participate, except where necessary to enable the activity to take place (such as a carer or coach supporting the disabled person to exercise). There is more detail in the grassroots sports guidance for the public and sport providers.

This is a positive step forward for disabled people, who count for one in five of our population. Our past research reminds us that there is plenty desire to be more active.

However, we must understand that a return to sport and activity will not be without challenge. COVID-19 has resulted in a lack of activity, causing disabled people’s physical and mental health to be harder to manage, with increased feelings of loneliness and social isolation. And there has been increased barriers to activity, like self-isolating, lack of space and support and most prevalently, a real fear of contracting the virus.[1]

Activity Alliance’s team is here to help. Our reopening activity guide is a great starting point, written in consultation with partners across sport, leisure and disability equality. This includes considerations for community sport and leisure providers on including disabled people and people with long-term health conditions. It helps sport and leisure providers to play their part towards a fairer society.

We must work together to do all we can to ensure active environments consider everyone’s fears and desires as we return. I urge leaders and their workforce across sport and leisure to embrace the opportunity and commit to be more inclusive than ever before.