Coronavirus: Athletes urge prime minister to save sports facilities

Six-time Paralympic gold medallist, David Weir is among those who have called upon the Prime Minister’s support.

A coalition of athletes, celebrities and health bodies have written to the prime minister asking for the “fullest possible support” to help sports and exercise facilities survive the pandemic.

In a letter seen by the BBC, they said they were “deeply concerned” thousands of shut pools, gyms and leisure centres were at risk of permanent closure.

Colin Jackson, David Weir, Jonnie Peacock, Beth Tweddle and Keri-Anne Payne are among the Olympians and Paralympians to have signed.

Davina McCall, David Walliams, Mel Chisholm and Zoe Ball have also put their names to the letter.

Referring to a “deep drop in activity across all ages and backgrounds”, the group says “facilities…are a cradle for developing our national sporting heroes.

“The threat of losing these places has brought us together as a collective voice, to hope that everything is done to ensure these essential facilities are available to support our recovery, and enhance the health of the nation..”

Tens of thousands of sports clubs, swimming pools, leisure centres and gyms have been forced to shut in recent months as a result of coronavirus restrictions and the winter national lockdown with 100,000 jobs thought to be at risk.

“We know that for every pound the government spends on sport and physical activity, it gets almost four pounds in return”, the group tells Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Savings into the billions on serious physical and mental health conditions, social care, and preventing an estimated 30 million GP visits a year.”

“It’s a hard time, we’re all over-eating,” signatory and fitness enthusiast McCall told BBC Sport.

“Obesity and being overweight – Covid loves that. This is what we’re trying to avoid, we’ve got to get this nation fit. We’re going to do it through fitness and through people going to team sports, it’s so important.”

Activity levels taken a “significant hit”

Last month Sport England announced an extra £50m was being directed towards grassroots sport after a “significant hit” to activity levels. It has already invested £220m since the start of the crisis.

The government announced a £100m recovery fund for public leisure facilities last year, but estimated losses across the sector far exceed that amount.

“This is a clear warning from our nation’s health and medical experts, academics, athletes and other champions of our sector, of the grave risk facing the mental and physical health of our communities” said Huw Edwards, the chief executive of Ukactive, which represents the physical activity industry and is calling for tax cuts and additional financial support.

The government said that sport and physical activity was at the heart of its coronavirus recovery plan, and that the return of community sport remained a priority as lockdown restrictions are relaxed.

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