Susan Eglestaff: We must not forget children’s sport after Covid

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PREMIUM

IT seems every week brings a new headline about the damage the pandemic is causing this country.

Last week was no different, with experts concerned about the huge impact coronavirus has had on children’s physical activity levels, with figures suggesting the past year has seen a significant drop.

A survey released by Active Lives showed the majority of young people failed to meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise during the 2019/20 academic year, with almost a third classified as inactive, which is defined as less than half-an-hour per day.

The stats were for England but with Scotland not having released any official figures regarding the effect of the pandemic on children, it is safe to assume it would be a similar story here.

The survey also highlighted that children from less affluent families were less active than their better-off counterparts and boys fared worse than girls.

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These figures are clearly a worry, especially when the exercise levels pre-covid were already lower than most would have liked.

It is easy to see why there has been such harm to children’s activity. Home-schooling means they are not getting access to PE anymore and for those who live in a flat or do not have access to a garden, doing an hour or more of sport or activity can become a significant challenge.

Also, the restrictions which have seen organised grass-roots sport paused, or in many cases stopped altogether for the foreseeable future, has meant countless children no longer have regular access to sport.

Of all the areas that have suffered over the past year, this damage to children’s sport should be considered one of the most serious. 

It is well known how valuable it is for children to participate in sport and physical activity, with the benefits ranging from the obvious physical health advantages to the positive impact on mental health and academic achievement.

Studies have also shown that inactive children are likely to remain inactive adults, with the resulting poor health costing the NHS millions of pounds that could have been avoided were it not for a better lifestyle.

The recovery from the pandemic will take years, perhaps decades, and it will be impossible to keep everyone happy when it comes to prioritising certain areas.

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The worry for me though, is that opportunities for children to take part in sport and become physically active are easy to push to the side and forget about.

Even before this pandemic, it was clear PE was not a priority in all schools, whether that be primary or secondary. And now, with many children having been badly affected in the more academic subjects, it does not seem far-fetched to assume that is where the focus will be when normal schooling resumes. 

Similarly, extra-curricular sporting activities for children are not always easy to access and may become even harder after the pandemic.

There will, of course, be countless fields which need urgent help when it comes to recovering from the damage of the past year. But children’s sport should not be forgotten.

  

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

THERE is little doubt she is not the only one to have these concerns, but GB 400m runner Emily Diamond is one of the few to have publicly urged  footballers not to “ruin it” for everyone.

She is, of course, referring to the exemptions afforded to elite athletes during the pandemic, which has seen them excused from adhering to many of the restrictions placed upon the public.

While most of us have been requested to remain home except for essential purposes, elite athletes have been allowed to continue training and competing. They may not be operating under normal circumstances but they are certainly living something much closer to a normal life than the rest of us.

However, Diamond last week expressed her concern that several examples of footballers at the very least taking their privilege for granted but in many cases, blatantly flouting the rules, may result in things being tightened up across all elite sport.

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Certainly football has the toughest task to keep cases down as the sheer number of players, and the number of games taking place, means it is likely there will be more positive tests than any other sport.

However, what would be heartening would be to see footballers, and everyone involved in elite football, embrace the responsibility they have and accept the power they are wielding over smaller sports.

If I’m being charitable, it seems many footballers are unaware of the effect their behaviour could have on other sports; if I’m being less charitable, it seems they just don’t care. If football continues to produce outbreaks of coronavirus, it would be understandable for both the Scottish and the UK governments to withdraw the special dispensation for all elite athletes.

So Diamond is right, not a single elite athlete should be taking for granted the special treatment they are getting. And if a small group of them ruin it for everyone, they should be pilloried for it.

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