Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth has hailed the country’s latest easing of restrictions as a “giant step on the road to recovery” as more sports have been allowed to resume.
All indoor activities can restart from today – a major boost for sports like netball, basketball, table tennis and badminton, which have been hit hard by COVID-19 constraints.
Sport England has also praised the return of group exercises classes which it believes is welcome news for women, who make up 80 per cent of participants.
England was forced into a third nationwide lockdown at the start of January in a bid to curb rising coronavirus figures.
Restrictions have gradually been lifted and England has entered stage three of its four-step roadmap out of lockdown.
“Today we take another giant step on the road to recovery and I am thrilled to see those indoor sports who were so badly hit by closures and restrictions getting back underway,” said Hollingworth.
“Our own data shows us how challenging it has been for people to play sport and be active over the last year and though significant challenges remain for certain audiences and certain activities, the fact that so many more opportunities are now available thanks to the easing of restrictions is hugely welcome.”
Sport England said it had been working with partners to promote the return of activity via a series of campaigns and communication tools over the past few months.
However, the public body admitted there remain “major challenges” to overcome to help restore activity levels to pre-pandemic levels.
Earlier this month, Sport England invested £20 million ($28.2 million/€23.2 million) into its Tackling Inequalities Fund, which aims to tackle inequalities in accessing sport and physical activities.
“Some audiences are certainly finding it harder than others to be active and our insight bears this out,” added Hollingworth.
“Many will require significantly more support than ever before and we are taking decisions now to ensure these numbers don’t slide further – for example adding £20 million of extra investment into our Tackling Inequalities Fund, which focuses on specific target groups to encourage and enable them to return to activity.
“We know too that facilities are under strain, with publicly-owned leisure operators under huge financial pressures in particular and we’re continuing to work with the Government to offer support as they are absolutely vital to local communities.
“We also continue to work with the sports who require high levels of physical contact and with the Government so that they can return fully as soon as possible.”
England has registered about 3.9 million coronavirus cases, resulting in 112,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.