People retuning to activity, but inequalities remain

Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey report shows that activity levels are starting to recover following coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Covering the period between November 2020 and November 2021, the results show that while activity levels dropped as a result of restrictions designed to stop the spread of the virus, they then stabilised and are now starting to recover. 

Between November 2020 and November 2021, 61.4 per cent of the population were active, and 27.2 per cent were inactive. The recovery started in mid-March 2021 when there was a rise of 3 per cent to 61.2% of the population getting active (between mid-March – mid-May), compared to just 58.2 per cent 12 months earlier. 

When restrictions were lifted in July 2021, the number of people saying they felt they had the opportunity to be active increased close to levels we saw pre the emergence of coronavirus.

Team sports participation numbers bounced back close to pre-pandemic levels, following large drops during restrictions. Football, cricket and basketball (+0.3% in particular have seen large numbers of returners which is driving the overall recovery in team sports. 

There is positive news for older people with recovery to pre-pandemic levels seen in activity levels for those aged 55-74 and 75+.

Sport England will continue to work closely with partners across the sport and physical activity landscape, not just to drive demand and increase participation, but also to ensure the long-term viability of the sector through a focus on work in areas like safeguarding, coaching, governance and leadership development.  

Overall population numbers hide stark inequalities with women, those from ethnically diverse communities, those living in more deprived areas, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions still less likely to be active than others, and the pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities for the least affluent, Asian people, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions in particular. 

The gap in activity levels between the haves and have nots has also widened during the pandemic, with those that live in deprived areas seeing bigger drops in activity levels than those in more well-off areas.

While initial drops have stabilised for most groups, activity levels for the younger adults (16-34) have continued to fall, continuing a downward trend that started before the pandemic.

The organisation will continue to work with Active Travel England, the government’s agency, to improve cycling and walking infrastructure to make environments more suitable for the active travel with 51 per cent of people saying they intend to do more walking, running or cycling for everyday journeys, which is likely to be linked to the cost of living crisis and rising fuel prices potentially making driving less accessible.

“The Active Lives report shows how activity levels are starting to recover. That’s testament to the dedication of all of those who worked so hard to bring activities back safely when restrictions started to be eased. That the data tells us that this initial recovery is not universal is not a surprise and that is exactly why our Uniting the Movement strategy focuses resources and funding disproportionally towards the people and places that need the most support to be active,” said Tim Hollingsworth, chief executive of Sport England.

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