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25 Mar 2021 | 18:18

England footballer Eric Dier has called for more support for “the amazing people who run community sports groups” after Sported published new research into the trials and tribulations experienced by groups during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Before the latest lockdown, the Tottenham Hotspur star visited one of the programmes supported by the charity in his capacity as a Sported ambassador. 

As they prepare to open again as restrictions are relaxed, the extensive new research – which draws on over 900 survey responses – describes how many groups have had little or no income from membership fees or subs and have had no staff able to apply for funding support for the best part of a year.

Sported ambassador Eric Dier 1

There are also huge concerns around mental health, isolation and the existing inequalities that had been exacerbated by the pandemic. Groups providing online activities for young disabled people are facing more challenges, with 61% reporting difficulty keeping young people active or engaged. 

The Spurs defender said: “Many community sports groups are preparing to open up again from the end of this month. It’s great news for all the young people who have missed this important part of their lives over the past few months – and will provide not only the opportunity to regain fitness but also connections with friends and a boost to mental wellbeing. 

“Sported has done some research which shows that many of the amazing people who run community sports groups are facing real struggles with funding, a decreased number of volunteers, the worry about getting young people back to their clubs, particularly those most vulnerable. I know from my visit to a North London group that the last year has been incredibly tough for local leaders having to adapt to the ever-changing situation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Sported is doing all it can to give the groups what they need to return.”

Sported ambassador Eric Dier 2

Sported’s report divides the last year into three phases: 

  • Emergency Phase (March to May 2020) when groups felt most uncertain about their future and the group leaders were anxious about mental and physical health. 
  • Refocus Phase (June to November 2020) when group leaders were particularly concerned about maintaining the wellbeing of participants and immediate funding needs. Groups adapted activities to support young people where possible with online catch-ups, food delivery services and equipment libraries. 
  • New Normal Phase (December 2020 to February 2021) brought with it huge concerns around securing funding and worries about the difficulty of engaging and re-engaging young people. Sport and physical activity are often at least in part reliant on good habits, much of which had been lost in the lockdowns. 

Sported CEO Nicola Walker said: “The community sports groups who have managed to survive this last year have already been through a lot. The efforts that they have gone through to stay afloat are amazing and to be respected. We have seen group leaders go above and beyond to keep connected with their young people.

“However despite best efforts, many have used up financial reserves, struggled to maintain the vital personal connections they normally have with participants and some are struggling to secure facilities and maintain the same number of volunteers as pre-pandemic.

Sported ambassador Eric Dier 3

“This is the start of the beginning of the real challenge for them – and this is going to be the hardest part. What comes next, whether or not they get the support they need – more funding, support with re-connecting with young people and support with staying sustainable – is crucial. We are calling on the sector to come together to support grassroots groups during this difficult time.” 

Read the full report 'Surviving a Pandemic: Community sports groups and Covid-19'. 

Related news: The Sport for Development Coalition has issued a Request for Proposals (RfP) to produce secondary research which will lead to a better understanding of the cumulative effect that Covid-19 has had on the wider social outcomes delivered through community sport and sport for development. Read more