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Wed, 25 November 2020

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Sports clubs play a vital role in our communities, we cannot afford to lose them

Sports clubs play a vital role in our communities, we cannot afford to lose them

Stockport County FC raised £75K for the NHS, says Alison McGovern MP | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

Local clubs are clearly rooted in their community – they know what’s needed, how to reach people and how to respond quickly.

Faced with the shock of Covid-19 and the impact of austerity in our towns, sports clubs have stepped up to plug the gap left by the last decade of austerity. 

Within a couple of weeks of lockdown being announced Tranmere Rovers FC,were supporting 1000 vulnerable people in my local community. Darlington FC set up a buddy scheme for vulnerable fans. Stevenage FC’s community careline ensured local residents could have their medication delivered safely. Stockport County FC raised £75K for the NHS. Partrick Thistle FC and Falkirk FC were phoning fans and delivering food supplies.

This is just one sport. There is so much more.

Local clubs are clearly rooted in their community – they know what’s needed, how to reach people and how to respond quickly. Swift action and compassion have defined their response, unlike the Government’s.

This makes for good local stories but to some extent, it’s not news. Sports clubs have long played a major role in their communities outside of games and beyond stadiums. In towns that lack other institutions, such as universities, sports clubs play a big part in tackling local challenges.

It’s not hard to see how a community sports team at a grassroots level can also fight crime, unemployment as well as raising health and wellbeing outcomes at the same time as organising a local league.

St Ann’s girls basketball club in Nottingham, for example, has its own courts and designated space in the heart of their community. They welcome girls from right across the local area and aim to raise confidence and foster positive relationships between team members as well as developing basketball skills and fitness.

Beyond Covid-19, sports clubs are plugging the gap left by a decade of austerity, providing services that have simply disappeared due to lack of funding since 2010.

Over the five years of the coalition government, £42 million was cut from council sports budgets. And it’s unsurprising that Covid-19 has magnified health inequalities when funding cuts like this were distributed so unevenly – the North West lost £12 million whilst the South East gained the same amount. 

At the first opportunity, Labour initiatives like Streetgames and Positive Futures  were cut. So our commitment to community sport as a pro-education, pro-health, anti-crime and anti-drugs strategy was gone too.

The real impact of those policies has only grown starker over time with UK councils now facing the highest fiscal pressures in Europe. 

When local government is facing those kinds of difficulties, stuff that people really care about, like local authority leisure centres or sports facilities for local clubs, is the first to go. 

Sports clubs have stepped in but meeting that massive gap is a huge challenge. And faced with the urgent crisis caused by Covid-19, leadership from national government is essential.

Covid-19 has led to huge losses to local sports clubs – in ticket sales, venue hire, holiday clubs and income from bars and cafes so sports clubs doing this vital community work are now facing difficulties too.

The Government have seemed more focused on getting the Premier League up and running again despite revenue streams in the lower leagues at a halt.

Losing those clubs could have a disproportionate impact on parts of the country that have been left behind for far too long. No town deserves to lose a much-loved club as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

We should cherish the institution – as part of the town’s identify – but also because we cannot afford to lose the value they provide for their communities.

Community sport has to be part of the picture of the Britain we want to live in.

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