The Daily Telegraph - Sport

Legacy of crisis can be a fitter, healthier Britain

➤ Return of children to sport has always been the priority and now we must redouble our efforts to make up for lost time

- By Oliver Dowden CULTURE SECRETARY

When we were developing our roadmap out of lockdown and back towards normality, children were at the top of our priority list. That meant getting them back into classrooms as soon as we could, but it also meant making sure they could catch up on all the physical activity they have missed over the past year – whether it is their usual PE lessons, their inter-school netball matches, or simply the chance to kick a ball around a playground with friends.

So, when schools open their doors from March 8, children will be back playing sport from day one. Just a few weeks later, on March 29, they will be reunited with outdoor grass-roots team-mates on fields, courts and pitches across the nation as we kick off a summer of sport.

I promised kids’ sport would be one of the first things back when we reopened. Our roadmap makes good on that promise. I know some people will want it to reopen even earlier – a view I have sympathy with. So I want to explain why it is not. Over the weekend I discussed this with public health experts who explained that grass-roots sports are low risk, rather than no risk, which is why we do not currently have the R capacity to open Saturday football alongside schools.

But grass-roots sport has been prioritise­d above the return of every other part of the economy and our national life because it, above other things, will help us come back stronger and healthier.

I know, and the Prime Minister knows, that physical activity is an incredibly important part of a child’s long-term developmen­t. It teaches children the healthy habits of a lifetime, setting them up for years of sport and fitness that will help fight off obesity and diseases such as Covid. The Telegraph has done a sterling job at keeping this issue at the top of the agenda, and I commend the “Keep Kids Active” campaign for repeatedly making the case for reopening.

Now we have the reopening plan, we must focus on getting as much sport on for kids as possible. With this in mind, in the coming days the Education Secretary and I are bringing together experts from across the world of sport, education and business, to work with them to get kids fit and fully active over the next few months.

We will start with the basics. What are the critical foundation blocks that kids may have missed, and how can we help them catch up? Just as we cannot let children fall behind on numeracy and literacy, we cannot afford to neglect their “physical literacy” either. Learning to jump, throw and catch is as much a part of normal school life as double maths.

There will be a lot of challenges, but there has been a tangible shift in the country on thinking about our physical and mental health. Many of us are now deeply attached to our daily walk or run, and the lockdown has brought home how vital and cathartic exercise can be.

But I want to go further. Just as global sports events of the past have galvanised a new generation of budding young athletes and sports enthusiast­s, would it not be great if Covid could be a catalyst for a new era of sport and activity? What better legacy could we ever create from a global health crisis than a fitter, healthier Britain?

That is why I am determined to get children moving as much as possible in the next few months. We plan to refresh our sport strategy in the coming months to put physical activity at the heart of our recovery and, as we begin exiting lockdown, I want to see kids across Britain springing back from the pandemic. It starts with schools on March 8 – and thankfully now there is not long to wait.

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