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COVID-19, lockdown and disability sport: what does the future hold?

What comes to mind when you hear the word sport? It may be one of the professional sports teams you support, big events you look forward to watching, or the last sport you played. It probably will not include disability sport. For us disability sport matters, and should be at the forefront of priorities for sports policymakers and sports clubs as we ease out of lockdown and beyond.

COVID 19 lockdown and disability sport what does the future hold

Within The Carnegie School of Sport we have a track record of supporting our students to recognise the different kinds of people who participate in sport. When students graduate, we want them to feel well equipped with positive outlooks towards supporting disabled people to have fulfilling sporting experiences. We are conscious though that disabled people can sometimes be marginalised in the world of sport. It is important that these types of inequalities in sport are challenged. Indeed, this is something the Centre for Social Justice in Sport and Society has been helping those who run and provide sport to grapple with for many years. In our recent project the spotlight has been on disabled people during lockdown and beyond. There have been some positive developments, but we are mindful there may be some challenges ahead.

Unwitting innovators of inclusive practice

During lockdown sport has been challenged to support participation in alternative ways. As a result there has been a surge in the number of ‘unwitting innovators of inclusive practice’ as people adapt activities and improvise at home with rotary washing lines, wheelbarrows, benches, plant pots and fences to create new activities and challenges. These developments are encouraging and may lead to some sports coaches and PE teachers to become more open-minded and innovative in the future.

Inclusive online resources

Advocates of inclusive sport have made significant efforts to support disabled people to be active during lockdown. For example, Sport England mobilised quickly to offer ‘#StayInWorkOut’, a one-stop-shop for advice and resources to promote physical activity. The Activity Alliance, the national charity supporting disabled people to be more active, has also offered specific content relating to sport and physical activity for disabled people or those with long-term health conditions. For many disabled people these new online resources might provide a refreshing alternative to the negative experiences sometimes encountered when accessing sport and activity programmes in pre-lockdown times. The challenge post-lockdown is to more firmly embed the kind of thinking found in these resources in the minds of all those charged with promoting and delivering sport.

Dominating non-disabled sporting norms

In highlighting a number of positive developments, we are also aware that sport continues to be portrayed as something largely undertaken by non-disabled people. This is reinforced by media coverage that pays more attention to professional men’s sport. Whilst some online resources have been developed with disabled people in mind, many others have not considered the needs of disabled people. Moving forward it is likely that grassroots sports clubs will face financially challenging times and this may lead to reductions in provision for disabled people. There are testing times ahead for community sport.

In the future, that is post-COVID-19, what sport becomes and what sports clubs decide to prioritise will be a measure of how disabled people and inclusion have really been embraced both within sport and by wider society. For more information read our full research paper 'COVID-19, lockdown and (disability) sport'.

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About the Authors

Professor Hayley Fitzgerald

Hayley joined our University in September 2005 as a Senior Lecturer. She teaches on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules focusing on social and cultural aspects of leisure, sport and physical education.

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Dr Annette Stride

Annette is a Principal Lecturer and Course Director in the Physical Education Academic Group where she teaches on, and oversees provision of, the Physical Education undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes. Her teaching is underpinned by research with a social justice agenda.

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Dr Scarlett Drury

Scarlett Drury is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. Her research focuses on issues related to gender, sex and sexuality in sport and physical activity.

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