How urban sports can help level the playing field  

This week Sportside were delighted to join Active London 2020, the capital’s only conference ‘dedicated to grassroots physical activity and sport in London’ organised by London Sport.

London Sport’s mission statement is to make the city the most physically active in the world. With support from Sport England and the Mayor of London it works with local authorities to help Londoners get more active and, as a result, more healthy. 

And the Active London conference is key to that mission. This year’s event, conducted via video link, was entitled  ‘Physical activity and sport-building opportunities for a more equal London’.

The four-day programme tackled issues from coping with Covid to tech innovation and one of the more fascinating subjects covered was Urban and new sports available to Londoners.

While so much conversation around sports participation centres on traditional solo activities like cycling and running as well as team pursuits like football and touch rugby, there needs to be an awareness that these are not always the most available or appealing sports to those living in the capital.

The first World Urban Games – featuring 300 athletes – took place in Budapest last year and the sports on show there are all ones with a root in the traditional but with the innovation to make them more attractive to a younger, more urban-orientated audience.

Firstly, the sport of Breaking, was on show in Hungary last year. Often referred to as breakdancing in the mainstream media, competitors (or B-Boys and B-Girls) display their moves and interpretations of music with judges deciding the contest on physical and artistic criteria.

Britain’s best ‘B-Girl’ is Roxanne Milliner, a former world trampolining champion with thousands following her on instagram at bgirlroxy.

BMX freestyle, which is set to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, is also a key part of the Urban Games with competitors needing a bike and a street, park and dirt tracks to practise in – as well as a snowboard halfpipe. Again Brits are well represented through James Jones and Charlotte Worthington in this world and both (@jamesjonesbmx and @chazworther) have over 30k followers on Instagram. 

We wrote recently about 3×3 basketball as the perfect ‘rule of six’ sport and it is one that was a big hit at the World Urban Games last year – as well as another pencilled in for the Tokyo Olympics. Also known as Three on Three, Blacktop or Streetball can be played anywhere there is a basketball court which is just about every city in the world. The rules are simple – two teams of three (with a sub allowed for each) play against each other shooting at one hoop.

And then there is Parkour. Derived from the French parcours du combattant (obstacle course), this sport was developed from military training where competitors (called tracers) try to get from one point to another in a complex environment as quickly as possible – by running, climbing, swinging, vaulting and jumping among other movements. If you want to see more, follow David Nelmes (@davidnelmes) and Edward Scott (@edscott1) on their social channels.

Roller freestyle, meanwhile, has the look and feel of Parkour – but on wheels. Competitors blade their way across the concrete showing off their skills and judges give points accordingly. Joe Atkinson (@joeatkinsons) is Britain’s shining light and has won three world championships. 

A sixth discipline at the Games was Flying Disc freestyle. Using a frisbee, this differs from Ultimate Frisbee in that it combines dance and technique for players to show off clever tricks and catches. Judges mark competitors on difficulty, artistic impression, and execution of the routine, with 30 the perfect score. Britain’s Sophie Rickers is ranked eighth in the world.

Writing ahead of the conference, London Sport’s Strategic Lead for Facilities and Urban Spaces Operations, Chris Donkin said: “Although many traditional sports facilities have re-opened their doors to the local community, there are still several challenges faced in these environments. 

“As we experience further social distancing restrictions and move towards the winter months, the level of inequalities that exist around access to physical activity are only likely to increase.”

He highlighted that children/young people and women were among the biggest groups affected and had seen a decrease in participation. 

A fact to have emerged from a recent Sport England survey also showed that 33.2% of people from lower socio-economic groups are likely to do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week, compared with just 16.2% of people from higher socio-economic groups. 

He continues: “As we approach autumn and the clocks go back, the colder and wetter weather we are likely to experience will only serve to create additional barriers to participation in physical exercise, particularly for people who may not have an existing relationship with physical activity and sport.”

We are proactively working with a small number of local authorities where low physical activity levels and inequalities around access to physical activity existed before covid-19, and have been further impacted as a result of the pandemic.

“The focus will be on creating additional capacity for physical exercise as we enter the winter months so that we can start to address some of the inequalities that are currently being experienced.

“These non-traditional spaces may not tick all the boxes but will provide access to a covered space that will, over the winter, reduce some of the barriers that might restrict activity levels.”

It has never been more important for Britons to keep active – both physically and mentally – and Urban sports are a brilliant way of doing so in the city. 

London Sport runs a counter on its website which tells readers that there are currently 4.5 million ‘active’ Londoners’. Underneath that is a deal that explains that 23.8% of Londoners remain ‘inactive’. The ambition is to close that gap.

Writing on the London Sport website, the organisation’s Corporate Head of Communications Chris Scott, adds: “Now is the time to turn those ambitions to face down wider inequalities and ensure we’re working to support all people to grasp the miracle cure, the golden thread and the silver bullet of physical activity and sport.”

Urban sport can give Londoners something to grasp.

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