We at Sportside were delighted to see some of the country’s biggest sports stars joining with the Government to urge the country to get out and get active as outdoor sports, clubs and facilities reopened on Monday.
England men’s World Cup-winning cricket captain Eoin Morgan, British No1 women’s tennis player Johanna Konta and England Rugby Union prop Kyle Sinckler all joined Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston to support the Government’s rallying cry.
It was with relief we saw football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs all reopening again safely, as the nation embarked on its mission to improve its physical and mental health.
Parents and guardians are being urged to help their children follow the Chief Medical Officer’s guidance and aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and adults to aim for at least 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, a week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I know how much people have missed the camaraderie and competition of organised sport, and how difficult it has been to restrict physical activities – especially for children.
“So as teams return to outdoor pitches, courts, parks and fields, I hope today will kick-start a Great British summer of sport – with people of all ages reunited with teammates, and able to resume the activities they love.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden added: “The long wait is over. I urge everyone to get their trainers on, get outside and enjoy all of the positive benefits sport can bring. Sport and physical activity will be at the heart of our national recovery and today marks a really important step forward.”
And Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “Over the past year we have prioritised the importance of physical activity, permitting basic exercise at all times. Kids have responded to parents becoming PE teachers, and to Sport England’s ‘Join the Movement’ campaign. However the reality is that activity levels have still dropped in lockdown.
“That’s why outdoor grassroots sport reopening today is so important. Many have waited patiently for this moment and cannot wait to get back to playing the sports they love. But we want to encourage everyone to get into sport. No matter what age or ability, there will be a sport out there for you.”
Eoin Morgan, England ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup-winning captain said: “I know how lucky I’ve been as a sportsperson to play cricket for a living, and to have been able to continue to do so during the ongoing pandemic while so many others have been unable to.
“The reason I started playing cricket as a child was because I loved it, but it also helped me keep fit and active, spend time with my friends, make new ones and have fun. I know that so many people, and especially children, have missed out on those vitally important things because of the pandemic so I’m delighted to endorse the #returntoplay campaign.
“With summer – and the cricket season – just around the corner, there’s no better time for everyone, young and old, to get back to having fun by getting outdoors, being active and playing sport.”
Johanna Konta, Britain’s No1 women’s tennis player, said: “I’m so happy people in England are now able to get back on court and enjoy the mental and physical health benefits of tennis.
“it’s a great sport for anyone looking to get active outdoors after lockdown at a safe, social distance, and I’d encourage everyone to pick up a racket, no matter whether they’re a seasoned player or trying tennis for the first time.”
And Kyle Sinckler, the England Rugby Union prop, said: “I can wait to see you guys get out there, and all the kids getting back out there to enjoy themselves. Because that’s what it’s about at the end of the day, grassroots rugby, everyone getting back out there and enjoying themselves.”
Serena Guthrie, England Netball star, said: “It is brilliant to see grassroots sports returning today and in particular netball players the length and breadth of the country getting ready to step back out on courts again. With outdoor sport unlocking, this is a chance for people to reconnect with teammates in the fresh air, get active and maybe even try something new.
“It’s been a tough period for everyone, and there’s never been a more important time to look after your physical and mental wellbeing, so I’d encourage as many people as possible to grab their trainers and find a netball session near them to get involved with.”
And in Rugby League World Cup year, Jodie Cunningham, St Helens and England Women Rugby League player, added: “The return of grassroots sport is a fantastic moment for everyone who loves sport, and the positive impact it makes on people’s lives.”
Culture Secretary Dowden visited Victoria Park in Warrington where he watched the Year 8 girls of Cardinal Newman High School become the first team in the country to get back into organised outdoor team sport through a pre-school training session with the Warrington Wolves Foundation.
He then made the draw for the third round of the Challenge Cup. The season will then climax with the men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups in October and November, and around 90% of matches being hosted in the North of England.
Victoria Park will use a new 3G pitch that has benefited from the Government providing £25 million towards the staging of the Rugby League World Cup, and improving community facilities to help grow the sport at grassroots level. The Culture Secretary also announced an extra £16.7 million in loan support to protect Rugby League, through the winter phase of the Government’s Sport Survival Package. This follows the Government stepping in with £16 million in emergency support last year.
Cunningham said: “I know the girls from my old school, Cardinal Newman, will be really excited to use these brilliant new facilities at Victoria Park – and there will be so many others of all ages in our Rugby League communities who can’t wait to get back doing what they love.”
The support for grassroots sport came on the same day that the Government announced the formation of a new department: the Office for Health Promotion, another initiative that Sportside warmly welcomes. The idea behind its creation is that it will “lead national efforts to improve and level up the health of the nation by tackling obesity, improving mental health and promoting physical activity.”
The Government announcement added that the new Office will help ministers design and implement a step change in public health policy.
An expert lead will be appointed to report into Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary and Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer. This expert will be asked to herald a new era of public health policies, utilising tech and data to achieve the Office’s aims.
The plan has been modelled on successful programmes rolled out in places like Singapore which has its own Health Promotion Board and has developed new digital public health schemes like their ‘National Steps Challenge’.
Protecting the nation’s mental and physical health has become a top priority for the government as we emerge from another lockdown and Sportside applauds this approach.
We, like the government, are urging people to get outside and get active to help improve their health and prevent some illnesses.
Prime Minister Johnson said: “The new Office for Health Promotion will be crucial in tackling the causes, not just the symptoms, of poor health and improving prevention of illnesses and disease.
“Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of physical health in our ability to tackle such illnesses, and we must continue to help people to lead healthy lives so that we can all better prevent and fight illnesses.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock added:
“Good physical and mental health are central to our happiness and well-being. Yet so much of what keeps us healthy happens outside of hospital and the health service.
“By establishing the Office for Health Promotion we will bring health promotion into the heart of Government, working to the Chief Medical Office, so we can level up the health of our nation, working across national and local government.
“Prevention is better than cure. By putting in place innovative prevention measures, we can help everyone to live longer, healthier lives as we ease back to normality, and relieve pressures from our NHS.”
Monday March 29 marked an important date for the roadmap to recovery – the return of outdoor sport cannot be underestimated for what it can do for the physical and mental health of the nation. Spring has sprung and that is great news for Sportsiders everywhere.