While basic sport has been suspended and struggling to survive, two of the few activities still allowed have benefited from the crisis.
The first lockdown last spring spawned a new generation of runners and riders, with nearly two million more adults taking to jogging and cycling.
And now that community sport has come to a halt again, those numbers could rise again – with leaders hoping the boom in participation continues after the pandemic.
Figures show that huge numbers of people are new participants in running and cycling
Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England, hopes the high numbers will continue
“Many people have found that running and cycling are great fun ways to exercise informally,” said Tim Hollingsworth, CEO of Sport England. S.portsmail.
“That is really beneficial for increasing activity levels across the country – but we are also confident that it will impact traditional sports infrastructures such as clubs and leagues.”
Sport England’s extensive Active Lives survey found that the number of people jogging outside at least twice a month increased by 731,000 from mid-March to mid-May compared to the same period in 2019.
England Athletics’ own research found that 35 percent of the population described running as part of their lifestyle in April 2020 – nine percent more than 12 months earlier.
England Athletics has noted a nine percent increase in the number of people who have taken up new running
Those numbers were maintained even last month, despite not being in lockdown and the colder weather and dark nights.
“Longer term, it will be interesting to see how many people continue to run as their core business,” said Chris Jones, CEO of England Athletics. “Hopefully it means to us that people feed off formalized groups and clubs.”
In fact, membership in England Athletics has dropped from 190,000 to 140,000. But that’s largely because the governing body’s 1,800 athletic clubs have starved competition due to coronavirus restrictions.
“ We made a bit of a hit there, but all the growth in the sport comes from off-track running, be it Couch to 5k, parkrun or RunTogether groups, ” says Jones. ‘The growth there is incredible.’
Couch to 5k is an NHS app designed for beginners to incrementally increase the number they run each week. More than 858,000 people downloaded the app between March and June last year – a 92 percent increase from the same period in 2019.
Apps like Couch up to 5k have seen a massive increase in users compared to the 2019 stats
Parkrun is the free Saturday morning massive 5km entry, which attracted more than 200,000 recreational runners at 725 locations across the UK.
It has been suspended since last March, since the days when park runners have stayed active by completing 5ks and uploading their times online.
RunTogether is an athletics program in England that has launched 2,800 local recreational running groups across the country since its inception in 2016.
Despite group runs being banned for most of the past 10 months, clubs have found ways to stay connected with their communities and membership is up 10 percent since the initial lockdown – to 145,570.
One such group, Ossy Joggers, based in the Lancashire town of Oswaldtwistle, has seen its own membership increase by a quarter to 1,000 people since March last year.
They gained national recognition over the weekend when they won the Athletics and Running @ Home category at the England Athletics National Volunteer Awards.
Clubs have found original ways to keep members motivated, despite the fact that group runs are prohibited
“We’re really lucky in the sense that running is probably one of the few things you can do right now,” said group leader Sally Woods.
‘The great thing about running is that you only need a pair of sneakers and out the front door. That’s our motto – the hardest step is out the front door.
Lockdown is tough, but the two big things for us are keeping people motivated and staying connected to them in some way. ‘
With this in mind, Ossy Joggers set new challenges for members this month – including 21 for 2021, where runners must visit 21 designated local locations.
They leaned on their experience from the first lockdown, when the club became both a support group and a jogging group.
Their “ random acts of kindness ” challenge led runners to drop surprise gifts on the doorstep of fellow members.
British Cycling says it has seen the biggest boom in its sport since the post-2012 Olympics soar
A giant relay race saw runners run to someone’s house, chat from a distance for five minutes, then take the imaginary baton to the next location.
Ossy Joggers also organized routes to run past the houses of people who were fencing. “We just walked by and waved through their windows at them,” Woods adds. “It was a kind face to them and they loved it.”
In terms of cycling, Sport England data showed that 1.2 million more adults cycled twice a month in March and May for leisure or sports, and 1.4 million more children for fun or fitness from May to July.
A total of 1.3 million Britons would also have bought a bicycle at the first lockdown.
“We saw an incredible peak after London 2012, but this was the biggest boom,” said Nick Chamberlin, British Cycling policy manager.
Bosses at the organization say the increase in the number of participants is the result of a ‘perfect storm’
“ It was a perfect storm – families who adhered to the lockdown rules, were looking for things to do, great weather, less traffic.
The most exciting thing about that incredible extra participation is the diversity within it. We know that the sport is too white and middle class and not representative of the diverse nation we all live in.
‘But we’ve seen more families and more children from much more diverse communities get involved.
“We hope this will lead not only to fantastic future medallion success and new champions, but also to greater diversity in the types of young people who come into our sport and succeed at the highest level.”
Chamberlin says British Cycling’s membership has also remained strong at their more than 2,000 clubs, despite nearly all competitions being interrupted.
The goal of the organizers is now to keep people engaged once restrictions are gradually relaxed
In many cases they have received new requests, ”he admits. “We’ve heard from many club secretaries who have been inundated with questions from individuals asking about this new-found thing that they’ve discovered and really like.
“The difficulty is that the only thing clubs can say is” when we’re back to normal, we’d love to hear from you “.
“As with many sports, we are hopeful that the recovery will see great club activity in the community.”
Chamberlin’s job now is to make sure that cycling makes the most of the momentum. “We’re really trying to capitalize on helping as many new people as possible to keep driving for the coming spring and summer,” he adds.
‘We are confident that we will see many different people cycling this winter. We are working on campaign strategies to take advantage of this latest block.
“While it’s terrible for the whole country, it’s probably another chance to cycle.”