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Chief executive welcomes further easing of coronavirus restrictions

Most indoor sport can now take place as we move to Step 3 of the government's roadmap.

17th May 2021

Our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth has hailed the latest milestone in the reopening of grassroots sport and physical activity as more activities are allowed to resume.

From today, all indoor sport can restart (though there are still some restrictions on physical contact), group exercise classes can take place and there's also an easing of rules around spectating.

It's a particularly important milestone for sports like netball, basketball, table tennis and badminton.

A woman playing badminton

These sports have been badly hit by indoor restrictions, while the return of exercise classes within gym settings will be welcome news for women in particular – who make up 80% of the participants of such activities. 

“Today we take another giant step on the road to recovery and I am thrilled to see those indoor sports who were so badly hit by closures and restrictions getting back underway,” said Tim. 

“Our own data shows us how challenging it has been for people to play sport and be active over the last year and though significant challenges remain for certain audiences and certain activities, the fact that so many more opportunities are now available thanks to the easing of restrictions is hugely welcome.”

Over the past few months, we’ve been working with partners to promote the return of activity via a series of campaigns and communication tools, and we've today released a new video that welcomes the return of some of the indoor sports.


However, while many sports will celebrate their return, there remain major challenges to overcome to help restore activity levels to pre-pandemic levels.

“Some audiences are certainly finding it harder than others to be active and our insight bears this out,” added Tim. “Many will require significantly more support than ever before and we are taking decisions now to ensure these numbers don’t slide further – for example adding £20 million of extra investment into our Tackling Inequalities Fund, which focuses on specific target groups to encourage and enable them to return to activity.   

“We know too that facilities are under strain, with publicly-owned leisure operators under huge financial pressures in particular and we’re continuing to work with the government to offer support as they are absolutely vital to local communities. 

"We also continue to work with the sports who require high levels of physical contact and with the government so that they can return fully as soon as possible."

Today we take another giant step on the road to recovery and I am thrilled to see those indoor sports who were so badly hit by closures and restrictions getting back underway.

Tim Hollingsworth

Chief executive, Sport England

And Tim believes that, despite all the challenges of the past year, the reopening of sport has shown there to be major opportunities to build back positively too.  

“The last year has helped to cement the importance of sport and activity as being essential for our health and for bringing communities together,” he explained. “The public messaging about the importance of staying active and protecting the ability to exercise outdoors for an hour a day in the the first lockdown, was hugely important and welcome.

“There’s also been a surge in activities like cycling, running, walking and fitness-at-home, and that has made the importance of the local environment even more obvious - the better local facilities near where you live, the more likely people are to be active. 

"This means the streets, the green spaces, the walking routes and cycle paths – as well as more obvious settings like leisure centres, gyms and sports pitches and courts.  Improving and investing in these areas is something we are very ambitious to do as part of the delivery of our recently published long-term strategy.”

Did you know?

Indoor sports returning more fully today include squash, netball, table tennis, and badminton. 


Was played by over three-quarters of a million (1.7%) adults and just under 400,000 (5.5%) children and young people pre-pandemic. It's particularly popular amongst younger adults with roughly 200,000 (3.2%) of 16-24-year-olds taking part and adults from Asian (excluding Chinese) backgrounds, with just over 80,000 (4.2%) taking part. 

Table tennis

Was played by over 400,000 (1.0%) adults and 280,000 (4.0%) children and young people pre-pandemic. It's particularly popular amongst younger adults with roughly 120,000 (2.0%) of 16-24-year-olds taking part.


Was played by over 320,000 (0.7%) adults and just under 650,000 (9.1%) children and young people pre-pandemic. The majority of participants are women (300,000/1.3%) and girls (just under 490,000/13.9%). It's particularly popular amongst younger adults, with roughly 140,000 (2.4%) of 16-24-year-olds taking part.


Was played by roughly 300,000 (0.7%) adults and just under 15,000 (0.2%) children and young people pre-pandemic.

Gym or fitness

Was undertaken by just under 14 million (30.8%) adults and just under 850,000 (12.0%) children and young people pre-pandemic. Fitness sessions are more common amongst younger adults aged 16-24 (2.3m/37.6%), particularly gym sessions, and women (7.7m/33.3%).

All stats from our most recent Active Lives Adult Survey and Active Lives Children and Young People Survey. 

Find out more

To understand more about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, on sport and physical activity please see our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report. 

Active Lives

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