Nearly 200 sports governing bodies, health organisations and top athletes have written to the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warning of the ‘final straw’ for many gyms, pools and leisure clubs due to the ongoing energy crisis.
Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington is one former athlete to have been part of the coalition and she has been joined by two-time Commonwealth Gold medallist Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix, Daley Thompson and Paralympians David Weir, Jonnie Peacock and Ellie Robinson amongst others.
Some of the governing bodies to have signed the letter include the Rugby Football Union (RFU); England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), British Cycling, Swim England and British Paralympic Association.
The action is in response to the government’s scaling back of its energy support scheme from April and the leisure sector is the area most set to miss out. Libraries, museums and galleries will be eligible for extra help but pools and leisure centres will not be protected.
Figures which have been compiled by trade body UK Active show that in the past year, 29 leisure centres, pools or gyms have closed temporarily or permanently because of rising energy prices. More than 300 others have taken steps such as reducing their hours, increasing their fees or lowering pool temperatures in order to help against the crisis.
A study from NationalWorld in 2021, following the success of Tokyo 2020, highlighted the already bare areas in England in relation to access to pools. Some areas of the country had ten times less public swimming space than others, and with the latest energy cuts, it would appear this number is only set to increase.
What has been said?
The group has made an “urgent plea” for the government to “think again and provide the necessary support to the sport, recreation and physical activity sector.”
In its plea, the coalition has said that the scaling back of the support scheme will lead to “an escalation of service reductions and closures at swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres, community facilities and clubs across the UK” and “represents a cliff edge for these vital but energy-intensive services.”
The group, which includes the Youth Sport Trust, Active Partnerships and the Local Government Association, asks the prime minister to reclassify swimming pools as energy intensive so they have access to a higher level of discount on prices.
It has also asked ministers to set out what “tangible support” it will provide to the wider sector to help navigate the energy crisis, warning that the current approach is set to have “incredibly damaging consequences for our national health and prosperity.”
What has the government said?
A spokesperson for the government said: “We know our grassroots sports facilities are contending with increases in running costs. We provided an £18bn package of support for organisations including clubs, pools, leisure centres, schools, charities and businesses through the winter.
“We made £1bn available to ensure the survival of sports and leisure sectors during the pandemic giving councils an additional £3.7bn to deliver key services such as leisure centres and swimming pools, and we are investing £300m to build or upgrade thousands of grassroots facilities across the UK.”