World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has urged the United Kingdom Government to allow children to play sport during lockdown or risk harming an “entire generation’s mental and physical health”.
The UK is currently living under restrictive measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with children unable to participate in extracurricular activities such as sport.
In a column published in the Daily Mail, Coe claimed the lockdown was disproportionately affecting those in poverty and was having a severe impact on the mental health of young people.
He described sport as the “obvious solution” to these issues, but highlighted that this was currently not possible under the restrictive measures.
“Ensuring children receive regular physical education, structured exercise and a means to run around and play during the lockdown can lead to unquestioned mental health benefits; improving self-confidence, nurturing positive relationships among peers, bolstering their mood, fostering social cohesion in communities and of course staying fit and healthy,” Coe said.
“I’ve said it before.
“Sport is the hidden social worker in many of our neighbourhoods.
“Disadvantaged families often rely on support that sport gives them, whether it’s in the form of an after-school club, or a charity that caters for the young in the community.
“Unfortunately, current Government restrictions have meant that many charities and community clubs have been restricted or prevented from providing that support to the people that need it most at a time when they need it the most.”
Coe also pointed out that children were still attending school and therefore should also be able to participate in sport together outside of a school setting.
“Many charities and local sports or community clubs operate in a very similar fashion to schools, with vetted, qualified coaches and mentors engaging with children for hours that stretch beyond the average school day,” he said.
“They facilitate exercise and improve health and provide support for our youngest when they need it most.
“There seem to be very few sensible arguments for closing down these charities and club operations when schools remain open.
“Children being together is either safe, or it is not.”
World Athletics has organised a number of events during the global health crisis, held under strict safety measures.
The 64-year-old Coe suggested this meant it was possible for smaller organisations to hold events safely too.
“Those of us that operate in sport and have been staging events, have been doing it successfully and with social distancing,” he said.
“World Athletics successfully hosted events this year across the Diamond League and the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships last month.
“So why can’t charities and community clubs, who have proven they can open safely on a much smaller operation, continue to put on sports safely for the benefit of our less-at-risk children?”
Coe ended his column by urging the Government to “re-think” the restrictive measures on sport.
“I’m really hoping our MPs rethink the impact of restricting extra-curricular exercise and sport from the lives of young people, particularly in our poorest communities for which access to sport can often be a very thin but vital line,” he said.
“Across the country there is proof that we can conduct children’s sport safely, without being cavalier or causing greater stress on the National Health Service.
“It’s a problem that can and must be quickly addressed, or we risk an entire generation’s mental and physical health.”
The UK has one of the worst death tolls from coronavirus in the world, having reported nearly 1.5 million cases and more than 54,600 deaths.