Women in Sport research highlights urgency to prioritise sport and exercise for women post-lockdown

July 2020

Now that the Coronavirus crisis has exposed so many deep-rooted inequalities in our society, not least the gender inequality, we need to do all we can to rectify these imbalances.  It is simply wrong that currently so many girls and women are missing out on the joy, fulfilment and lifelong benefits of sport. Not only has elite women’s sport become invisible in lockdown but everyday women all over the country have been missing out on sport and exercise.

Women in Sport has launched a new research report looking at the implications of the Coronavirus lockdown and self-isolation for women’s participation in sport. The charity is concerned at the impact lockdown has had on women’s participation in sport and exercise and is determined to ensure that this impact is not long-term given that previous to lockdown we had been closing the gender gap in activity. Although activity levels for all have declined during lockdown*, women’s activity levels have declined at a much faster rate than men with the gender participation gap widening once more.

The latest research from Women in Sport has shown that women have been disproportionately impacted by the lockdown, especially those women with children juggling home-life, work, and schooling, and women aged 70 plus who have suffered the greatest isolation.  

  • 39% of women said that losing their fitness would have a long-term impact
  • 25% of women were worried that getting back into the habit of exercise post lockdown would be hard
  • 32% of women couldn’t prioritise doing exercise during lockdown as they had too much to do for others

But the research has shown that lockdown has also resulted in a resetting of priorities and an increased motivation to exercise post-lockdown with 61% of women surveyed stating that they will put more effort into being fit and active after lockdown is over. This gives sports organisations an opportunity to provide an accessible entry point to sport and exercise that draws upon the new appreciation for freedoms, nature, social connection and the importance of health as motivation. But more widely as a society, it should put pressure on how we enable women to prioritise themselves and find time to be active, through their everyday lives.

“It’s the social part of it. I look forward to going as I’ve got some really good friends from it now” Woman from Later Life group

“I would like to be more active but the only way I could do it would be to cut back on my hours at work.” Woman from Family group

Funded by Comic Relief, the research looked to understand the impact of lockdown on women across different life stages, from young women without children to those in later life (age 70+). Women in Sport followed a group of women for a month to look in-depth at how their lives were affected, as well as running a representative survey of 100 women from across the UK. Considered alongside each other, the research shows that there were several shifts and changes in what women valued in life, and how they wanted to behave in the future post-lockdown.

Stephanie Hilborne, CEO of Women in Sport says “As we come out of lockdown we should not seek to return to ‘the way it was’, even if this were possible.  After all, ‘the way it was’ was not good enough.  Instead we should use the crisis as fuel for change to our society.  As we reopen schools and leisure centres, and as we reboot sport let’s make sure we better reflect the distinct attributes of women and girls and meet their needs and aspirations in all their diversity and at every stage in life.  Whilst this research points to negatives for women in lockdown, the great opportunity is that exercise and sport has now grown in importance – we heard that women are changing their mindsets and wanting to prioritise sport and exercise. I would urge every working woman, every mother, every carer to hold on to this mindset and value their own needs as well as those of their loved ones.  This is good for families and for society and it will help build equality if only the provision is right.”

Women in Sport are urging sports organisations and physical activity providers to learn from the experiences of women during lockdown, particularly in terms of what women find motivating, and how to sustain interest in exercise and physical activity for the future. The unique circumstances of lockdown have provided insight for future approaches, and an opportunity to kick-start a step change in activity levels, no longer accepting the gender gap which leaves women less active than men throughout their lives.

*Sport England, Savanta ComRes 3rd April-25th May 2020 – COVID-19 Briefing

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