• David Thibodeau

Sport Community Response to COVID-19

We are now in week 11 of shut downs and restrictions in Canada due to COVID-19. This quarantine has dragged on for a lot longer than most people were expecting. Sport as we know it was unable to continue due to the very nature of sports. It is difficult to social distance when practicing and competing. Community recreation centres are closed. Home workouts, running and biking have become the most popular options for people trying to stay active.


How has the sport community and policy makers reacted to the situation? Around the world, solutions are coming from all sectors, helping people stay active and stay positive in a time of great stress and uncertainty. How we react to this will determine how successfully we come out of this crisis.


Yunus Sports Hub has initiated the Sport and Social Business Community Response network. It consists of regional groups dedicated to addressing local challenges that were created by COVID-19.This diverse group of problem solvers are identifying and building community based responses to these challenges. (If you want to be part of this community sign up here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe8u_4Eg4ZiMgDIVWmJ-Q4BtlLnic_3TLkICew4W9fof-RUXQ/viewform).

Around the world there has been a surge of online workouts. Using Instagram Live, Youtube, Zoom or another media platform, organisations providing recreational workouts moved online to keep people engaged and fit. Many of the online workouts already available pre-quarantine also started offering free access to help people stay active. Creating targeted workouts for parents to do with kids, and disadvantaged youth, and general information on health and wellbeing to distribute to youth. An important thing to keep in mind when doing this, is that it often takes a long time to build up a big following. If someone is just starting an online workout series, how will you get this to the people you are targeting?


I have also seen a rise of workout challenges online. In the United Kingdom, there was a social media challenge going around where people challenged their friends to run 5kn and donate £5 to the NHS Charaties.


Coaches have also adopted many ways of engaging with their athletes during social distancing. Daily workout challenges, virtual meetings for mental training, virtual end-of-year award ceremonies to celebrate the successes of athletes from the last season unexpectedly cut short and activity books.


Another way that people have tried to stay engaged is through daily step challenges, using apps like fitbit, or stridekick.


Some of the other initiatives, by region, that are coming out of this network are:


Africa Region

  • In Rwanda, a partnership with national TV network to do live broadcasting of fitness classes for kids at home, these workouts can reach those at home who do not have access to wifi or computers

  • Creating soccer balls from local materials and distributing them to youth

Asia Region

  • A digital education program focused on sport management for rural women who have been athletes on national teams and have now lost income due to COVID-19.

South America Region

  • A peer-to-peer outreach program between elite athletes and community level athletes who are struggling with mental and physical health

Europe Region

  • E-sport programs for lesser viewed sports like badminton, to allow athletes to continue playing their sports in lockdown

  • Working with people with disabilities one-on-one to support; incorporating sport activities is one way

  • Reworking international games event to suit an online format, aiming to foster intercultural embrace and fun for participants

Many cities have a trail system for walking, running and biking throughout the city. Under normal circumstances, these trails meet the needs of the community. However, with there being limited spaces open and more and more people trying to get out and enjoy the weather as it changes from spring to summer, these trails become crowded and citizens are unable to do proper social distancing. Over the past few weeks, several cities have started closing streets to allow for residents to engage in physical activity outdoors in a safe way. When there is a lack of space, people flock to the limited spaces that are open, Vancouver is an example of this. This falls to policy makers. Asking people to practice social distancing without giving them the space to do so, doesn’t work.


Policy makers are responsible for the wellbeing of the community. Allowing people to get exercise in a responsible way, is good for their physical and mental health. Pop up bike lanes, road closures, there are many actions that local governments can take to allow for people to stay active. The National Capital Commission in Ottawa has started closing off sections of streets throughout the city to give people more space for physical activity. Washington D.C has also started closing streets to allow for smarter social distancing while getting exercise.


This crisis has reinforced that our infrastructure is not adequate for biking in cities. If the space is available, people will use it. Governments need to stop using the excuse that no one will use bike lanes. These road closures are busy with people. After this crisis is over, I hope that policy makers remember this and use this as a teaching moment. If space is provided, it will be used. We have to stop focusing on cars as the main mode of transportation in our cities.


Post COVID-19, some of these programs can stay in place to help rebuild. We need to keep up mentorship programs in sport, we need to open more bike lanes and shut down more roads from car traffic, we need to increase the accessibility of sport and recreation to all members of society. These are all things that policy makers and sport makers can do together. Making sport accessible can be a government priority and building the proper infrastructure for bike lanes needs to be a government policy. Mentorship programs and connections can be built in the community.

©2020 by Sports for Social Impact.