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Shutdown of women’s sport may damage participation, warns health committee

Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Shutdown of women’s sport may damage participation, warns health committee

The shutting down of women’s elite sport during the COVID pandemic while allowing men’s sport to continue has ingrained the perception women’s sport is less worthy, Holyrood’s health committee has said.

Committee convener Lewis Macdonald warned this could have a knock-on impact on encouraging women and girls to participate in sport when lockdown restrictions lift.

Women were already less likely to be involved in physical activity before the pandemic.

But Macdonald said this could be compounded by a lack of visible female role models in professional sport.

He said: “The ingrained perception that women’s sport is less worthy than men’s has also gained traction during the pandemic. This perception, more a reality, was exemplified in the way the Scottish Women’s Football League had to shut down during lockdown last year, while most of their male counterparts were able to continue.

“This only adds to the challenge of increasing women and girl’s participation in sport generally as well as finding and developing future female elite athletes.”

As well as women, Macdonald said disabled people and older people will face particular problems in returning to sport.

The committee also expressed concern about the challenges of increasing participation in sport more broadly, having been told by stakeholders that many people will not come back until they are confident it is safe.

There is concern that the mental health problems arising from months of public health restrictions will only be exacerbated by the lack of physical activity participation.

Macdonald said: “Sport for the majority is more about friendship and camaraderie with others than medals. The lockdown measures have been strangling the opportunity to have these relationships while also removing a sense of purpose and motivation for both amateur and elite athletes alike.”

He added: “A mental health tsunami is coming, if indeed the first wave has not already reached us. Engaging in physical activity has to be part of the medicine and we have commented previously that social prescribing needs to be a stronger element within the health budget.”

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