COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of our lives since it was first identified in Australia in January 2020 and participation in sport and physical activity is no exception.

With the shutting down of organised sport and the closure of venues such as gyms and studios, we have had to adapt our physical activity to the new environment.

AusPlay, with its 12-month recall period, is not designed to capture short-term changes in participation levels and any impact will not show through in the standard AusPlay statistics released on 30 October 2020.

To begin to understand changing behaviours before they appear in AusPlay’s long-term data, we added some questions to the survey in April to June 2020 that asked about activity in the previous seven days.

Together with other research conducted by Sport Australia and other organisations, this AusPlay Focus report provides some early indications of what the impact of COVID-19 might be on participation in sport and physical activity.

AusPlay Focus: Early impact of COVID-19 on sport and physical activity participation

AusPlay, Australia’s biggest sporting survey has conducted research that provides us with a first look at the impact COVID-19 has had on our sport sector and physical activity levels of Australians.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional questions were built into the AusPlay survey as well as our other research tool - the Community Perceptions Monitor Survey.

The first theme that has emerged from the data is there are now more significant barriers to participate in organised sport than we have ever experienced before.

In addition to the barriers we have explored in the past, like cost, the top three concerns found in returning to sport because of the pandemic are:

  • the fear that people will not follow health rules,
  • the perception that sport causes COVID-19 to spread in the community, and
  • the ability of sports and associations to come up with ways to play sport safely.

Results show that these barriers are having a direct impact on participation, and in July 36% of people surveyed through AusPlay were extremely or very concerned about participating in organised sport.

By August, only 37% were back playing all the sports they expected to play in 2020.

But in more positive news, 87% of people are expected to be playing some organised sports again by years end.

The AusPlay data has also shown that the pandemic has reinforced the long-term trend towards non-sport-related means of adults getting active. During the pandemic the more accessible physical activities, such as running, walking, home gyms and cycling, continued to rise over sport and organised sporting activities.

Early signals also show motivations for participation in sport have shifted more towards mental and physical health versus fun and enjoyment.

This shows that the Australians recognise the importance of sport and physical activity not only for the fun and enjoyment but the impact it has on the mind and body.

The lockdown also affected children more than adults in organised physical activities.

73% of Australian adults remained active, compared with just 17% per cent of children.

Some of the top activities during lockdown demonstrated the ability to engage from home or solo.

The second theme that has emerged from the data is that Sport will be integral to Australia’s Recovery

Sport is ingrained in the Australian culture and the data we collected has reinforced the role sport has to play in a positive recovery from COVID-19 and the role sport played through getting the community through the pandemic.

Our recent Community Perceptions Monitor Survey data showed that people who were finding it easier to keep fit and active reported that they were feeling more optimistic, connected and had a greater sense of wellbeing.

The data has also shown that Australian’s initially missed their sport, after it was suspended for several weeks 44% of Australians said that they missed sport being in their lives.

This number has fallen steadily since professional and community sport restarted across areas across the country, and in August 29% of Australians said that they missed sport being in their lives

Stay tuned for more AusPlay reporting on the impacts of COVID-19. The next survey results are due for release in April 2021.

This story originally appeared on the Sport Australia website.