The Pandemic and the Effects on Activity

As I wrote about in my recent book, physical activity is deeply political:

“Promoting physical activity requires suggesting (and sometimes dictating) what people do with their time, their money, their bodies and their minds. By espousing meanings of, reasons for, and policies to promote physical activity, a vast array of experts, from policy makers to academics and health promoters are, without hyperbole, engaged with the meaning of life.”

It’s unusual to emphasise something in parentheses, but

so unusual has this pandemic been,

so devastating the effects,

and so wide-ranging the interventions, that it is worth reflecting on.

The first three months of this pandemic has exposed many failures by governments to implement good policies to combat the virus. At the same time, the ways physical activity is organised and arranged has been the subject of intense debate. Here’s a rough chronology …

Concrete interventions deployed to keep people from moving too close. Rules, signs, instructions all deployed to manage people and their movement

Tensions between “stay at home” messages and “exercise for health” messages

The rationale of being active for “mental health” being emphasised by many spokespeople, seemingly to alleviate the built-up tensions of people confined for too long.

Anecdotal increases in people exercising in parks, with police required to manage belligerents who are not exercising (enough)

Anxiety about social distancing (which should really be called physical distancing).

The subsequent guilt of being out for too long, or shaming of those who are out for too long

Possible annoyance at others not remaining distant enough.

Possible shaming of those seen to be flouting the rules.

Urgent revisions made to cycling routes and pedestrian routes in some cities.

The erosion of at least some goodwill about distancing.

Academics have also responded. For example:

A litany of programmes and promotion material to get people active during lockdown

Academic journals dedicating issues on future of sport (in Managing Sport and Leisure and European Journal of Sport Management)

Intense questions about whose authority counts. For example, criticisms of lockdown “PE” on youtube

Most recently, in Ireland, “young people are being asked to choose having sex online or over the phone to stop the spread of Covid-19.”

The imposition of various degrees of limitations on all of us, and the transgressions that will inevitably occur will be testing for everyone. It is undoubtedly the case that we all need to manage our physical activity in different ways for the (un)foreseeable future. This will require heightened attention to sympathy, tolerance and respect for our own physical activity AND inactivity, as well as others’. Good luck to us all!

Joe Piggin

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