Student Sport Ireland (SSI) held a forum with 40 of its members week commencing 12th April 2021 where significant concern was raised regarding the ongoing and increasing mental health and wellbeing challenges facing students, and the impact of continued exclusion to face to face group sport and physical activity programmes and facilities which are being afforded to other areas of education, sport, and young people.
SSI is highlighting the following areas as an urgent issue and is making ongoing representation for these areas to be addressed as part of the gradual and safe return to sport and physical activity informed by the Government of Ireland.
• All other full-time education is back in the classrooms, and playing fields, apart from HE and 3rd Level. There is a continued concern that the ability of organised student sport and physical activity in addressing the significant increase in mental health issues and access of counselling services across institutions over the past year has be missed. The period of April and May is a peak time for high stress, anxiety, and social exclusion within the University and College environment due to end of year exams. Sport and physical activity are a known support and complimentary element that combats this issue for students, particularly those who may live in student accommodation or with limited social contact.
• An ongoing concern regarding the wellbeing of students, who despite other areas of education returning to face-to-face activity and shortly organised sport and physical activity in small groups, will still be excluded from equal provision under current Government of Ireland measures due to come into effect from 26th April.
• A large number of Irish and international students are currently living in university and college accommodation without any access to on-site group sport and physical activity programmes. Restrictions due to go live on 19th and 26th April allow some individual sport facility access, but still prohibit these students from taking part in safe on-campus outdoor non-contact group activity that is being enabled for others in an education setting and to young people.
• Universities and Colleges in Ireland are providing a significant sporting infrastructure and facility network to local communities, external clubs, and programmes and athletes designated ‘elite’ under Government and Sport Ireland guidance. Serious concern has been raised that restriction updates due on 19th and 26th April would result in Student Sport facilities being available and prioritised to young people and elite athletes, but not to students. It is felt across the sector that the reopening of campus facilities for non-campus communities will result in further concern and distress for students who themselves will continue not to have access.