I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the Government’s Sport Strategy document. It holds significant implications for our industry, our clients, and the communities we serve. In this blog, I‘ll take a closer look at the key aspects of the Strategy and consider how it may impact our work and future prospects for the sector…
“Get Active” is a call to arms for organisations across the country who deliver sport and physical activity to go further to ensure they are prepared for both future challenges and opportunities. This strategy updates and builds on “Sporting Future“, the previous sport strategy which was published in 2015. The strategy sets a target of over 2.5 million more active adults per year, plus a million more children being active each week.
One of the central pillars of the 2023 strategy is a commitment to boosting sports participation across communities, and the significant health benefit of doing so. There is a very clear message that this sports strategy is focused on health outcomes, not purely ‘sport for sports sake’. Increased participation not only fosters healthier individuals but also expands the reach and impact of ’sport for development’ movement. The strategy recognises that for very £1 spent on sport and physical activity almost £4 is returned in savings across health and wellbeing, strengthening communities and the national economy.
Prioritising Diversity and Inclusion:
Diversity and inclusion are fundamental principles in the sport for development sector, and Government’s commitment to continuing to make the sector more accessible and inclusive resonates with our mission. Great progress has been made in terms of increased participation by girls/women and individuals from both the BAME and disabled communities. However, significant health inequalities still exist within these population groups and increased emphasis is needed to continue to address these gaps.
Investing in Facilities:
Adequate infrastructure in the form of good quality sport, fitness and leisure facilities is the backbone of our work. Access to well-maintained facilities not only improves the quality of programmes but also enhances their appeal to participants, including individuals who are not active. Since 2021 Government has focused on the Opening School Facilities Fund which provides financial support to schools to deliver extra-curricular activities and open their facilities outside of the school day during evenings, weekends and school holidays. However, greater investment into community facilities is required as schools are not always the most ideal environment to create a first class sporting experience.
Supporting Elite Sport:
The strategy’s recognition of the importance of elite sport aligns with our belief in nurturing talent at all levels. Promoting and supporting elite athletes not only fosters national pride but also provides a wide range of role models for aspiring individuals, particularly youngsters. The recent success of the England Women’s Football team and how they have inspired a generation of girls (and boys) into the sport is a perfect example, and should be used as a catalyst for greater engagement and motivation amongst the younger generation.
Promoting Mental Health: A Holistic Approach
The link between physical activity and mental health is well-established, and Government’s acknowledgment of this connection within the strategy is positive. It reinforces our holistic approach to sport for development, where we not only aim to improve physical health but also support mental well-being. This alignment opens up opportunities for collaborative mental health initiatives within our programmes, and brings together organisations who traditionally would have no reason to collaborate. One such example is SportWorks’ exciting partnership with SENSE.
Encouraging Innovation and Technology:
Government’s emphasis on technology in sport is exciting. The SportWorks team are increasingly leveraging tech to enhance our programmes, offering data-driven insights to our clients, and validating the effectiveness of our work through more complex data. However, the sport for development sector has traditionally been slow at innovating and using tech to support our work, and so I do hope we embrace this opportunity and recognise its potential for long-term impact.
Challenges and Considerations
While the sport strategy presents a compelling roadmap, and a target of 2.5m more active people should be applauded, I question whether Government are being sufficiently ambitious in their targets. I also remain unclear as to how they expect the sector to achieve such objectives without any real clarity on funding allocations. From my perspective, there remain a lot of unanswered questions.
Funding: Adequate funding is of course crucial to realising the strategy‘s objectives, yet there is very little mention of how Government expects the sector to operate in a financially sustainable way. Other than continuation of the PE & Sport Premium funding for schools, no new investment into the sector has been announced which is concerning. Leveraging both NHS and private sector income has been notoriously difficult in the sport for development sector, and I see little new in terms of addressing this issue.
Monitoring and Evaluation: Rigorous monitoring and evaluation are vital to assess the strategy’s impact and demonstrate the effectiveness of programmes across the sector, and continue to make. Whilst good collaboration between academics, funders and the sector has recently been seen in the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Youth Justice Sport Fund’, such collaborative approaches remain atypical in the sector. For sport for development to be taken more seriously, robust monitoring and evaluation needs to become the norm and is an opportunity the sector now needs to address as a collective.
Collaboration: Throughout the strategy is a very clear call to action for the sector (myself and my SportWorks colleagues included) to come together and drive forward collaboratively. Through a stronger commitment to joint working, the 400+ organisations which make up the sport for development sector can become a powerful force for transforming lives and making a lasting impact in society. It is imperative that we seize this moment and work collectively to maximise the benefits that sport can bring to UK society.
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