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Simple Principles and Strong Messages

Posted: Mon, 23 Mar 2015 12:29

Simple Principles and Strong Messages

As always and quite rightly with the 2015 General Election looming ever nearer, the sport and physical activity sector is debating how to influence the policy-making processes to permit investment into improving community sporting opportunities. The relationship between sport and broader health policy is an obvious point of debate, especially given that health policy will be, along with education, a key battleground at the Election. It shouldn't, however, take an election to bring those debates to the fore. Physical inactivity is recognised as an important precursor of chronic ill health but also as modifiable health behaviour.

Increasing sport and physical activity participation should be underpinned by simple solutions but, no matter how cleverly the recent Active People Survey figures, published in January 2015, are dressed up, there is concern as to whether investment in community sport policies is producing the intended results in the ongoing age of austerity.

If we are to encourage constant debate about the purpose of community sport policy it is worth reminding ourselves of some fundamental principles which underpin the strong messages required both in the run-up to the election and in the future. A personal view is that there are four key principles that have emerged to inform working practice and which should be remembered as we continue to address the complexity of increasing and improving community sport participation:

Access – a principle which reminds us that we must continue to tackle the constraints on people's social circumstances, particularly those who are multiply constrained (such as in housing, education or health) but who wish to participate.

Equity - a much overused word but also an important principle which reminds us to be sensitive to issues such as race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and gender, the latter most recently exemplified in the #ThisGirlCan Campaign, which then reminds us that participation can be equally beneficial if it is informal, personal and suitable.

Opportunity - reminding ourselves that it just takes one appropriate opportunity to allow people to benefit from sport. Yet, for example, people of all ages from deprived areas take up fewer opportunities to learn new sports whilst local facilities and services are comparatively overused by those with above-average incomes. Awareness of who is physically inactive is important for design of policy interventions to reverse sport and physical inactivity trends.

Sustainability – the 'holy grail' of sport and physical activity policy. For many years well intended interventions have been of a short duration with little follow-up support but this principle must be retained as the one that drives on those working in community sport. Sustaining participation opportunities in sport requires a positive local infrastructure for all.

Policies and provision for sport are not a panacea for social problems and it must not be forgotten that even when barriers are removed the individual has a right to refuse to participate regardless of the evidence of the benefits. Whilst the policy-making process is faced with considerable and complex problems, working in community sport is both challenging and rewarding. Retaining these core principles enables us to focus on the core tasks and promote the strong messages which underpin our practices.

Dr. Marc Keech is Principal Lecturer in Sport Policy at the University of Brighton

Tags: Local Government, Policy, Sport, community sport

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