It's Time for Sport to Take its Rightful Place
Posted: Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:09
I begin this narrative from a direct perspective and one that is prepared to look back as well as forward. In twenty years as a sports development practitioner in a number of roles, I have witnessed significant change in the way sport is funded, delivered and seen as a tool to deliver against various political agendas. It is sport as a political football that I wish to see changed.
Sport England do a fantastic job to support the grassroots delivery of sport. Working with National Governing Bodies of Sport (NGBs) we have seen an explosion of support both in financial and human resources. However, we have a culture of "payment for results" and sports in competition with each other doing exactly the opposite of what successive governments have wanted: to see a growth in SPORTS Participation.
Funding 44 sports to deliver to the same group of people (14+) in roughly the same environments does not lend itself to real-terms growth. In fact the figures show a tiny percentage increase in the 8 years since the current measurement system (Active People Survey, APS) was introduced. Yes we have more people "active" but at roughly 4% of the population this is still a tiny minority. We have growing obesity rates, especially in children, yet we have more investment than ever in sport. This is the problem: the investment is simply not enough to grow sports participation across a wider cohort. We hamstring NGBs with a results-for-payments system that places rules on where that sport spends its funding. A one-size-fits-all approach that is failing to significantly impact. Take gymnastics, an early maturation sport where there is a need to start children early (under 5 is paramount) yet they cannot target any of this work as it does not meet their funding commitments! Bonkers logic, why not say to each sport, "develop and design a plan that meets the needs of your sport AND helps with the key social agendas we face" rather than, "you can only play if you use our ball."
We expect each of our NGBs to grow their sport while looking over their shoulder at others and seeing what "edge" they can find, what's the next big thing, or how can they meet the latest government agenda. The payment-by-results culture means that NGBs work to 4 year cycles; programmes have little or no time in which to develop adequately; and partners and schools are always looking for: What's next? What can sport 'x' offer over sport 'y'? How easy is it to deliver? What will the pupils think? And so on.
Sport is facing on average a 20% cut in Government funding, which some might argue is acceptable in these times of austerity, but here is the paradox: our NHS Budget is c. £120 billion, funding for grass-roots sport through NGBs is c. £480 million, a drop in the ocean, especially as sport is expected to play its part in the 'Healthy Nation' agenda. Why not double or triple the money and, like the health budget, ring-fence the funding? Why are we looking at putting shackles on sport and significantly cutting funding at a time when we, as a nation, are increasingly unhealthy? Add all this up and you can see why sport is failing to provide what it should to those in communities, who enjoy participating and the millions who give up their time to coach, officiate, manage and develop clubs up and down the country. We are letting them down. It's time to rethink.
David Rose is a National Development Manager at England Netball