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The Future Starts Now

Posted: Tue, 24 Nov 2015 18:02

The Future Starts Now

The first Spending Review of this Parliament is upon us.

The sports sector gasps and takes a deep breath.

Difficult for most, but put yourself in the shoes of George Osborne for the next few minutes.

Ahead of the Spending Review this week he has reached a deal with 11 Government departments, which will see cuts in real-terms funding of an average of 24% over the next 4 years, adding up to £4bn of savings by 2019/20.

The unforgiving statistician suggests otherwise.

Osborne has asked unprotected departments to find a total of £20bn in savings as part of plans to balance the government's books and Whitehall big-wigs have been asked to draw up plans for 40% cuts.

For sports policy's immediate future, there are several poignant issues attached to this conundrum. The ability to address falling participation seemingly through new and innovative means appears the most obvious; the inevitable impact on the Government's new sports strategy is another; uncertain future leadership (as the Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch prepares for maternity leave) is a third.

But we should not only be looking at the next 5 years to assess sport's funding fate. Many of the future pressures facing the industry will demand new ways of thinking, with new funding structures to meet them. The Government also needs to harness a longer-term approach to sport and physical activity, and this means aligning funding structures to wider policy outcomes to help determine future direction.

Recent market trend reports have helped to identify three factors that will be increasingly important to the sport enthusiast in 10-20 years from now:

Firstly, the Sport and Recreation Alliance's Future Trends report claims that consumers are not currently willing to sacrifice indulgence for the sake of health benefit in their consumption habits. Moreover, the research goes on to identify innovations in surgery and quick-fix beauty products that lessen the need for consumers to invest considerable time and energy exercising. It is societal pressures such as these with which sport and physical activity will have to increasingly contend.

Secondly, technology will forever be an uncertain constant. The Youth Sport Trust and The Future Foundation, have come together to assess the fate of young people today in 20 years time – the 'digital native'. The report presents a brighter future for embracing innovation, not as a disruptive force but an evolutionary enabler. Modern social media and digital technologies will look less like disruptive forces radically changing the way that young people behave, and more like expedients recreating the public spaces increasingly under threat by urbanisation and constrictive social attitudes.

Thirdly (and dependent on factors 1 and 2), attention to structures will be increasingly important to the future of the sector. Changing consumer behaviours should be allowed to radically shake up the way institutions think about providing sport. The Sport and Recreation Alliance's Fit for the Future report argues that existing mechanisms do not fully take into account the fluctuations in participation due to wider economic conditions as well as other factors that affect uptake, such as adverse weather or the fact that people now engage in a number of different activities.

The key ask is therefore: to give sport and leisure time. Uncertain immediate futures appear to significantly hinder any confidence in a successful future for the industry. Consistent and sustained investment will inevitably help nullify British pessimism, but longer-term thinking, proactive assessments and understanding consumer behaviour should help to shape positive structures moving forwards. Consideration of these factors buys time, enabling sport to make its case for supporting education, health, the justice system and employment.

Safeguarding confidence in the sector for the next 5 years appears to be a difficult task, but policy-makers can now at least begin to think about building the foundations for how they would like the sector to look in 10 years time.

The sport sector then relaxes and breathes a big sigh of relief.

Charlie Macey is a Consultant at Dissident Business Ltd and a former Researcher for The Sports Think Tank

Tags: Policy, Sport, Sport for development, community sport

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