We need a holistic approach to creating an active nation
Posted: Wed, 27 Sep 2023 17:32
It is great to have the government's new sports strategy finally out and published. Get Active: A strategy for the future of sport and physical activity is a big step in the right direction and sets out how the government intends to work with the sport and physical activity sector to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get active.
For me it is important that we, as a sector, are unapologetically ambitious about making the nation more physically active. I was delighted to see that it is also a stance which the government has adopted.
In its strategy, the government commits to a target of having 2.5 million more adults and 1 million more children classed as physically active by 2030. While those are ambitious figures, they are entirely achievable.
Ali Oliver, the CEO of Youth Sports Trust, broke the figures down and pointed out that getting 1 million more children active equates to six children per school, per year between now and 2030. Presenting the target in such a manner not only makes the goal appear clearer, but also makes the drawing up of action plans less daunting. Coming up with a way for an individual school to get six more children physically active over a period of 12 months sounds very feasible.
Ali's example also helps make the case why our sector will be crucial in delivering the aims laid out in the strategy – the strategy's ambitious targets will never be achieved without plans that are developed and executed at local and community level.
The strategy also makes a strong case for our sector to finally fulfil its potential in helping to ease pressures on the NHS. Prevention of illness will always be more affordable than the cure and the government has recognised this. It is now making encouraging noises about creating a health system focusing on preventive measures – which the strategy also addresses.
It goes without saying that physical activity should be at the heart of any preventive healthcare system. But for that to happen, we need to ensure we have a thriving sport and physical activity sector, not just now, but for future generations too.
This is why we need to continue to make the case for sport and physical activity to be a cross-departmental concern and responsibility. We need to ensure each government department that has "skin in the game" – from health and education to business and transport – buys into the importance of physical activity and the value of sport. If truly harnessed and fully utilised, sport and physical activity can play a hugely important role in not just creating healthy communities but also driving economic growth.
If getting the nation active was a simple problem to solve, we would have done it in the past 30 years – the time that sport has 'sat' solely under the DCMS. But we haven't.
What we need is a holistic approach and strategic solutions which reach across all aspects of life. From creating accessible sports and leisure facilities and promoting active travel to helping people make healthy life choices – at local level. As well as resourcing performance sport and high quality coaching.
In this sense, are there some missed opportunities in the strategy? Wouldn't it have been amazing to have a ministerial foreword in the document from not just from DCMS, but from the departments of health, education and business and trade? And to have detailed plans to achieve targets in each of their areas of responsibility?
One of the messages we need to send out as a sector is that any efforts to address health inequality will fail without first ensuring physical activity equality.
By funding our facilities and programmes, the government can get a huge return of investment across different departments – so it is only right that those departments also take part in that investment. Yes, we can deliver real economic value, such as removing the burden on the NHS, but we do need the tools to do it.
Building a healthier nation is possible. We can turn the tide of inactivity and create both social and economic value. But to do so, we need to remove all the barriers to people getting active and continue to invest in both sport and physical activity. The key to that is having the resources we need at a local level – because ultimately, that is where the real change will be delivered.
Jo Maher - October 2023
Jo is Principal and Chief Executive at Loughborough College, is a member of the FA Council and its National Game Board, Chair of the English Colleges Football Association and has over 10 years' experience as a sports psychologist including time as the lead psychologist for WorldSkills Team UK. During her time at Loughborough College, Jo has built on its sporting success supporting 15 national sports governing body partnerships with over 2,000 elite athletes per year. Prior to taking up her position at Loughborough College, Jo was Principal and Chief Executive at Boston College in Lincolnshire