Community Sport and Inclusion in Sport

Posted: Tue, 27 Feb 2024

Community Sport and Inclusion in Sport

The societal impact of community sport is worth investing in

"I struggled in life. I was that kid who was neglected, who wasn't taken care of, who was in a dark place. And running is what saved me. And without running, my life would have been different.

To have someone to look out for you and believe in you… the local club, it saved me from going in different directions. Because if I would have gone the other direction, who knows where I would have been?" - Sir Mo Farah

The power of community sport to shape a young life. In this case, that of Sir Mo Farah, who went from being a youthful refugee, trafficked from his homeland, into the most successful Olympic athlete the UK has ever fielded.

From grassroots to greatness. For Farah, the transformation was priceless, engineered by the dedicated mentors who shaped him and the sporting family who took him and provided a nurturing environment, away from the malign influences outside. The greatest return was not gold medals, acclaim or wealth, but a life enriched.

A far from unique story. Across the country, thousands of local hubs utilise sport and physical activity as a tool to reach parts that other methods cannot.

These are not the high street gyms, council-run swimming pools or leisure centres overseen by profit-driven companies or arms-length trusts. This is a potent collective network, driving physical activity and ignited change in each of our communities, frequently staffed only by volunteers, but reaching millions without due fanfare.

And yet, these are assets often under-valued by sporting governing bodies. And, fundamentally, they are under-served by government and ignored in policy-thinking, channels of activity which deliver real economic and social impacts despite minimal investment, solving pressing problems in real time as true forces for good.

Sported's own research among its 3,000 community groups throughout the country illustrates why this neglected sector is essential and effective. 28 per cent of these organisations address crime and other disruptive behaviour. 38 per cent build community cohesion. 31 per cent enhance education and employability.[1]

And then, unsurprisingly, comes the inarguable pluses of "sport," and its benefits for health, and physical and mental wellbeing. Invaluable. A diversion and aspiration that should be a right to all.

But it is not. Sported's insight spotlighted the barriers to accessing this support network and the life tools offered. In a survey from Spring 2023, 49 per cent of groups said a lack of money impeded young people from continuing to participate.[2]

Community Sport - at the sharp end

Cost of living pressures are as destructive as Covid. A stark 94 per cent of groups expressed concern about the economic squeeze on their young people.[3]

Three in four across the UK flagged a negative toll on their attendees' mental health with almost the same proportion fearing a lack of pounds in the pocket might cause them to disengage or reduce their participation.

Mark Rawthorpe, who runs RABC Boxing Club in Huddersfield, spends much of his time outside the ropes. Based in an area plagued by gang-related violence and knife crime, he doesn't wait for those at risk to venture through the door. He proactively seeks them out as a trusted face with enough equity to engage powerfully with those involved – and with the capacity to offer alternative diversions, a positive role model aligned to a safe space.

Rawthorpe said: "We see some of the issues in the area with knife crime or violence. Mums and dads are crying down the phone asking us to help them because social services are stretched. We want to keep helping in our community but it costs money to keep doing the work."

There is a whole family approach at play where elder siblings can be moved onto a trajectory of aspiration that in turn alters the path of their young brothers or sisters – and parents. Helping one, helps more, at a decreasing cost per intervention.

It saves lives. Additionally, it reduces the use of police or social work resources. Illustrated in a University of Gloucestershire study, such activity provides "positive psychological capital" among marginalised and vulnerable youth, allowing them to control emotions, socialise better, and develop a sense of worth.[4]

In short, these are effective interventions, undertaken with the support of a wider local community, through an alternative structure driven by those with lived experience who acutely understand the environment in which they operate.

They nimbly respond to challenges before they emerge or offer cost-effective answers in a manner that feels attractive and non-challenging to those they seek to help. This is a sector that quietly delivers at scale across the nation.

Cross departmental benefits

Holistically, community groups, using sport as a tool for engagement, deliver on aims that match the policy objectives set by multiple government departments.

Examples include:

  • Justice – Grassroots organisations address crime, anti-social behaviour and social inclusion, particularly among hard-to-reach marginalised groups or those who ripe for preventative interventions for Violence Reduction Units and similar agencies.
  • Health – Mental health and wellbeing, physical health improvement, reduction in NHS spend, all could be ameliorated by running select initiatives through community clubs.
  • Education – Attainment, reducing absenteeism and alternative schooling are all the subject of initiatives available at a community group level and this could be extended. However, availability of school estate at an affordable rate remains a barrier.
  • Levelling Up – Grassroots organisations have a high penetration into areas of deprivation where they build community cohesion, fight exclusion and alleviate the poverty gap at low cost.

Studies commissioned by Made By Sport through Keda evidenced that for every £1 invested in sport-for-good, there is a return of £6 in social value,[5] however government funding has to date found it difficult to reach and support the grassroots organisations it was intended for. Consequently, programmes such as the Holiday Activity Fund, backed by the Department of Education for England, have failed to generate the expected scale or impact the investment warranted.

A shift in sport strategy

The UK's government's new strategy for sport 'Get Active' acknowledges that sport and physical activity that it is not merely a conduit to address physical and mental wellbeing but also that it has key role to play in individual, social and community development.

Yet it does not explicitly recognise that inequalities in opportunity are widening, nor how we can tackle disparities in participation levels if the targets for improving the rates of activity in our society are to be met.

Non-traditional "sports clubs" are frequently not recognised by government and governing bodies. They are no less impactful for their efforts to deliver local solutions to local problems, driven by trusted local leaders. This approach offers the greatest potential long-term returns, widening the funnel rather than simply seeking marginal benefit from repeating what has gone before.

The government strategy places emphasis on 'Integrity,' ensuring that sport – whether at grassroots or elite level – is "inclusive and welcoming for all." Yet disability inclusion, for example, remains a challenge as much due a scarcity in investment in accessible infrastructure as cultural shifts.

There is significant spend where participation numbers are the primary metric of success. However, the 'who' is as vital as the 'how many.' It is essential that some of these funds are targeted at our marginalised communities who are least active and are less likely to engage with traditional sporting structures.

Community-based, grassroots organisations offer this alternative pathway. Properly resourcing their endeavours will allow a national strategy to accomplish more, placing a strong and specific emphasis on real social impact.

Barriers vs opportunities

Policymakers strive to reach the individuals and communities that grassroots groups support. As significantly, these groups have an appetite to do even more good.

That will not be realised unless they have a simpler and more progressive relationship towards government and public sector agencies, one which recognises the time and resources constraints.

Charities like Sported alleviate some of the burden by bridging the gap that exists between large-scale institutions and these micro-organisations. But our insight highlights the over-complexities of funding applications or subsequent documentation. Evidenced analysis is important. But excessive paperwork injects disincentives which disrupt the intended outcomes.

Simpler mechanisms for submitting grant applications, clearer signposting, and effective but abbreviated evaluation would add to the returns and improve connections between communities and government.

Many of these groups own or operate small facilities or take on public spaces on an asset transfer basis. Allowing them to access streams of support or tax relief currently reserved for publicly-owned facilities or those overseen by leisure trusts would place them on a more sustainable footing without displacing reach.

Small shifts in the mechanics of government and its agencies would be largely revenue- neutral. But by profiting from the ecosystem of community groups, tangible social impacts can be multiplied.

Teth in London is an entirely volunteer-led group, established to address an urgent need to get more inactive young people active. Besides sport, it runs developmental workshops, alternative education programmes and a mentoring scheme aimed at 11-25s drawn from disadvantaged backgrounds. They must seek funding to support their initiatives which benefit hundreds of families.

Founder Trudy-Ann Campbell said: "Through sports, we use that as active points to take them on a journey."


1. Sported, 'Community Pulse, (2023)' (

2. Sported, 'Community Pulse, (2023)' (

3. Sported, 'Community Pulse, (2023)' (

4. University of Gloucester 'Community Sport Programmes and Social Inclusion: What Role for Positive Psychological Capital?' (2019) (

5. Made by Sport/Newton 'Commercial Giving to Sport for Good' (

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


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