Collaboration and Humility needed more now than ever
Posted: Fri, 10 Sep 2021 09:26
As our friends at UKSDN held their conference - Sport and Social Justice: if not now when? – An online convention it acted as a stark reminder about two aspects of the sport and physical activity sector that still frustrates me! There are others but I will tackle these two for starters.
The Think Tank exists as a critical friend to the sector. We understand the enormous potential parts of the sector has to tackle many wider societal issues - even beyond the obvious need for us all to me more physically active.
But we also recognise that the sector is far from perfect when it comes to issues like inequality, tackling racism and social justice. It reflects the fault lines in society. In some cases it can be a social good. But all too often it reflects and magnifies these issues.
The outline of the conference sums this up nicely
The late 1970's saw the launch of the Sport Council's first campaign: "Sport for All' and subsequently the birth of Sport Development. Over 40 years on, despite a substantial investment of public funding into sport and numerous campaigns aiming to bring about social justice through sport, the figures suggest that these disparities persist. In addition to this, the Covid-19 pandemic has added its weight to further imbalance opportunities in sport. Are we on a precipice of making things better, or allowing things to get worse? More than ever as a sector, we must bring about change. Now is the time.
I am lucky that I spend as much of my time working and volunteering outside the sector in International development/ relations and economic development and regeneration as I do 'inside' It affords me a wider perspective. Sport is not always the answer to every problem or issue as it sometimes feels when I'm in the hundreds of sport sessions and meetings and conferences I attend each year. Inside the bubble can feel a little suffocating. This is why we have spent much of the Covid pandemic critically supporting the sector. For example through the work Martyn Allison has been doing on Proportionate Universalism. We can't just go back to running our sector as we did before and claim we are tackling the issue of inequality and justice. We were failing before. Doing more of the same won't lead to different results.
We will continue to call this out however much it doesn't make us friends. This is why we believe in the humility of our language and the case we make. Let's not claim we are 'changing lives' when we are not. Let's move beyond the clichés and talk of inspiration for example. We know the so-called demonstration effect of 'inspiration' is limited so lets reign it in a little please.
Secondly the issue of collaboration. This is vital to us. We firmly believe that if somebody is doing something well it should be celebrated and shared. Our sector is full of Logos and egos and sharp elbows. It would be wrong to pretend otherwise. We all know it don't we? But we need to move beyond this if we are to succeed. In some aspects of our work we see things have improved over the last decade and some national organisations are working much better together than I have ever seen. It is far from perfect but leadership is being shown.
Our role is to celebrate and highlight others success - not to be jealous of it. Supporting the UKSDN event is how we want to work. Supporting others and celebrating their work. The same will be true of the growing importance of climate change and sustainability in sport. Despite the clamour around the time of the Climate Change Act in 2008 to go green things stalled with the global financial crash the same year. In the lost decade too little was done - especially in sport. Now it is back as a crucial issue there are numerous initiatives and organisations taking a lead. We have no intention to do anything other than pull together all the best things people are doing and putting them on one place for the sector to have a resource to do even more! So please feel free to share!
It remains a challenge to be genuinely collaborative - but we take it as the ultimate compliment when our ideas and suggestions are taken up by others and made a success.
We remain small and unfunded but we do believe that this way we can be an honest and critical friend to a sector we believe in despite its many flaws and its lack of humility in its own failures. We know many of the issues we tackle take years before they become mainstream - from racism in governance to tackling mental health in elite sport and concussion - but you will always know we are doing it for the love of the sector! We do this as friends to help!
we look forward to helping the sector through the challenges of the next decade as an honest friend.
Andy Reed - Sports Think Tank Autumn 2021