Strong opportunities exist to build on, and enhance the role that sport for development can play in addressing inequalities in sport and physical activity.
This was one of the core themes to emerge from a consultation event conducted by the Sport for Development Coalition into Sport England’s forthcoming new strategy, which is due to be published in January.
More than 60 organisations from across the SFDC network gathered to collectively respond to the Strategy Framework and Shaping Our Future publication, which have been published as Sport England finalises the new strategy.
The four-hour online consultation event also revealed there is a strong commitment from the network to drive and support place-based approaches and linkages across the sport and physical activity eco-system, and the potential for an enhanced strategic focus on the wider social outcomes that sport for development can deliver to be a catalyst to unlock additional investment in sport and physical activity.
Attendees came from the SFDC’s network of 160 supporters, who have all signed up to the Coalition’s Charter. They ranged from local clubs such as Tooting & Mitcham Community Sports Club, and Sheffield-based Hallam Barbell Weightlifting Club, to small charities using ‘sport for good’ such as 3Pillars Trust, Boxing Futures and Salaam Peace.
The charitable arms of professional clubs, such as the Arsenal Foundation and Newcastle Falcons Rugby Foundation, contributed alongside national charities like Sported and Youth Sport Trust, and high-profile national entities such as Premiership Rugby and Special Olympics.
A packed programme of briefing sessions mixed with discussions forums and in depth focus groups was moderated by SFDC Executive Director Ollie Dudfield.
Welcoming the attendees, SFDC Chair Andy Reed said the new strategy represented a “golden opportunity” for sport for development as Sport England’s focus shifts from solely participation in physical activity, to championing the role of sport and physical activity in creating more integrated communities, a stronger economy and a society where physical activity is the norm. This includes tackling big issues identified through the consultation such as building back better from Covid, working with health at a greater scale, and putting children and families at the centre of creating foundations for active lives.
Andy said of the SFDC network: “Our unique selling point is that Sport England, and those other stakeholders key to delivering the strategy, see us as a unified sector. There is a common theme for what we all do, which is changing lives through sport, and intentionally using sport for the development of individuals and communities.”
Jon Fox, from the Strategy Team at Sport England, opened the morning’s presentations. He gave examples of where Sport England has already ‘banked’ some key findings from feedback received throughout 2020 – for example on tackling inequalities which must be “overtly central” to the strategy. He stated that the theme would need to run through the final strategy “like a stick of rock”.
Representatives from organisations across the SFDC network welcomed this, and emphasised the important role and untapped potential of sport for development in addressing inequalities in opportunities to be active through the strong focus on locally-owned and place-based approach to delivery across the network.
Throughout the consultation, there was general endorsement from attendees that locally-led delivery are key to building stronger communities through sport and physical activity.
Julie Robbins, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Youth Sport Trust, encouraged policy-makers to “make sure we invest in local leadership… help them to collaborate between themselves and also making stronger connections with public services, including education, health and the local authority.”
Jackie Watkins, Managing Director of Tooting & Mitcham Community Sports Club, said the strategy should reach inactive people “who don’t even know they have a voice” if it was to be truly effective, and that sport for development organisations embedded and trusted within local communities were well placed to support this.
To do this she recommended: “You really need to talk to people who don’t necessarily know that their ideas will be heard, and that their issues are actually something that people are worried about – they think that nobody cares about them. Surveys are great, but discussion groups with people face to face can really help to understand their issues.”
Sab Bham, founder and CEO of Salaam Peace, endorsed the SFDC’s role in improving connectivity. “The work the Coalition has done has been huge because it has reached out and made sure voices have been heard,” he said.
“Since Covid, I think people are more receptive around community and around being active, not just physically, but in trying to do something for others, and we have used that as a positive to get more people involved and more people contributing. Now is the time that we really need to build on it…. it’s usually these negative experiences that make us look within, and also reach out.”
Numerous speakers from across the SFDC network emphasised the potential that a stronger focus on the wider outcomes sport for development approaches can deliver would act as a catalyst in creating strategic partnerships and unlocking funding across other areas of Government, such as departments for health, justice and employment.
Gary Laybourne, from the charity Coach Core which provides apprenticeships to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, said: “When it comes to actually getting partners to work locally, I think there is a misapprehension that it’s not working, and it really is in so many places that we go to.
“The bigger we get, the bigger the challenge around the types of services that we can bring in and collectively join up with national providers who are looking to do the same thing. It’s been an amazing few years to see so much collaboration and partnership taking place within the sector; the next step (that this strategy should support) is about that wider effect now.”
Cormac Whelan, from the Positive Youth Foundation, described how his organisation had taken the lead in a local partnership in Coventry to help “mitigate the gap created due to severe cuts in youth services”.
He said: “Sport on a community level works hand in hand with youth work in terms of outreach, when it’s open access and it helps to get young people onto a more tangible journey.
“(The partnership) has created a very good landing platform for national funders, and national coalitions, to be able to connect the dots right down at the grassroots up to the national picture.”
Viveen Taylor, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Lower Socio-Economic Groups, said that while the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated “stubborn inequalities” faced by specific groups – such as disabled people, people with long-term health conditions and people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – it also represented “a moment in time to try and change the landscape”.
Afternoon sessions ran in parallel, with Sport England staff providing presentations and debates on two areas; ‘The role of community sport groups, clubs and organisations in tackling inequalities’, and ‘Strengthening safeguarding in and through sport for development’.
Summing up the event, Ollie Dudfield said: “I want to thank all those in our collective network who participated and provided such rich inputs on the day. Facilitating the collective voice of sport for development into these and other nationally significant policy and strategy development processes is an important role for the Coalition.”
Sport England has now launched a final consultation period. Register to this online platform to join the consultation and submit your input.
The SFDC is also supporting calls for wider Government support for the sector in response to the impact of Covid-19. We will work with you to make a collective submission to the recently announced Department of Culture, Media and Sport inquiry on sport in communities.