In the first of a regular series of articles from thought-leaders and stakeholders across the Movement, Ollie Dudfield – the Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition – considers the balance required in these challenging times between the sector seeking external help, and it coming together to help itself through collaboration.
The steep upward trajectory of Coronavirus cases over the past weeks made the recently announced national restrictions in England inevitable. Even so the limitations placed on community sport as part of this second lockdown will only intensify the challenges faced across a sector already reeling from the effects of the pandemic. Decisive action is therefore required to support the sector. But from who?
The Sport for Development Coalition’s July report on the Impact of Covid-19 on the Sport for Development Sector painted an early picture of the effects of the pandemic on funding, delivery models and the ongoing engagement of programme participants. Although it received less attention, the report also noted that the pandemic had been a trigger for improved collaboration within the sector and enhanced flexibility from many of our partners and funders. In the face of this new lockdown these findings are particularly instructive.
The Coalition responded to the recent lockdown announcement by warning of the costs to society ‘down the line’ if community sport and sport for development organisations are not sustained through this period. To do so the sector will require further ring-fenced Government support, building on the £220million made available by Sport England in response to the pandemic and £100million to support local leisure centres.
But collaboration, collective action and co-creation within the sector will also be critical. The recent inputs of our Coalition into the Sport England strategy development process underscored the value of such collaboration across the breadth of the sector. A key theme was the potential (and need) for further emphasis and strategic investment in the broader outcomes the sector can deliver. There was strong consensus that more could be done to position sport-focused investment as a catalyst for wider investment in the impact the sector can deliver.
Inactivity levels rose by 7.4% over the first three months of the pandemic, this despite evidence of the preventative benefits of being active may even help directly combat the effects of COVID-19. But unemployment is also rising, so too are domestic violence levels and reports of social isolation. There is an impending youth job crisis and the number of people facing severe financial hardship is growing.
In this context, a balance must be struck between the support the wider community sport and physical activity sector can expect for ‘preserving the status quo’, versus investment in the contributions the sector can make to tackling these and other issues. Enhanced collaboration, co-creation and collective action is therefore essential at this juncture. This is the route to deliver contributions at scale, that deliver multiple returns including, but extending beyond, increased activity levels.
There are a number of pre and post Covid-19 examples of varying size and scale that can be drawn on, for example:
- The collective engagement of the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice network leading to a commitment from the Youth Justice Board’s to support the implementation of the Levelling the Playing Field Project and a £1.8million commitment from Government to enhance physical activity and educational opportunities in the criminal justice system, including through sport-based projects and community partnerships.
- The School Sport Sector Summit, overseen by Youth Sport Trust, that co-ordinates the input and collective voice of 45 organisations in support of the effective delivery of the School Sport & Activity Action Plan in the context of the Government’s £320million per year PE and Sport Premium, and recent announcement to provide £29million per year by 2023-24 to support primary school PE teaching and help schools make best use of their sports facilities.
- The unique collaboration between the Belong Network, Good Faith Partnership, Spirit of 2012 and leaders in our sector including StreetGames, London Sport, EFL Trust, Youth Sport Trust and Sporting Equals on the ‘Power of Sport’ initiative.
- The combined efforts of the sector that led to the ring-fencing of £100 million to support local authority leisure centres as part of the Government’s additional £1billion winter support package for councils.
Sport for development approaches will need to be at the vanguard of these type of responses from the wider community sport and physical sector. Balancing our ‘external ask’ with stepping up our ‘internal collaboration’ and, in turn, the scale of our contribution to the wider societal response must define our decisive action during the next phase of the pandemic. This approach will be the focus for the Coalition back-end team over the next months.