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28 Jan 2021 | 13:13

The #AdaptSupportRespond initiative recently launched by the Sport for Development Coalition is shining a light on how the movement has been supporting communities across the country and is preparing to respond to the further challenges ahead. Here the Sport for Development Coalition’s management team explains the importance of this initiative. 

In the early weeks of the pandemic, and certainly through the first lockdown of March and April 2020, it was hard to see, or imagine an end to this global crisis. 

During that period, one in four community clubs and organisations feared for their future if they did not receive urgent financial support. 

The perilous position that many sport for development organisations faced led to grave concerns about what would happen to those individuals and communities in need that they were serving, if their support network or safety net suddenly disappeared.


“These clubs operate on a shoestring at the best of times, so they really are imperilled at the moment,” said broadcaster Adrian Chiles, in his role with the Commission on Sport and Low-Income Neighbourhoods. 

“Many of them, starved of the small amount of funding they need, are going under. It’s plainly a false economy to let them go. Without them the kids who did have somewhere to go, will have nowhere to go. 

“And that won’t end well. The costs to society further down the line, in terms of mental health issues and crime and so on, will be far greater than the paltry sums needed to keep them going.” 

The Sport for Development Coalition pledged its support for the ‘Save Our Sports’ campaign, signing a letter and petition to the Prime Minister calling for a Sports Recovery Fund.

January 2021 Thought Starter

Across the sector, concerns about the impact on physical and mental wellbeing on the wider population led to further calls for public funding to support gyms, and the leisure industry

According to research from the Office of National Statistics, personal wellbeing decreased sharply during the first lockdown compared to pre-pandemic levels, with 49.6% of people reporting ‘high’ anxiety – an increase of 28.6%. ‘Low’ happiness almost doubled to 20.7% in March 2020, compared to the end of 2019. 

Mounting pressure on policy-makers was supplemented by calls from the media with the Telegraph launching its ‘Keep Kids Active’ campaign, and the Mail and Sun also repeatedly calling for more public funding to be directed towards community sport. All grist to the mill, and all necessary pressure to keep this vital sector in the public consciousness. 

At the same time, there were avenues of financial support still available to the Coalition network from within and outside of sport.


Furthermore, it became evident that outside of these existing schemes set up to tackle the current crisis, the pressure on public resources was extensive and focused on primary health responses, employment support and other social safety nets and critical social services. 

Increasingly throughout the pandemic, it became clear that for a lot of people and communities the services and support delivered by sport for development and wider community sport sector was an important part of their social support network.  

Thus the Coalition developed its new position. The objective of the ‘Adapt, Support, Respond’ initiative sets out its policy position and evidence base that underscores sport for development as a part of the current solution and viable avenue for investment, funding and supportive policy change as we emerge from the pandemic, in particular into the 2021-22 financial year.

Thought Starter January 2021

As the third lockdown stretches out before us, with no certain timeframe or ending, the Coalition will highlight how the sport for development sector will continue to: 

  • ADAPT delivery during the lockdown, in order to 
  • SUPPORT community wellbeing and resilience through the remainder of the pandemic, and prepare the way for recovery from it. This will enable us to evidence the sector’s ability to 
  • RESPOND to the new realities and social challenges heightened by the pandemic, and become investment-ready as funders and policy-makers re-align their objectives and funding streams. 

This narrative is part of a wider position being developed that there needs to be ‘a new social contract with sport and physical activity’. That is, the responsibilities of the sector and the state in relation to sport and physical activity must change and evolve in response to the pandemic. 

On the same day that Sport England launched its new strategy, it was announced that the UK's unemployment rate had hit 5% for the first time in over four years. Official figures suggest more than 200,000 people lost their jobs in the three months to November.


Sport for development has a vital role to play in this crisis. We need organisations like Street League and Sport 4 Life UK, with their unrelenting focus on supporting unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds from the most deprived backgrounds, to step up to the plate and deliver on Sport England’s vision of “investing most in those that need it most”. 

According to its 2019-20 annual report, 40% or 1284 of young people engaged in Street League’s programmes moved into employment, education or training. Sport 4 Life report that 77% of participants progressed from its NEET service into employment. Read CEO Tom Clarke-Forrest's blog for Adapt, Support, Respond.

This focus on inequality could not be more timely. A blog published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the British Medical Journal this month described how “those with the least have suffered the most during the Covid-19 pandemic”. Unless we act, it continued, “not only will the current unequal impact of Covid-19 be felt by the poorest people in society, they will also be the last group to recover once the pandemic abates.” 

The full impact of the pandemic for those individuals and communities in the greatest need will only truly be felt over the coming months and years; the ramifications of the drop in physical activity levels amongst our children (nine per cent in the case of young people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background); the consequences for mental wellbeing and the resilience of our young people; on educational attainment and unemployment, and anti-social behaviour and crime.

SFDC blog

This week another survey of Sport for Development reported that 21% of organisations that responded indicate “a lack of confidence that they will survive the pandemic”. 

Nobody doubts we are in crisis; now it’s time to demonstrate – with hard evidence and data – Sport for Development’s effectiveness in responding, and emerging from it. 

This is why it remains vital to understand more about the ongoing situation and back this up with consistent, large-scale data about our work, and why we have contributed to the design of sector-wide survey on the impact of Covid-19 on grassroots activity. 


We understand and appreciate that some across the movement may feel ‘survey fatigue’ and are rightly wary of being asked for data and information by national or umbrella organisations. But in order for us to demonstrate the importance of our collective work at this time, we need the sport for development movement to input into this sector-wide initiative alongside those in the leisure sector, and other sports clubs without the same laser-sharp focus on delivering wider outcomes.

As such we are encouraging as many of our network as possible to complete the survey recently launched by our partners at the Sport and Recreation Alliance and the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University. Read more here.

Advocating for your work in communities the length and breadth of the country, will be the sole purpose of the Coalition throughout 2021, to policy-makers and funders; to share the sector’s collective impact on society’s biggest challenges, and to fight for investment for the future of the sector. 

Written by the Coalition's management team,

Ollie Dudfield 

Simon Lansley 

Kelly Smith