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18 Dec 2020 | 14:14

The coming year will be a ‘critical time’ to maximise sport’s contribution to wider social outcomes, according to numerous experts and sector leaders who inputted into ‘Spotlight on 2021’, the Sport for Development Coalition’s End-of-year Forum.

More than 130 organisations and individuals tuned in for the online event which covered a wide array of themes and topics within 90 minutes on the afternoon of Thursday 17th December, most notably the Coalition’s core aims of advocacy, investment, impact and improved governance. Contributors from across, and beyond the sector, helped to guide the conversation which was supported by a series of online polls and Q&As.

Andy Reed, the Chair of the Coalition, opened proceedings by paying tribute to the “sheer dedication” shown by delivery organisations across the sector in incredibly difficult circumstances throughout 2020 and, when framing the Coalition’s priorities for collection action in 2021, reflected on how rebuilding and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic will take up much of the next year. “This will be a critical time to work collectively to maximise the contribution of sport to wider social outcomes,” he said.

PRIORITIES

Andy explained how other key priorities will include building on the momentum behind social justice movements working to affect structural racism, discrimination, and longstanding inequality; and building on the collective inputs of the Coalition into wider policy processes over the past months, including the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), Commons and Lords Committees reviews of sport policy – with a strong focus at community level – and the imminent publication, and implementation of the new Sport England strategy.

Ultimately however, the success of the Coalition will rest on its ability to represent and reflect the movement of organisations and individuals. Andy added: “In harnessing the impact of a joined-up sport for development community the collective approach is key.”

To complement this, Andy re-stated his commitment to strengthening the diversity of the governance and leadership of the Coalition in the coming year. The value of diverse governance, leadership and inputs into strategy development, implementation and evaluation processes was emphasised by the next two guests.

Black Lives Matter

Lauren Asquith, Chair of the Youth Sport Trust’s Youth Board, highlighted the importance of young people being empowered and given a platform to input around governance. “Less than 3% of Trustees are under 30,” she said. “Given the impact of Covid-19 on our future, it’s crucial that young people are heard within the Boardroom.”

Steve Nelson, the CEO of the West of England’s Active Partnership ‘Wesport’, described the work he has led across the national network of Active Partnerships in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Even within the Sport for Development sector, which Steve noted has “a high proportion of people engaging in it from different ethnic backgrounds”, he said these are “difficult conversations”.

“What I have taken away from my involvement over the last few months is how uncomfortable that can be at the beginning …. but actually if you persevere and you’re open and willing, and you can recognise that you have a role to play, then those uncomfortable conversations quickly move on and become challenging conversations about what difference can we make and how can we work effectively together?”

ADVOCACY

Attendees were also encouraged to support the #TellYourStory campaign which is part of the Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport initiative being driven by the home nations’ Sports Councils, and UK Sport.

Shifting the focus from governance to the next core theme of advocacy, event co-facilitator Lindsey MacDonald spoke of the need to raise public awareness and wider understanding of the outcomes delivered through community sport and Sport for Development, before introducing Dan Roan, sports editor for BBC News (pictured below), and Martha Kelner, sports news correspondent for Sky News.

The two senior journalists were asked for their opinion on why Sport for Development does not receive more media coverage compared to spectator sport, for example, and what it could do to raise more awareness through local and national media.

Spotlight on 2021 conversation

Both pointed out that, as well as informing the public, news media needed to sustain audience figures or – in the case of paid-for media – subscriptions and newspaper sales. Thus it is often ‘what sells’ which will secure coverage, for example how an activity relates to, or impacts on a ‘bad news’ story such as crime or unemployment, or the involvement of a high-profile ambassador, athlete or celebrity.

“There is this ongoing battle between public interest, and what interests the public,” Martha explained.

National or international events, such as the pandemic, might also turn the news agenda towards social outcomes such as health, social justice or inequality. Dan stated: “I can’t recall a time when grassroots, community and recreational sport has been on the news agenda so much – and as a result I think it’s closely allied to Sport for Development.”

He added: “Because of Covid, there is a new-found knowledge and new-found appreciation of the value and relevance of physical activity. There is now a consensus, I would like to think, that sport, exercise, physical activity is central to the recovery from this huge crisis. Sport is increasingly seen not seen as a nice to have – something at the weekend like recreation – but an essential service.”

OUTCOMES

Both journalists also encouraged organisations to come together around shared outcomes when lobbying for national coverage. “On a national level, it makes more sense to have a collective voice to be able to promote the message,” Martha said.

Being “sharper” with messaging, and organisations communicating their targeted outcomes, was a theme also explored by Justin King CBE, the Chair of Made By Sport (pictured below), which is a partner charity of the Coalition. It is working to bring new funding into the sector, with a particular focus on corporate and private sector income.

The vastly-experienced business leader – who was previously CEO of Sainsbury’s – advised that Sport for Development organisations needed to think more from the perspective of the funders, as opposed to being too “immersed” in their own agendas.

Justin King CBE

“It is the outcomes the businesses are seeking in the communities they serve, and the part you play in that, which become so important in engaging businesses,” he said, while also encouraging organisations to become much clearer in communicating their outcomes.

“If you look at two notable examples of funds being raised during the crisis, Captain Tom and Marcus Rashford, they both started with a very clear outcome that the community at large could deal with, key workers in the case of Tom and school meals in the case of Marcus.”

On the theme of investment, Rashida Salloo from West Yorkshire-based Ready Steady Active (pictured below) provided poignant insight on how a frontline delivery organisation has been impacted by the pandemic. “We have had to stop a lot of our provision, we have had no income coming in over the last nine months,” she explained.

SURVIVAL

Higher costs for example around PPE, more administration, venues closing and fewer people attending and participating, meant her organisation, which aims to help women from the South Asian community become more active and healthy, was on a “knife-edge” with “resources being diverted to keeping the organisation alive”.

Nicola Walker is the Chief Executive of Sported which oversees a network of 2600 community organisations, and she explained how many of the organisations “are working on shoestring budgets and most of them are run purely by volunteers….. but somehow the survival of them has never really reached the top of the agenda".

“Our role must to be to fully understand that it’s those (organisations) in the most marginalised communities that are most at risk and we as a sector must do more to make sure they are able to be resilient and survive.”

Rashida Salloo, founder of Ready Steady Active

To help with this and win more support and investment in Sport for Development, Nicola believes the sector must become “better connected”. “It’s making sure that as a voice we are heard outside the sector,” she said. “I think we often talk within our own echo chamber and I think we are all in agreement that change and development is needed.”

The Forum ended with the launch of the Coalition’s new Impact Portal, and feedback from Darcy Hare, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Evaluation, on how 2020 has changed the funding body’s approach to evaluation and learning.

“It has had to shift in line with everything else,” she said. “This year has shown the value of that more context-specific qualitative work, and really understanding how and why things are happening.”

TOGETHER

She told the Coalition that in future Sport England would be “a bit less quick to give advice and guidance, and a bit more quick to explore issues with yourselves, your members and others on this call - just to work through a problem and try to solve it together.

“Let’s identify what it is we are trying to achieve together, and really focus our efforts around that. The methods, the tools and the approaches that we use should be determined by those objectives, priorities and the ambition that we have jointly.

“There’s no single magic answer or best way of doing things, but if we focus on what is useful to us individually and collectively we should be going in the right direction.”

SFDC Impact Portal

As the Forum reached its conclusion, Sport for Development Coalition Executive Director Ollie Dudfield unveiled a new collective surveying tool and reporting dashboard, which is the first component of the Sport for Development Coalition Impact Portal.

The tool will support sport for development organisations to utilise validated questions and data points from national surveys in their monitoring, evaluating, and learning approach. It can also provide a back-end system for data analysis, management and reporting of the validated questions.

“The tool has the potential to add another dimension to our ability to understand and model out the impact of our collective efforts,” Ollie said. “This will open up new conversations with policy-makers and large charitable foundations seeking to invest at scale in social change."

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