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20 Dec 2022 | 13:13

HP h&s1It’s been a remarkable year for sport in the UK – arguably the nation’s biggest sporting year since the heady days of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games 10 years ago. In this blog, the Coalition's Executive Director Hitesh Patel (left) reviews progress in 2022 and looks to the year ahead.

From the Lionesses to Levelling Up, and the Commonwealth Games to the cost-of-living crisis, throughout 2022 it’s become abundantly clear that sport and physical activity has a much bigger role to play as we seek to build a fairer, more equitable and sustainable future.

I joined the Coalition as Executive Director in April after two decades in Government, where much of my role was focused on sport’s impact at a global level – from staging the biggest sporting events to tackling doping and corruption.

Yet even on my first day with the Coalition, I was struck by the huge opportunity that lies before us. Coinciding with the annual International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, and to help launch the Coalition’s #OpenGoal campaign, I visited the Leyton Orient Trust which was delivering a HAF (Holiday Activities with Food) programme to local children in East London who are in receipt of free school meals.

Programmes like this are now being supported nationally across HAF Active – a group of Coalition member organisations who have come together to deliver the Government scheme. At the same time, this project is just one of many tackling multiple issues and inequalities through the EFL Trust which brings together the community arms of the 72 EFL football clubs across England and Wales.


These are just two intersecting networks within the Coalition’s growing UK-wide movement of more than 250 organisations and actors which collectively over-arches thousands of projects and programmes using sport to intentionally generate positive outcomes, and tackle key health, societal and environmental inequalities.

Such momentum enabled the Coalition to respond confidently to the Levelling Up white paper at the start of 2022, advocating for sport’s role as a ‘team player’ in what was being proposed by the Government. The principal outcomes highlighted by the Coalition’s #OpenGoal shared advocacy framework (shown below) supported at least eight of the white paper’s ‘Missions’ which pledged to “breathe fresh life into disadvantaged communities”.


It would be an understatement to say that it has been a tumultuous year politically and, as a result of this, we’re still awaiting the Government’s next steps on the Levelling Up agenda, or its equivalent, and other Government strategies focused on sport and health disparities. None of this, however, impacts upon the central tenet of the #OpenGoal framework; that the multiple returns on investment which sport for development offers – ranging from reduced crime to improved mental wellbeing and social cohesion – can help to generate potentially significant public cost savings at a time when they are desperately needed. Thankfully, major sports events, such as the Rugby League World Cup, with its focus on social impact and legacy, are showing how sport is really starting to understand the importance of sustainability on multiple fronts.

I pay credit to my predecessor, Ollie Dudfield, the core team of the Coalition and all the contributors to our working groups for co-designing that compelling #OpenGoal narrative over the last 18 months. Ollie left the Coalition at the start of 2022 to lead the International Olympic Committee’s Olympism 365 Strategy aimed at strengthening the role of sport globally as an enabler of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and I know he is paying close attention to the progress of #OpenGoal from the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne.


As we continue to co-design and put in place the building blocks behind our campaign, I’d also like to thank the national mental health charity Mind, and Edge Hill and Loughborough Universities for producing the ‘Moving for Mental Health’ policy brief and research report (published in January 2022) based on submissions of evidence and learning from more than 70 Coalition member organisations; and to the University of Bath for producing the ‘Active for Employment’ reports (November 2022) co-funded by London Youth, Premiership Rugby, Sports Leaders UK, StreetGames and Street League, and featuring submissions from more than 50 Coalition members. The findings and recommendations from Moving for Mental Health enabled the Coalition to respond to the DHSC Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan’s call for evidence in July; watch this space for further advocacy off the back of both these reports.

If these reports help to underpin two initial areas of the #OpenGoal framework, then in 2023 there will be a growing focus on the other outcomes. For example, the Coalition is currently working with two of its leading networks – StreetGames and the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice – to manage and disseminate the £5million Youth Sport Justice Fund from the Ministry of Justice. Over the next few months, the Fund will support more than 200 voluntary and community sports organisations across England and Wales to carry out targeted work supporting children and young people who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system. This demonstrates how, along with the ‘impact’ and ‘advocacy’ elements of its strategy, the Coalition is now starting to deliver on its third core aim of ‘investment’.

The Coalition commissioned two policy reports during 2022.

In the #OpenGoal area of ‘Closing the gap in education and development’, the Coalition will continue to be guided by key members such as Youth Sport Trust, whose CEO Ali Oliver, speaking in response to the latest data from Sport England on children’s activity levels, warned this week: “Whilst we are now clearer than ever on the linkages between an active life and positive mental health outcomes, we are yet to see society fully capitalise on these benefits and the focus of investment remains on cure rather than prevention”.

Ali is a long-serving Board member of the Coalition, and she and other leading voices in the sector continue to go above and beyond to guide and sustain its ‘collective action’. Youth Sport Trust and the Coalition also sit on the National Sector Partners Group which came together this year to publish the ‘Unlocking the Potential’ report. The Group – which also includes Active Partnerships, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA), the Local Government Association (LGA), the Sport and Recreation Alliance and ukactive – recently met with Sports Minister Stuart Andrew, a strong advocate of tackling inequalities in society. It was heartening to hear he is keen to focus on the wider societal benefits that sport and physical activity can generate.


Throughout 2023 and beyond, we’ll be encouraging more members from ‘outside’ of sport to join the Coalition and utilise its increasing connectivity and scale. I recently chaired a panel at the Belong Network’s national conference in Manchester, and we will be working with them and other networks to focus on the ‘Stronger communities and social cohesion’ aspect of #OpenGoal. If you haven’t already, please check out Belong’s Power of Sport toolkit.

Last but by no means least, there are two cross-cutting elements of #OpenGoal focused on tackling inequalities and increasing environmental sustainability. A year ago David Gent, CEO of Active Humber, spoke eloquently during one of the Coalition’s ‘Town Hall’ sessions on how tackling inequalities is at the heart of sport for development’s contribution to climate action, and I’m pleased to report that he will be helping to lead the Coalition’s activity in this area throughout 2023. After all, this is a coalition committed to sustainable development in all its forms.

Addressing the UK SDN annual conference at Leeds Beckett University in September.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Coalition’s key partners: Sport England, Comic Relief and Laureus Sport for Good. They have been extremely supportive since initially coming together to fund the Coalition in 2018, with System Partner funding from Sport England confirmed for the next five years. I’d also like to thank Kelly Smith for her fantastic work around impact and engagement for the Coalition over the last two years. Kelly recently joined Access Sport, and the core team is excited to welcome her successor, Amy Caterson, who joins from Sport Wales. We'll be using the first quarter of 2023 – including our next Board meeting on February 1 – to review the Coalition's performance and infrastructure, in order to maximise impact moving into the second year of the #OpenGoal framework.

There’s lots more to come from the Coalition in 2023 and beyond, so please consider signing the Charter and joining the Movement. Whether it’s submitting evidence to influence or inform policy-makers, attending one of our Town Hall sessions, or even just simply spreading the word about sport for development… it’s time we came together to unlock the potential of sport and physical activity in helping to build a better future. It really is an #OpenGoal.