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29 Nov 2021 | 10:10

Sport’s role in helping to level up and build back not just ‘better’, but ‘fairer’ from the Covid-19 pandemic will take centre stage for the Sport for Development Coalition in 2022. 

So how did we reach this juncture? Ollie Dudfield, Executive Director of the Coalition, reviews the progress achieved over the last 12 months, and looks forward to next year, in this Thought Starter’ blog for the ‘Spotlight on the Movement’ monthly publication. 

The collective action and commitment to tackling health and societal inequalities from the 200-plus organisations across the Coalition’s UK-wide network – ranging from voluntary, community and social enterprise groups to national charities and professional club foundations – means sport can look forward to playing a key role in helping to ‘level up’ communities over the coming months, and indeed years.

Thought Starter Nov 2021

This was emphasised at the recent CEO Forum in London, when the Minister for Sport and Civil Society backed the Coalition’s call for sport to contribute to the Government’s levelling up agenda. This ‘outcome statement’ produced collectively by Forum attendees outlines the need for common frameworks and messaging; shared data and impact monitoring, and joint resource mobilisation, to ensure impetus is sustained. 

The Forum followed the Coalition’s representation to the Government’s Spending Review, which illustrated how targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions across the UK-wide network produce cost savings and multiple returns on investment, from sustaining mental health and wellbeing and increasing employability and skills, to reducing crime and anti-social behaviour. It highlighted that targeted interventions, and sport for development approaches in particular, can disproportionately deliver outcomes in areas of high deprivation and for communities most in need of levelling up. An analysis of almost 35,000 beneficiaries across leading sport for development interventions showed that 64% of participants were from the 30% most deprived areas of the country.


The past year has clearly demonstrated the commitment to these aims and to the Coalition’s ‘collective action’ by the organisations that have signed up to its Charter. More than one third are actively governing and managing the network’s collective action through its Board, sub-committees, steering groups and project teams, while almost 70% have been directly involved in Coalition activities over the year. More than 50 have signed up to the Coalition’s Collective Survey Tool and Reporting Dashboard, using common validated questions and national datasets so the sector can speak with one voice and at scale on wider social outcomes.

Every day across the network, Coalition members and their partners oversee thousands of projects and programmes intentionally using sport to generate positive social outcomes, and it is essential that Coalition groups remain geographically, culturally and thematically diverse in nature to ensure the inclusive governance of the network. The Coalition is committed to, and recognises the value of diverse governance and leadership, earlier this year undertaking a review of its own governance, supported by expert partners and concluding with the appointment of three new Board members. It’s critically important that different lived experience inputs into and leads the collective action.

Thought Starter Nov 2021 (2)

The Coalition must be guided by those voices and experiences of those who have been hit hardest the pandemic; research shows the impact of Covid-19 has been felt most acutely in those diverse communities which too often face the greatest deprivation. As we will highlight in our forthcoming publications, it is also these communities where ‘Green Book’ guidance from the UK Treasury shows there is the greatest return on investment. That’s why ‘levelling up’ is something which fundamentally needs to happen, and why Coalition members are so focused on ‘building back fairer’, not just ‘better’. 

Throughout 2022 and beyond, the Coalition will continue to share evidence from under-served communities as part of this commitment to levelling up, whether it’s showcasing the network’s collective response to Black History Month or Pride Month, shining a light on health and societal inequalities, or sharing innovation such as social prescribing or sport for development’s contribution to climate action through active travel, community action and challenging sedentary lifestyles. The network will work with sector partners from the wider sport, physical activity and leisure sectors, to share good practice and champion the benefits of sport to under-served communities and individuals. 


The 2021 survey of Coalition supporter organisations showed that 92% agree the Coalition adds value to the sport for development movement through co-ordinating collective policy advocacy, while 87% agree the Coalition adds value to the sport for development movement through facilitating collective action on monitoring, evaluation and learning; 85% agree the Coalition is a credible representative of the sport for development movement. 

In the coming months we will examine how Coalition members are aligning their collective action to specific policy priorities, with a series of papers to be published throughout 2022 which will bring together evidence and data around key outcome areas such as sport and mental wellbeing, and skills and employability and set out recommendations on maximising the contribution of targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions to  levelling up the health and societal inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

CEO Forum 1

In the meantime there are plenty of opportunities for organisations to sign up and get involved with the collective action of the Coalition. Our ‘Express of Interest’ Process closes on December 3rd so the back-end team can organise and formalise Working Groups – which range from Impact and Communications, to Policy and EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) – for the year ahead. But it will re-open for 2022 so we’re calling on organisations to continue joining the movement and accessing multiple engagements opportunities. For example, the Coalition’s annual ‘Spotlight on 2022’ Online Forum will take place on Friday 28th January (1000-1130) and in 2022 Town Hall sessions will be staged in different regions across the UK. Keep an eye our Calendar of Events, and please input those of your organisation, or share your news and announcements on our live ‘news digest’ blog and social media channels. 

This is your Coalition and, thanks to your contribution to its collective action, sport for development can make an even bigger impact on society in 2022.

Register for ‘Spotlight on 2022’ Forum on Friday 28th January (1000-1130).