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20 Dec 2020 | 15:15

In this article our Board members Lindsey MacDonald and Ben Hilton, who co-facilitated the Sport for Development Coalition’s ‘Spotlight on 2021’ End-of-year Forum on December 17th, review the event, its purpose and draw some immediate conclusions. We will continue to review inputs and data received as part of the live polls and Q&As during the Forum. To add your input, please contact [email protected].

Lindsey MacDonald and Ben Hilton

The purpose of the ‘Spotlight on 2021’ online forum was to connect the community that works to maximise the positive contribution that sport and physical activity can make in communities across the UK, reflect on a challenging 2020, and look forward to the year ahead. 

It proved to be a very worthwhile opportunity for us, as a community, to take stock of our learning from the last year and frame our priorities for collective action in 2021; specifically on measuring our impact at scale, advocating for an enabling policy environment, unlocking investment and challenging ourselves to ensure we have robust, inclusive and diverse leadership and governance across our community. 

Leaders and innovators from across our movement, and beyond, joined the conversation. But most importantly, the virtual discussions and live polls gave us a real insight into the collective priorities for 2021 of many of the 200 people and organisations that registered for the Forum. We are collecting the data received during and after the event and it will be used to re-calibrate the Coalition’s mission and direction. 


Through the Forum, we took the opportunity to examine our core aims of advocacy, impact and investment. With the first of those in mind, a particular highlight of the event was the insight and expertise providing by Dan Roan, BBC News sports editor, and Sky News correspondent Martha Kelner. 

Public awareness and wider understanding of the outcomes delivered through community sport and Sport for Development are central to achieving our vision. It is essential that our message is broadcast beyond our own community and it was a real fillip to get the input of two such well-regarded, experienced and high-profile journalists on how we, both as individual organisations and as a collective, can achieve more media coverage for the wider social outcomes of sport. It also underscored how important it is for our network to reach out and engage beyond our own sector. There is often a danger of us focusing on discussion and debate amongst ourselves, and hearing the perspectives of Dan and Martha again emphasised the importance of engaging a wider perspective of sport and development. 

Martha and Dan are passionate advocates for the social impact of sport, and we look forward to supporting them throughout 2021 when sourcing case stories from across the sector and, more importantly, through our collective engagement so as to speak more broadly to policy -makers and national stakeholders. It was especially noticeable that both of them emphasised the importance of organisations with shared outcomes speaking with one voice in order to amplify their cause. 


That ability to be able to clearly articulate our offer to non-sport stakeholders, and have a much stronger focus on non-sport outcomes, was a theme underscored by Justin King CBE, the Chair of our partners Made By Sport, who discussed the shift in the business community towards purpose. He also called on our network to think beyond its own bubble, and for organisations to consider the role they will play in the contributing to the outcomes corporate supporters are seeking to invest in when pitching or calling for funding. Justin spoke candidly on why fulfilling a need for them is why they will consider extensive partnerships. This outcome-focused approach will be even more crucial given projections by the Office of Budget Responsibility that GDP will shrink by 11.3% this year due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Justin cited the examples of Captain Tom and Marcus Rashford from 2020 as prime examples of being clear about articulating your outcomes when seeking support and influence. 

On our third core aim of impact, Sport England’s Strategic Lead for Evaluation, Darcy Hare, spoke about how 2020 has demonstrated the need for more “context-specific qualitative work” and really understanding how and why things happen, as opposed to funders rushing to issue advice and guidance.


While considering this, and how best to drill down on the issues and impacts within our communities so we can speak more efficiently and effectively to potential partners and supporters, we took the opportunity to launch the Coalition’s new collective surveying tool and reporting dashboard, which has been created in partnership with State of Life. We are particularly grateful for the support of StreetGames who have spearheaded this initiative. 

This ‘impact portal’ has been co-created by more than 20 organisations working alongside our partners at State of Life and will help Coalition supporters to better understand the association, and potentially the contribution, of an intervention to standardised national indicators on health and wellbeing, individual, and community development. 

This will enable us to begin to speak as a collective, as Dan, Martha and Justin reminded us that we need to. In 2021 and beyond, it will be critical for us articulate a clear offer of the contribution that sport and physical activity approaches - with particular characteristics and that are intentional planned - can make to achieving wider outcomes. 

We know this offer will need to be made increasingly to non-sport stakeholders and in relation to non-sport outcomes, and we can no longer afford to assume that people know what we are talking about when we discuss ‘sport for development’. As Justin advised, one of the challenges with this sector is that we become “immersed in the certainty, belief and passion that you are doing worthwhile work. You are, but not everybody is going to see that worthwhileness through the same lens as you”. 


The Forum also provided an opportunity for our Chair, Andy Reed, to re-state the commitment of our Board to strengthen the diversity of the governance and leadership of our collective action as a Sport for Development community.  

Removing barriers is core to the vision of the Coalition. This aspiration set out in the strategic and governance documents guiding the collective action at the heart of the Coalition is that, “every person in the UK recognises the valuable contribution sport can make to changing lives and can access it without barriers”. To achieve this, eliminating barriers to ensuing diverse and inclusive governance, leadership, volunteering and participation in Sport for Development is fundamental. It also requires strengthened approaches to measuring impact, advocacy to create an enabling policy environment, and new investment in the sector. 

Linked to this aspiration the Coalition is actively supporting the #TellYourStory campaign that is asking people from ethnically diverse communities to share their knowledge and understanding of accessing, being involved in, or being excluded from sport. The campaign is part of the Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport initiative being driven by the five Sports Councils. Visit for further information.  

Our collective mission as a Coalition of more than 160 organisations is to maximise and scale the contribution sport and physical activity can make to improving lives, strengthening communities and supporting positive societal change. The challenges faced in 2020 mean that working collectively to achieve this mission has never been more important, and will be our collective focus in the upcoming year.