A new strategy for Sport – A consultation

Today, Tracey Crouch along with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have released their consultation document for a new strategy for sport. This doesn’t happen very often. The last broad strategy for sport, ‘Game Plan’,  was released 13 years ago.  If you have a vested interest in movement, physical activity, health and wellbeing, Physical Education and of course Sport you should share your thoughts and opinions. They matter. In fact I would urge you, rather than read the rest of this post, you respond to the consultation document now: A new strategy for Sport – A consultation.

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3 years ago today we had ‘Super Saturday’. It was the Golden Moment of the 2012 Olympics in London and was the highlight of a of plethora of memorable moments that would help leave a legacy and inspire a generation. Today, after the expense of £9.6 Billion, has the Olympics had the impact on levels of participation and physical activity it was supposed to? In the build up participation levels increased to a record 16 million, but since the Olympics over 400,000 people have walked away from  sport.

Is the focus on the promotion of sport, competing on the world stage, winning medals and hosting world class events going to meet the following aim of the government:

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The promotion of sport over physical activity I think is one that needs to be addressed. I have spent my whole life involved in sport. Playing, coaching, teaching, officiating and watching. I understand and have personally witnessed the many benefits it brings; physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. However my current understanding of sport and it’s definition of being a ‘competitive physical activity’, which is shared by others, is one that puts off a number of people engaging in a physically active lifestyle. Perhaps it is my understanding of sport that is outdated, but there is a misconception of its terminology and its use that needs to be clarified. It is because of my personal definition that I feel sport is a luxury compared to moving and being physically active which is a necessity in promoting a fulfilling and healthy life.

The message from the government needs to be clearer. Kelvin Giles talks about moving frequently, moving efficiently and moving consistently. That there is inherent value in that and it opens up vast opportunities of different physical activities. Katy Bowman talks about moving your DNA and ensuring you have a healthy and well balanced diet of movement in your life. Len Almond talks not of a commitment to physical activity but to a pursuit that is seen as purposeful, rewarding and enriches lives and is an integral part of the way we live. Again focusing on the inherent joy of an activity, not just a means to an end of improving fitness or an economic benefit to the country. These are messages that I can get behind if the government decided to promote them. Not previous messages of increasing adult sports participation, getting state school pupils to win more gold medals or excellence in sport. Involvement in a physically active lifestyle shouldn’t feel like going an extra mile, it should be part of our societies culture.

Culture then is what needs to be challenge and changed. That we need to develop a cultural worth in moving and being active as well as sport. Dr. Martin Toms is investigating whether ‘sport needs to be explored from a Bio-Psycho-Social perspective and that we need a holistic view of sport to better understand that development’. Furthermore he believes that sport can only exist in a social context. If this is true then perhaps this is the case for all forms of physical activity, not just of sport? In his excellent interview on Sports Coach Radio, he discusses the idea and benefits of a traditional community sports club, which we are beginning to lose in the UK. Dr. Toms highlights the work of the GAA in Ireland, which promotes sport on a local level, where the community have ownership and social and cultural capital for everyone who is engaged.

The idea of a cultural worth of moving and being physically active is a powerful one. The use of schools within their local community is one way of moving back to this. That all schools sports facilities are open in the evening to the public in the immediate vicinity. That funding is directed to modernise schools infrastructure so they could offer a range of activities and sports to the communities which they serve. That pitches are well maintained and floodlight so they can be used all year round for school and local clubs. That changing rooms and club houses are either built or improved to accommodate the public. That cycling paths are made to and from the school that are safe at all times of the day or night. Schools have closed their gates to the communities they once served should be opened up again and be put to good use. Another area of community that needs to be reclaimed is park and green space. This needs to be expanded, made open, safe and accessible with cycle route for all to use. With areas for different physical activities open to the public, all day and all year round. I see so many parks empty and unused, especially in the winter. Getting the population back into them and using them must be a priority.

Tracey Crouch and the current government have the chance to produce a long term strategy that benefits the whole nation, not just elite sports, the businesses involved in the industry of sport and the current political party in power. To ensure this they need to engage with the public they serve, not just those with power and influence. This requires a shared and unified cross-party, cross-department and cross-agency long term plan that focuses on delivering a consistent message about the inherent value of all forms of physical activity, not just the promotion of sport. That improves the infrastructure and accessibility for access of all forms of physical activity, especially at grass roots and mass participation level. I would hope this might have the knock on effect of increasing the pool of elite athletes in this country, but if not, I think the health, wellbeing and the happiness of the country is far more deserving of the time, effort, money and resources that are currently available. Getting everyone moving and engaged in purposeful physical activity, whether in sport or not, would be a genuine legacy.

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