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A new quango?

The sports sector is waking up to the fact it’s now partly funding the fight against inactivity, with money being being diverted out of sport as a consequence. Is it time for sport and inactivity to each have their own clear mandate?

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management Jan Feb 2017 issue 129
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Liz terry
Liz terry

Sporting Future signalled Sport England’s intention to open its coffers to non-sports organisations able to increase physical activity levels. This effectively split its work between sport and the inactivity agenda.

Its inactivity interventions are being driven by Towards an Active Nation, a strategy designed to tackle sedentary behaviour and a £250m fund – most of which will go to non-sports partners. Some of this money has come from cuts to sports budgets.

It’s great the government has embraced the need to intervene on inactivity and there’s a logic to using sport as the foundation of this push against sedentary behaviour, however, as cuts kick in, the backlash begins.

Commentators such as Andy Reed (page 31) are asking if it’s reasonable for sport to shoulder so much of the burden of funding the fight against inactivity, which is so overwhelming the health service.

It’s a fair question, given the size of the NHS budget and the paucity of resources available to sport. Spread any budget too thin and it will fail to make an impact.

The new set-up could look like snakes and ladders in terms of participation numbers because governing bodies are no longer required to drive participation, as measured by the (defunct) Active People survey, so their power and motivation to do so has been reduced.

Whether any drops in participation caused by these changes can be offset by increases in activity driven by Towards an Active Nation remains to be seen.

We could sacrifice sports funding, only to see it swallowed by the insatiable inactivity monster, for which £250m over four years is a light snack.

There are clearly many challenges inherent in supporting the active and the habitually inactive via the same organisation by partly splitting budgets.

These are such different tasks, there’s an argument for leaving Sport England to focus on sport and establishing a new wellbeing body to tackle inactivity.

This new quango would concentrate on prevention, on returning deconditioned people to fitness and reducing and eliminating epigenetic health conditions.

It would have its own mandate focused on things such as ensuring children learn good exercise habits from early years to reverse the decline in the longer term and that people of all ages – including the elderly – have access to the advice and activity they need.

Active People showed us that sport isn’t for everyone and now this has been accepted and we’re splitting sport from the activity agenda, a separate quango is the next logical step in focusing our efforts on improving the health of the nation through prevention.

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