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Andy Reed

While greater activity is a worthy goal, it should not come at a cost to sport

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management Jan Feb 2017 issue 129
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Message rethink: The terms ‘sport’ and ‘exercise’ may deter people who are inactive / Evgeniia Freeman / shutterstock
Message rethink: The terms ‘sport’ and ‘exercise’ may deter people who are inactive/ Evgeniia Freeman / shutterstock

In 2016, Sport England announced it would spend £250m on tackling inactivity, with its five-year strategy, Towards an Active Nation. Kicking off in February 2017

While it’s undoubtedly important to tackle inactivity, our work at the Sports Think Tank has made it clear that many within the sports sector want a wider debate on the potential implications of this shift in emphasis.

Over the last few years, it has been agreed that the key to ensuring the ongoing viability of the NHS is to improve the public’s activity levels. Sporting bodies wanted to know, therefore, how they could secure funding from the health budget.

Due to financial pressures on the NHS, Public Health England and local government, however, it appears that Sport England is now helping to prop up the physical activity agenda through its exchequer and lottery funding. To put this into context, the NHS spends the equivalent of the combined annual Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Sport England and UK Sport budget every day.

Sport is not the answer
In tackling inactivity from a sporting perspective, we need to accept that the terms ‘sport’ and even ‘exercise’ may deter some people. I’ve been in meetings recently where the term ‘sport’ has been banned because it is regarded as ‘toxic’.

Professor Mike Weed recently made the case that sport is an ineffective intervention for the least active people. I accept this argument. The vast majority will not move from inactivity directly into a traditional sport.

In understanding this, it’s also important to remember there are many people for whom sport is a passion that keeps them healthy. There are 15 million people in the UK who regularly take part in sport. This network of 150,000 amateur clubs and 3 million volunteers makes a massive contribution to the health of the country.

A wider debate
I fully support the government’s collaborative approach to our inactivity crisis. And if resources were being allocated fairly from health, local authority and sport budgets, that would be fine. But in reality, many smaller NGBs are wondering why their already-stretched budgets are being used to subsidise the physical activity agenda.

Our challenge is to get more people active through a wide range of life changes, all the way from gardening through to elite sport. One approach is no less valid than the other and one should certainly not come at the cost of the other.

So while the Sport England budget is to be used to tackle inactivity, the reality is that these people won’t be transitioning into sport anytime soon. Nor should we expect them to. An active community is a social good and worth striving for, but should it be Sport England and the DCMS subsidising this activity when it is the NHS and other public bodies that will ultimately be the long term winners?

Andy Reed is a former MP for Loughborough and the founder of Sports Think Tank.

sportsthinktank.com

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