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Column: Andy Reed: New strategies – new challenges

Sports Think Tank founder and former MP Andy Reed looks at Sport England’s new strategy document – published in the wake of the government’s Sporting Future strategy

Published in Sports Management 30 May 2016 issue 121
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Andy Reed
Andy Reed

When we first established the Sports Think Tank it was seen predominantly as a translation service for academic and evidence-based policy work to find its way into Westminster and Whitehall in order to create good sport policy.

As we’ve toured the country at conferences and events, however, it has become increasingly evident that sometimes there needs to be translation between Westminster and grassroots.

MISSED MESSAGES
I was recently struck at a conference of sports people, who had come to learn about the government’s new Sporting Future strategy, that less than a third of the 120 people I was speaking to had actually read the document. Given that most in the room would be affected by the investment decisions being made by Sport England as a consequence, I was slightly surprised.

There are many areas to pick up over the coming months in the massive change in direction in the Sport England strategy, but these were all obvious from the original DCMS Sporting Future document. In another meeting an NGB CEO told me he would be busy in the summer writing their next ‘Whole Sport Plan’. This was from somebody who had actually read the strategy. Clearly the language of change was not as clear as we thought.

In particular, I wonder whether we understand just how different the skill sets required in the sector will be. It can’t all be about sporty types and programmes for our new target consumers.

COMBINED EFFORTS
I used to work in a local authority recreation and arts department which was located next to the community development team. Ironically these teams – long gone I suspect from most local authorities – would be ideally placed to co-create the activity programmes of many of the communities identified in Sporting Futures as the target of increased investment and resources.

While there is some welcome news about trying to maintain the existing nature of our sports and exercise sector, we know increased investment will be going into new place-based projects outside our normal delivery routes. We need to get used to this.

The key to the strategies – both DCMS and Sport England – is about genuine collaboration. You will hear me return to this theme time and time again.

As an individual – and through the Think Tank – we are ‘delivery neutral’, ie, we support initiatives which are backed up by evidence of effectiveness.

However, to external stakeholders the sports sector doesn’t come across as particularly united and that matters. It frustrates me that some of this is still going on. Lack of unity always weakened our government lobby as a sector.

CONSUMER SATISFACTION
If the new sports strategy is genuinely focussed on a consumer approach, its quality and delivery will be decided from the consumer’s perspective in very different communities and settings – not the traditional bodies good at filling in application forms for the lottery or grants.

At recent StreetGames and Sported presentations, I was struck about the ‘roaming distances’ of disengaged young people on some of the most deprived estates in the UK – apparently it’s usually less than a few hundred metres from their community. We forget this at our peril.

Framing the strategy by listening and acting on the desires of those who are currently disengaged will tip our models upside down and will be uncomfortable for many in sport. That is absolutely fine. Stick to running good sports teams and clubs. This is still necessary and very desirable. But don’t chase the new investment for the sake of it. There are some tough choices ahead.

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