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Jennie Price: On the challenges and opportunities of the government’s first sports strategy in a decade

Sport England’s CEO talks to Sports Management about the challenges and opportunities opened up by the government’s first sports strategy in a decade

by Matthew Campelli | Published in Sports Management 08 Feb 2016 issue 113
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Price will lead Sport England into an era of change
Price will lead Sport England into an era of change

Sport England, it’s safe to say, is gearing up for a busy 2016. Those who’ve had the time and desire to read through the government’s new 10-year sports strategy, Sporting Future, will have realised that the quango will be responsible for knitting together many of the threads highlighted in the document. Indeed, its name is mentioned 90 times across the report’s 82 pages.

Sport England’s new remit – which has been significantly expanded – includes developing and implementing a broader equivalent to its Active People Survey, overseeing the out-of-school physical activity of the over-5s, working with Public Health England (PHE) to raise awareness of underrepresented groups and developing a new coaching plan, among other things.

Speaking to Sports Management days after the strategy was published, chief executive, Jennie Price, is a picture of calm. Charming, and focused, she talks about the “opportunities” the document presents, rather than focusing on unmanageable workflows or lack of funds.

“The government went through a real mind-clearing process and said: ‘OK, if we’re starting from scratch what do we want? Why does the government put any public money into sport at all?’” she says.

“Having a national commitment to activity and the remit being beyond sport is where this strategy’s going,” she says, conceding that doing more with roughly the same budget will be a “challenge”.

Sport England has been allocated a £1.4bn (US$2bn, €1.8bn) budget for the duration of this parliament – a number which is flat on the previous five years – and Price points out the importance of “spending it well” and “thinking intelligently about the balances and trade-offs”.

“The first thing to say is that the money remaining the same in this climate is a big win for sport and physical activity,” she enthuses. “The fact that sporting bodies are having their public investment protected is very significant and it’s a big responsibility; we have to take it seriously at a time when many public services are having their funding reduced.”

That said, the strategy makes a point of blurring the line between sport and physical activity to remove “unhelpful, outdated and irrelevant” distinctions, meaning the number of organisations Sport England could fund has multiplied. As long as they demonstrate a “meaningful and measurable impact in improving people’s lives” – not only from a physical point of view, but also from a mental and social perspective, organisations can apply for and potentially be granted funding. 

In addition, Price indicates that for the first time, privately-owned companies may be allowed to apply for finance if the government relaxes the relevant laws, potentially putting the funding of traditional sports governing bodies at risk.

“Inevitably where funding is concerned there will be some winners and losers, but you’re not a winner and loser because of the type of organisation you represent,” she says. “It will all be about delivery.”

Delivery will equate to meeting key targets as defined in Sporting Future, not only in relation to participation, but also when it comes to the effect they have on health, society, mental wellbeing and personal development. While the targets for the latter three are still to be thrashed out, health impacts will be measured against the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) existing physical activity guidelines.

Sport England and Public Health England will work together to get the message to the public about the connection between being active and being healthy. This change comes as part of the government’s work to harness sport and activity as preventative measures to ease the burden on the NHS.

“Health and sport have been brought together for the first time,” says Price. “We’re on a good road with Public Health England; it has its Change for Life campaign, we have This Girl Can. We’re both publicly-funded bodies that are communicating to the public in compelling ways.”

This Girl Can – she explains – is a “good example of sustainable investment” which has created a different way of talking about women in sport. “It repositioned activity in many people’s eyes, as well as delivering a critical shift in the number of women playing sport,” says Price.

The latest Active People Survey showed 148,700 more women were active at least once a week in the six months between April and October 2015, while 2.8m women have been encouraged to exercise more since This Girl Can launched in January 2015.

Next up for Price is targeting other underrepresented groups such as disabled, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as keeping an eye on participation among young children.

Being “physically literate” is crucial for those in younger age brackets, says Price, after she reveals that Sport England is doing a “very rapid review” of insight into activity for children aged 5-11 years.

“Although our previous remit was 14+ we’ve done a lot of work with younger children in secondary schools,” she explains. “Our new responsibility is for the 5-11s, and all evidence shows that at that age the most important things are movement and the basic skills of running, balance, throwing and making sure they’re comfortable within their own body.”

A mix of environments, including the winning and losing dynamic of team sports and unstructured activity will be encouraged, as Sport England supplies the funding to inspire a generation of youngsters to become, and remain, active.

Price concludes: “What we owe children is the opportunity to develop basic skills, make the most of their abilities and develop a love of sport. If we can achieve that, it will make a massive difference.”

Twitter: @matthewcampelli

Moving from Active People to the Active Lives survey

Sport England’s new data collection method, Active Lives, will measure the activity of people taking part in activities such as cycling, walking and dancing, as well as traditional sports. It will be rolled out alongside the last-ever Active People Survey this year.

Price says the new survey will take a snapshot of people’s activity for the past 28 days, as well as the past 12 months to “paint a more rounded picture” if they drop off for a particular reason during the year as they vary their routine.

“Our modern habits are much more varied,” she says. “We want to be able to do something competitive for three months, then go and do yoga for six months, then go and run a marathon.”

Jennie Price on…

Sports minister Tracey Crouch:
“Sporting Future is very much her vision – it wouldn’t have happened without her drive.”

Measuring mental health impacts:
“We’re going to have to understand how what we do contributes very specifically to mental health.

There will be loads of activities which improve mental health, but if you’re a child being yelled at during a football or netball match that won’t really help.”

Using insight to make funding decisions:
“For any major strategic investment we need a strong evidence base. What’s needed and how the programme will respond to customer demand – that’s the starting point for grant funding now.”

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