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Andy Reed: Clear communication to government

Rather than producing endless reports that sing the praises of physical activity, we need to improve the way we present this evidence to government, says Andy Reed

Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 2
We know that physical activity is good for us, but are we convincing government? / © shutterstock/blurAZ
We know that physical activity is good for us, but are we convincing government?/ © shutterstock/blurAZ

Reports are launched regularly showing that physical activity is good for us, is cost effective and would save the nation billions. So why are so few policy makers listening to this message?

At the Sports Think Tank we receive reports, evidence, brochures and academic reports daily. But rather than producing report after report that all say the same thing, perhaps we need to work out whether they are making the right impact.

How much systematic change has actually been embedded in policy making as a result of these reports? We know the answer is not a lot. The isolated pockets of good practise remain small and insignificant. In many cases, such as in schools, we are going backwards.

A unified message
We have to remember, of course, that we are not lobbying in a vacuum. Other interests are rightly making their cases too for the limited investment available.

There is so much to be gained by unifying our message and realising that we all have a role to play in this massive task. I am afraid that too often, individual sectors believe they alone hold the solution. Can we be really honest and say there aren’t lots of different avenues to getting the nation more active?

But we continue to mix our messages. Too many still talk about sport and physical activity and obesity in the same breath. A physical activity strategy isn’t about tackling obesity – far more of that battle will be won by tackling diet and nutrition. Physical activity is a public good and ukactive has been good at making sure we focus on that.

Better evidence
We talk about saving the NHS billions, but even here I have seen so many conflicting figures – from £2bn a year to £50bn a year by 2050. Do these figures have any practical meaning to an NHS that’s struggling to get A&E patients through its doors?

We also need much smarter, deeper analysis and evidence. What counts as ‘evidence’ is all too often created in isolation compared to other investments the government could make – even if it had the money.

But just as crucially, we then need to have a consistent and long-term approach to our messaging and advocacy into government. It’s time to learn how to unify as a sector and work much harder on our collective lobbying.

Let’s stop gathering backslapping reports and concentrate on effectively changing government policy and the public attitude to physical activity. Let’s create a movement that will gain attention outside our own sector.

Andy Reed is the founder of Sports Think Tank, former MP for Loughborough, and chair of SAPCA sportsthinktank.com

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