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Andy Reed: What’s the BIG sport policy idea?

The radical idea of Universal Basic Income continues to spark ongoing debate amongst social policy makers. Is there an equivalent idea that can shake up sports policy, asks Andy Reed?

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 2
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The crisis of inactivity is killing us – what will our ambitious policy idea be to change this? / © shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
The crisis of inactivity is killing us – what will our ambitious policy idea be to change this?/ © shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

In a recent Twitter exchange I was challenged by a simple question from Nick Pontefract, the COO at Sport England and formerly of DCMS. What is our big policy idea in sport?

He cited areas like social benefits, where the big policy idea is universal basic income (UBI). While not universally accepted by policy makers, the UBI has certainly created vast interest in recent years and is being trialled internationally to deal with massive societal challenges.

There are many immediate challenges that demand the attention of the government. We are all aware that Brexit has taken up much of the government’s time for the last three years and will continue to do so for several more years to come. Austerity has also taken its toll during the last decade and so we seem to spend our time as a sector hanging on the status quo and making some marginal wins. Is it time to think completely differently about our approach? Time to be bolder?

Time for change
The challenge for our industry is to find big ideas, as robust and radical as the UBI.

We all know that lack of physical activity is killing us and this will get worse over the next decade unless radical and lasting change is made.

The right direction
Both ukactive and The Sport & Recreation Alliance have some good flagship policies – community wellness hubs and the Right To Be Active ultimatum, respectively. And recently sector leaders have been asking for the opening of our schools during the summer holidays. But in comparison to the scale of the problem these feel like short-term, small adjustments.

The government’s next Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will still be very tough for non-statutory services and for those outside the protected spending departments like Heath, Education Defence and International Development. But already UK Sport has put on record an ambitious plan to suggest it would need to double the £500m to around £1bn spent on the Olympic cycle to get Team GB heading the medals table by the mid-2020s and hosting a future Olympics. This won’t be universally supported across the sector – and quite rightly so. It’s not my priority despite being involved in establishing this programme in the build up to the 2012 Olympics. But it is clear and ambitious.

So often we put out the challenge for policy ideas at the Sports Think Tank and most responses are micro changes.

The recent climate change protests showed there are big moments when society and politics catch up with each other, resulting in seismic shifts in policy. Getting a nation active will require massive effort and we still have little evidence of system change working at a population level – but is that because we have been too timid in our ambition?

Potential ideas
The crisis in inactivity is literally killing us – so we need to be bold and ambitious. Can we work together to create a universal offering on physical activity? Perhaps a legal duty to reduce inactivity or a universal credit for every citizen to use in creating their own active lives? Maybe a fundamental rethink of planning and transportation legislation to put physical activity, rather than cars, at the heart of the planning system.

It’s time for some greater collaboration to create our own version of the UBI. Let’s think big and ask government to wake up to the size of the crisis that faces us.

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

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