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Event report: SAPCA Annual Conference 2016

Success, excellence and knowledge were the focus of this year’s event, says Tom Walker

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 22 feb 2016 issue 114
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More than 200 delegates attended the conference at Chesford Grange in Warwick
More than 200 delegates attended the conference at Chesford Grange in Warwick

The annual Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA) Conference – held at the Chesford Grange Hotel in Warwickshire earlier this month – featured a busy programme of keynote talks, seminars and workshops. Under the banner of “success, excellence and knowledge”, the sessions covered themes focusing on customer service and exporting.

STRATEGIC MEASURES
The government’s new sports strategy was high on the agenda in conference talks and networking breaks. Many delegates said they were encouraged by the strategy identifying artificial pitches as part of the solution to providing all-year participation in sports such as football and rugby. The realignment of Sport England’s responsibilities to include children as young as five was also well received among SAPCA members.

Former Loughborough MP and founder of the Sports Think Tank, Andy Reed, offered his political insight into the strategy. “Normally change happens incrementally, but this strategy represents huge sea change in government stance,” he said.

Reed added that, as well as ripping up the previous strategy and “starting again” when it came to increasing participation, the government had recognised the value of harnessing sport for creating commercial opportunities. “One of the key takeaways in the strategy is the newly found focus on soft power – how industries can and should be using the power of sport for UK PLC,” he said.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
A significant source of that soft power in recent years were the London 2012 Olympic Games. The conference’s keynote speaker, Linda Moir – who, as LOCOG’s head of event services was responsible for successfully hosting 9.5 million spectators during London 2012 – was able to offer delegates her insight into customer service and major events planning.

Describing the success of the Games Makers – the volunteer force credited with the smooth running of the Olympic Park and its surroundings – Moir said: “There was huge interest from people to get involved on a volunteer basis. We had 1.2 million people apply for 60,000 London 2012 Games Makers roles. That was a very nice problem to have and allowed us to pick people for roles which complemented their strengths.

“Through a three-year programme of engagement, Games Makers became one of the most iconic and memorable symbols of the Games. I believe they left a lasting legacy too – you only have to look at how Glasgow 2014 and the Clydesiders were influenced by what we did at London.”

Following Moir’s address, Andrew Bacchus of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) gave delegates a snapshot of current and future exporting opportunities, as well as offering tips on how to do business abroad. Bacchus said UKTI was “evolving its focus” slightly away from exporting goods and services to major sporting events like the Olympics, looking at “major scale sporting infrastructure projects not driven by an event” and “wider sports development opportunities”.

He earmarked the Indian football Superleague – the fourth highest-attended football league in the world – and the growing Chinese market as areas of opportunity for SAPCA members to export goods, services and knowledge-share operations.

“The Chinese have aspirations of hosting and winning the football World Cup within 30 years and are ploughing investment into grassroots, coaching and facilities,” said Bacchus. “There’s real transformation in the Chinese football market.”

GOING IT ALONE
During the day, it was also revealed that SAPCA may begin to offer individual membership for the first time as it bids to extend its educational programme. CEO Chris Trickey told delegates the board was “taking very seriously” the idea of creating a “new section of membership”.

“What we want to do is to refine corporate memberships and to have an individual membership structure that really recognises the expertise and professional standing and knowledge of the experts in our industry,” Trickey said. “It will have fantastic advantages, not least with helping us connect very directly with individuals across the industry.”

• SAPCA is the UK trade association for the sports facility construction industry and represents businesses across the sports, physical activity, recreation and play sectors.

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