Can the UK be the world’s most active country by 2030?

Sportside was thrilled  to see the formation of a new parliamentary group last week – the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee. It has been challenged by the Government to make the UK the world’s most active country by 2030.

It may be a daunting ambition – but one we believe our nation is capable of achieving. And a wonderful project to embark on after such a dreadful year that has had such a devastating impact on sport.

The committee’s brief is all part of a new plan to rebuild grassroots sport in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Baroness Grey-Thompson, the Paralympic legend, Baroness Brady, the West Ham United vice-chairman and former sport minister Lord Moynihan are a part of the group and their impact should be felt as sport regroups next year.

Dr Chris Mackintosh, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, is also a special advisor to the committee having completed a study of the impact of the pandemic on recreational sport in the UK earlier this year.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph he said that coronavirus had “shaped existing and future sport, exercise and community sport provision and participation in England probably in a way not seen since World War Two”.

Dr Mackintosh’s research, published by Manchester Metropolitan University, concentrated on the more socially deprived areas and parts of the country which were among the hardest hit by Covid-19, and revealed stories of incredible flexibility and what he described as an “almost war-time” volunteering spirit.

It is this volunteering spirit that we at Sportside are so encouraged to read about because of the way it supports our Community Captains programme, earmarking outstanding contributors to local areas who can encourage others to get outside, connect and play.

Lord Willis, who is chairing the National Plan committee, told the Daily Telegraph how he was urging people in recreational sport to now engage with his committee. “One of the themes of our inquiry will be how community sport and recreation can rebound from the crisis and play a key role in supporting more people to live more active lifestyles,” he said.

The most worrying areas of Dr Macintosh’s report, however, showed how large numbers of people in this country were unable to get online to read valuable information on how to exercise and what is available.

It highlighted one instance where an activity earmarked for 500 children only saw around 200 taking part because of a “digital gap”.

“We should not forget that privilege is inbuilt into our sport system, if transport, joining fees and equipment were the ‘old money’ luxuries of participation, then maybe digital technology is the latest platform of exclusion,” said one respondent in his survey.

While Sportside is a digital product, its mission is to enable all sections of society to meet their match to play sport. And Community Captains can play a large role in making this happen.  

“The social function of community and grass-roots sports is one of the main reasons people take part, so removing this from people’s life is what people have found ­hardest,” said Dr Mackintosh.

“This serves as a stark reminder that we must take action to improve the physical and mental health of the country – particularly our young people, who seem to have been hit the hardest.”

Sport England statistics show that the number of adults in England doing the recommended 150 minutes or more of physical activity each week fell during the first lockdown from mid-March to mid-May by 7.1 per cent. And, since the pandemic began, the proportion of adults reporting they had done 30 minutes or more of physical activity across five or more days per week has fallen to 24 per cent.

But the formation of the National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee does offer hope. Huw Edwards, the chief executive of ukactive, has compared the committee with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme rolled out by the Government earlier this year and says he believes the leisure industry now has a great opportunity to save itself financially while incentivising physical activity.

“Before the pandemic, there were also green shoots of success around the nation’s overall activity levels,” he told The Telegraph. “What I think is needed now is a brand new vision and strategy. Now is the chance to set a bolder vision to make ourselves the most active nation in the world.”

The committee has also asked Andy Reed OBE, the Sports Think Tank director, and Lisa Wainwright, the CEO of the Sports and Recreation Alliance, to come on board and share their views.

One of the committee’s central aims is to examine the success of the Government’s 2015 strategy on sport, Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation.

The five priorities of that plan were:

  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Individual development
  • Social and community development
  • Economic development

and the new committee will analyse how successful the government has been in delivering on them.

“In 2015 the Government launched its Sporting Future strategy, which followed a long period where we saw significant investment in sport, after the introduction of National Lottery funding and the 2012 Olympics,” Lord Willis said.

“However, we have also seen stagnant physical activity rates and changes in the way people keep active.

“The time has come to ask whether the Government has the right priorities for helping more people to live active lives. Our inquiry will only be as strong as the evidence we get and I would encourage anyone with an interest in these issues to give us their views.

“We would love to hear from people delivering sports and recreation at the grassroots to understand what help they need to get more people active.”

Reed noted that the strategy has had an impact, but that whole system change will take time.

“We’re looking at a nation that has designed physical activity out of its system over a 30- to 40-year period,” he said. “What Sporting Future has done is change the emphasis from counting participation in sport – mainly through the Active People Survey – and shifted the focus to the wider measure of activity, which I think we can all agree is the right one.

“While shifting everything takes time, it’s clear that organisations have now recognised that their role has to change.

“They are part of a whole system change, creating an ecosystem at a local level which builds physical activity back into people’s lives.”

 

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