Cautious welcome for new sports strategy

sporting future

On Thursday the government launched Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, their response to a consultation earlier in the year on the future of sport and physical activity.

Sport is something that I’m passionate about, and the power of sport, if harnessed, can be tremendous. It can unify communities, bringing people together whose views might otherwise be poles apart.

Additionally sport has wider implications. It encourages discipline, team work and builds confidence. It can provide skills and experience that are directly transferable to the workplace. And, above all, it promotes and encourages healthy lifestyle choices.

The strategy marks a significant shift in sport policy, moving from a focus on retaining participants as they move from adolescence to adulthood, towards a far wider remit to engage with people from primary school age right through to retirement – and beyond. It also heralds a cross department approach and highlights the role that sport can play in tackling both physical and mental health, growing the economy and building communities.

In summary it is something that should be cautiously welcomed. The impact of spending cuts on local government – often those working at the coal-face of community sports development – mustn’t be underestimated. Likewise, sport is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in England the impact of piecemeal devolution to city-regions must be considered, particularly given that many areas of the strategy will be delivered at such a level. What works and can be feasibly implemented in say, a devolved metropolitan area such as Greater Manchester, will be significantly different to a neighbouring, traditional, two-tier authority such as those found in Lancashire.

And that brings me on to my final point. One thing that struck me amongst the multitude of fringe events at conference in Bournemouth was a lack of debate and discussion on sport and physical activity. Some of our most acclaimed achievements in coalition, such as our championing of mental health and the provision of quality school sport for all via the Primary Premium, have made Britain a healthier place than it was beforehand. I for one would welcome further debate in the party on the role of sport and physical activity in supporting and shaping our key policies, and would like to bring together a group of likeminded party members to tackle such a challenge. If you feel that you could contribute to this, please contact me via Twitter.

* John Thomason has worked in both community and professional sport for the past 15 years, and was recently a Lib Dem council candidate in Wigan, Greater Manchester.

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  • The best thing to do to encourage participation in physical activity for all ages and genders is to get rid of the word ‘sport’ which is a real turn-off. It conjures up unhelpful visions of fit young people ( mainly men ) playing competitive team games in the rain or performing impossible feats at the Olympic Games. ‘ Activity’ is fine. It can be done solo or in groups or in teams according to choice. It doesn’t have to be competitive.

  • John Thomason 24th Dec '15 - 1:04pm

    Thanks for the comment, Kay. Agree with much of what you have said. Many people had a negative experience of sport at school and left with an impression that to take part in sport you need to be “sporty” – an image not disimilar to the famous football match scene in the film “Kes” perhaps! If “sport” is to tackle health issues effectively then there needs to be an offer for those that want to access physical activity at their own pace and on their own terms.

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