The emergence of the ‘other’ sports sector

by Neil Cameron, Group Director

2019 has been a pivotal year for sport in the UK.  No, I’m not referring to England’s Cricket team lifting the World Cup for the first time but, instead, what has been happening at the ‘other end’ of the market…what I refer to as the “sport for good” sector.

A prime example from April was Theresa May’s much publicised ‘knife crime summit’ at Downing Street.  Here, sporting bodies including the Premier League sat alongside sector ‘experts’ from policing, education, justice and academia in identifying new and innovative methods of addressing youth violence.

Separately,  Prince Harry and Anthony Joshua joined forces in July to spearhead a new campaign named ‘Made by Sport’ which seeks to attract £40million of funding for organisations using sport as a tool to improve lives across the UK.

No mention here of winning medals or Champions League qualification – this is about addressing society’s greatest challenges.  But what impact can this sector, which has traditionally been led by volunteers, really have?  This is a far cry from the dazzling lights and worldwide headlines found in professional sport, after all.

Well, it seems quite a lot.

Spearheaded by former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King, with support from a host of sporting celebs including Nicola Adams, ‘Made by Sport’ seeks to galvanize sporting organisations (including charities and social enterprises) aiming to make a difference by using the power of sport.

Similarly, the Daily Telegraph has led a campaign to drive up the quality (and quantity) of school sport, citing the multiple health and educational benefits from doing so. The Telegraph (and, via an open letter to Government, over forty sporting bodies) have pushed for Physical Education to receive greater regulation and to be considered on par with the core subjects of Maths, English and Science.

All seems very positive, so where is Government on this issue?  Remarkably quiet it seems, which perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise given the ongoing Brexit debacle and forthcoming election.  I’m sure they will jump on the bandwagon (eventually).

Indeed, there is a well-researched correlation between investment in physical activity initiatives and a return on investment for the taxpayer (studies have highlighted as much as a 10:1 Return on Investment, for example).  That should appeal to the next Chancellor, at least.

The ‘sport for good’ sector should be congratulated for taking the initiative and driving this agenda forward, despite the challenges which remain politically.

A changing landscape

The emergence of a new umbrella organisation, ‘The Sport for Development Coalition’, is a positive step forward which seeks to harness the various initiatives and communications from the (diverse) world of grassroots sport under one collective body.

Sport England, Government’s arm’s length body responsible for improving the health of the nation, has pledged financial support to both ‘Made by Sport’ and ‘The Sport for Development Coalition’, which is significant.  To date there has been no public announcement, however, regarding what this looks like financially.

One assumes that major private sector backing to support the public purse will also be forthcoming (Nike are backing a new ‘Model City’ initiative in London following a successful pilot in the US, and The Great Run Company are also in talks).

One challenge this sector needs to urgently address is its ability to quantify a financial return on investment if it is to attract more corporate backing.  Remember, this is a far cry from business seeking brand association with elite sport in the form of events and player endorsement.  This is about corporates helping to solve some of society’s biggest challenges, a far more difficult beast to quantify.

The very fact that business is starting to engage in the debate is significant, and exciting, though one which now needs to be carefully managed by those same organisations seeking to shape the sector.  However, until we have a clear financial plan which doesn’t just rely on Government funding, it may be some time until we see the ‘sport for good’ sector really making a difference in our communities.

About Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron is an entrepreneur and founder of three social enterprises seeking to improve health and wellbeing across the UK.

He is founder and Group Director of Sport Works, a social enterprise founded in 2009, which uses sport as a vehicle to support over 3000 disadvantaged individuals across the UK each year.


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