Equality in Sport

Inactivity rates – Where does the blame lie? Local Authorities – Sport England – Government Policy?

I noted that Sport England has been blamed for not decreasing inactivity rates.[1] Could the fault lie with the Local Authorities? What are the factors that cause inactivity rates to be so high, especially amongst the disadvantaged?

With an abundance of enthusiastic, competent coaches like myself, who run community sports clubs whilst striving to keep the prices affordable, the biggest barrier is suitable accessible venues. My gymnastics club succeeded for 7 years with the support of a private company, but, when they redeveloped the site, we had to find a new home.

My Club was inclusive, represented the local diversity, accommodated additional needs, had a relaxed dress code and catered for ages 1-101. The club actively promoted volunteering from the age of 12, with 25 under – 25 – year – olds coaching at the club. The South East is very expensive, and renting suitable spaces is impossible when your fee structure is affordable for the disadvantaged, so I approached my Local Borough Council and my National Governing Body to get help.

I had numerous conversations with my LA requesting support. Verbally they were good, agreeing that my club benefited the community.  Talks progressed. The LA offered to build a suitable venue that we could rent at a “reasonable” price (£90,000 pa). This was a viable project as long as we acquired enough space to accommodate over 1000 children per week (average £7 per hour per week for a 46-week year).  I repeatedly emphasized the size required. Plans were drawn up by the LA, but, when the leisure department approached planning, the project was thwarted.  The site the Leisure Service Manager identified was a flood plain, resulting in a ‘no other space to build it’ response. I extensively researched the area, and with my knowledge of their leisure strategy I pushed forward with suggestions of viable locations to place my building.

The National Planning Policy Framework indicates that if the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the benefits of which clearly outweigh the loss of the current or former use, such as adding a sporting structure to an open space (such as a park), then planning could be considered.[2] Our Authority has numerous underused parks, as stated in their Leisure Strategy, yet they failed to be convinced by a Community Club that had achieved International success. Adding insult to injury, it was suggested that we should increase prices to make the club commercially viable. How would that help to support accessible, inclusive sport for all?

The outcome was – 15 months of back and forth, the highs of a potential new purpose-built facility, then being offered a building that was not fit for purpose at rental of £95,000 pa, with no scope to make fit for purpose.

My club has now closed and nearly 500 children will no longer have anywhere to pursue their passion for the sport. 1000 more are sitting on a waiting list with little prospect of the opportunity to participate in their chosen sport.

The LA recently completed a new leisure development with a significant reduction in size from the original, yet the town is expanding. The Government’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment has identified the need for the LA to provide 927 new homes each year up to 2036, of which the council intends to build 190 council properties over the next 7 years. The population is on track to expand by 15% over the next 20 years, whilst community sport is dwindling due to expensive hire rates, and lack of facilities. I see a rise in inactivity rates as inevitable. Disgraceful. Owing to high inactivity rates, the LA has high childhood obesity (wards reaching 50%) and ranked 2nd for emergency heart disease admissions. My project would help ease these rates of inactivity and obesity, and increase engagement in sport and physical activity for absolutely everyone[3] – as well as benefiting the council with a minimum 3% yield on a £2 million investment.

Tackling inactivity in the hard to reach[4] sector requires assistance. In a recent speech, the Minister of Sport, Mims Davies, emphasised this, and asked for community clubs to help solve the problem. These clubs are doing their best, trying to stay afloat whilst competing for funding in a competitive market with limited resources. The National Governing Bodies suffered funding cuts[5], making it difficult for them to provide support for struggling clubs.

Sport England published a comprehensive survey showing the sports that children enjoy and participate in. Over 32% of Britain’s children chose gymnastics, trampolining or cheerleading as their activity. Our LA has a £57 million budget. Has the local authority taken into account the activities that children like? Most recent census figures show there is circa 42,000 under 18’s in the borough, this would indicate that a potential 12,600 young people would make use of a gymnastics facility.

1000’s of UK sports clubs have closed because of lack of support from outside bodies, not to lack of demand. Community facilities are expensive to hire, often difficult to secure, or inadequate for use. The lack of options available to clubs like mine could lead to a rise in crime, obesity and inactivity.

Sport not only has health benefits; the cohesion it creates has a value that you cannot price. If the Local Authority does not make provision for the demand for a sport, then surely they should support a local community club that does.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/mar/04/sport-englands-fitness-campaigns-to-target-disadvantaged-groups

[2] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-planning-policy-framework/8-promoting-healthy-and-safe-communities#para96/97

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/mims-davies-speech-at-uk-sports-future-funding-strategy-launch–2

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/mims-davies-speech-at-uk-sports-future-funding-strategy-launch–2