Changing goals: Smarter sports policy would target disadvantaged

 

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The Independent Online

The game is up for “inspiring a generation”. It was hoped that the London 2012 Olympics would encourage Britons to swap watching sport on the television for playing it outdoors. That hope has proved out of reach. After a brief spurt in 2012, the number of citizens exercising regularly has slumped. In the past six months alone, 250,000 people – according to Sport England figures – have retired permanently to the sofa.

So it is to the credit of Tracey Crouch, the sports minister, that last month she vowed to “rip up” the current strategy and start again. Her task is not an easy one. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport faces cuts of up to a quarter of its budget at the forthcoming spending review. For Ms Crouch, attack will be the best form of defence.

First, she should follow through on early signs that elite athletics will take a backseat to supporting everyday players. It thrilled a nation to see British stars take gold on home turf – but gratifying as success in Rio and Tokyo would be, it is a simple fact that far fewer of us will be paying attention. As such, the Government need not engage in increasingly expensive battles to secure the services of the very top coaches, when what is needed is more coaches across the entire country.

Second, Ms Crouch should make clear that grassroots sports policy will no longer be judged mainly on participation targets. A greater proportion of Sport England’s £200m annual budget should flow to organisations that use sport as a tool to chip away at the disadvantage that holds down so many communities. The failure of national governing bodies to lure more of Britain’s population into playing sport is particularly pronounced in the poorest communities, where rates are now at their lowest level recorded.

It is promising that NGOs such as Street League and Greenhouse are expected to receive further backing from the state. Though their intensive programmes cost more, they have a track record for engaging hard-to-reach young people and, through sport, leading them to educational success and employment. The Treasury benefits from the results here, too.

Sports policy has become bogged down chasing participation numbers. Now is the time to aim for a different goal.

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