Sport and physical activity can change lives. They can improve physical and mental health and wellbeing and lead to better quality of life. For many, the challenge, social interaction and enjoyment of sport and physical activity brings significant personal reward. More broadly, participation in sport and recreation can foster greater social and community cohesion and benefits both the national and local economies.
We are concerned about the high levels of inactivity at the grassroots level, particularly among women, ethnic minorities, disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, the elderly, and people from less affluent backgrounds. This is a problem that has perpetuated over decades and successive governments. Numerous underwhelming attempts to boost activity rates and improve population-level physical and mental health and wellbeing have not been as successful as hoped. The scale and immediacy of the challenge to turn the tide on high rates of inactivity could not have been more clearly demonstrated since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our overarching recommendation is the need for a new ambitious national plan for sport, health and wellbeing and a new approach within Government to deliver and fund it. We heard evidence that cross-departmental coordination is not working, delivery is fragmented and access to funding is complicated and overly bureaucratic. Grassroots sports clubs and groups, local authorities and other delivery bodies do amazing work, but it will take a much more concerted, whole systems approach to make substantive inroads in boosting activity rates and improving people’s health and wellbeing. That is why we need a national plan that will cover sport and recreation and other key areas of policy including, but not limited to, planning, transport, environment, and education. We further recommend that the Government introduce a statutory requirement on local authorities to provide and maintain adequate facilities for sport and physical activity, backed up with adequate financial support from the Treasury. We call for the establishment of a Physical Activity Observatory to act as a centre for independent research and analysis of data related to sport and recreation policy and practice.
Current Government structures are failing to deliver and radical changes are required. Better cross-departmental working, use and dissemination of resources, and effective, coordinated delivery of the national plan at national and local levels all need to be addressed. To that end, firstly we are recommending that the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities be renamed the Office for Health Promotion and for it to be placed on a statutory footing to provide it surety of purpose and to give it the authority required to support a genuine cross-government approach to sport, health and wellbeing.
Secondly, we recommend the creation of a new Minister for Sport, Health and Wellbeing in the Department of Health and Social Care to work alongside the Office for Health Promotion in developing, overseeing and delivering the national plan. The Minister will sit within DHSC and will have responsibility for sport policy, which will be moved from DCMS to DHSC. A regular Strategic Forum consisting of key national and local stakeholders and delivery bodies will be chaired by the new Minister to help design the national plan and to establish a strong sense of buy-in on the part of those who will then go on to deliver its key components.
We set out some, but by no means all, of the key issues and policy themes which should be part of the national plan, starting with principles which should underpin it. These are physical literacy, providing a welcoming and inclusive environment, application of the science of behaviour change and motivation, a proactive approach to tackling health inequalities, and making a contribution to individual development and community cohesion through enhanced support for sport for development organisations and projects.
These principles lead to a range of recommendations including the need for the Government to conduct an audit and to develop a clear, fully costed national facilities strategy for pitches, leisure facilities, swimming pools, parks and other outdoor and indoor spaces. The facilities strategy will need to be developed together with local authorities and in close consultation with local communities, sports clubs and other local delivery bodies. We are also calling on the Government to tackle discrimination in sport and recreation, including by launching a nationwide campaign to ensure a safe environment and by doing more to hold social media companies to account for harmful content posted on social media platforms.
Attitudes towards sport and physical activity develop when we are children and often track into adulthood. Currently PE is not valued highly enough and teacher training time devoted to PE is inadequate. We want to see PE made a core subject with greater emphasis on physical literacy and making PE and school sport a fun, enjoyable and inclusive experience. We are also recommending better accountability and oversight of the PE and Sport Premium, including improving provision of Continuing Professional Development opportunities for teachers.
Many students will ‘drop out’ of sport when they leave full-time education. Whether they return to sport and physical activity can often depend on the attitudes developed earlier in life. Developing closer links between schools, local sports clubs and communities can make children and parents aware of what opportunities exist in their local community to stay active into adulthood. Opening school facilities for use by local clubs and groups is an obvious way to help create and strengthen the links between schools, local clubs and communities.
Adults also need to be supported and encouraged to be active. We looked at ways to enable people to participate in sport and recreation and to lead active lifestyles regardless of age, background and ability. This includes the need to develop a whole system, place-based approach, greater attention to how planning and design can support and encourage active travel and create active environments, and better use of technology to motivate and encourage people to be active and to make it easier to book and access facilities.
It is not possible to have a welcoming and inclusive environment without a serious and robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding. This applies to both grassroots and elite sport. We strongly recommend the implementation of the outstanding recommendations made in Baroness Grey-Thompson’s independent review on Duty of Care in Sport, prioritising the establishment of an independent sports ombudsman. Furthermore, we urge the Minister for Sport, Health and Wellbeing to introduce mandatory reporting in sport and recreation settings, and call for greater monitoring and robust enforcement of duty of care and safeguarding standards by Sport England and UK Sport.
This includes the imposition of financial sanctions against publicly funded bodies which fail to demonstrate that their safeguarding and duty of care policies are being effectively implemented. Finally, we note the crucial role of the sport and recreation workforce, both paid and unpaid. The time, effort and contribution they make is a true asset to this sector and to the nation.
We welcome the ongoing consideration of a national register of coaches and, notwithstanding the need to resolve complex issues to ensure the register is effective without being overly burdensome to the workforce, urge developing parties to commit to a date for its launch. On improving diversity across the workforce, coaching and volunteering, we recommend that more ambitious targets are set for diversity of the boards of bodies funded by Sport England and UK Sport and that failure to make progress should be met with financial sanctions.
Read the full report here.