Sport England has vowed to tackle inequality and create a nation of "more equal, inclusive and connected communities" through physical activity.
Revealing its 10-year strategy today (26 January), the grassroots body wants to see a country where people live "happier, healthier and more fulfilled lives".
Children and the most disadvantaged in society will be placed at the heart of the new Uniting the Movement
strategy, with an emphasis on transforming fitness levels and tackling obesity.
An extra £50m is also being directed towards grassroots sport, as part of plans to alleviate the "significant hit" that the pandemic has had on physical activity levels. This is in addition to the £220m the agency has already invested since the start of the crisis.
"At its heart, the strategy seeks to tackle the long-standing inequalities that have existed within the sport sector and been reinforced by the recent disruption," said Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth.
"The strategy identifies that for certain people – like disabled people, people from lower socio-economic groups and people from Black, Asian and Chinese backgrounds, there is a clear pattern of low levels of activity and so there will be a sharp focus on providing more opportunities for those who are being left behind."
The strategy also outlines the importance of providing different types of investment and support, with an emphasis on looking for new and innovative ways to increase participation – such as better use of technology and data.
Specifically, Sport England has identified three areas on which it will focus its time and resources over the next decade – "advocating for movement, sport and physical activity", "creating the catalysts for change" and "joining forces on five big issues".
On advocacy, this will mean that Sport England will look to build on its existing behavioural change campaigns, such as This Girl Can and Join the Movement, while investing more in its insight and research team.
As for being the catalyst for change, the body intends to invest in improving the skills and capabilities of its partners – while driving forward reforms that "make the sector more reflective of the country it serves". This will include investing and supporting areas like high quality data, innovation and digital and continuing to drive forward reform in sports governance.
Meanwhile, the "five big issues" it wants to join forces on have been identified as:
1. Recover and reinvent
: To help sport and physical activity to recover from the effects of the pandemic and reinventing as a sustainable network of organisations providing opportunities for everyone.
2. Connecting communities
: Focus on sport and physical activity’s vital role as part of the fabric of the nation.
3. Positive experiences for children and young people
: An "unrelenting focus" on putting enjoyment at the heart of the experiences of children and young people’s involvement in sport and physical activity.
4. Connecting with health and wellbeing
: To further strengthen the connections between sport, physical activity, health and wellbeing, so more people can feel the benefits of an active life.
5. Active environments
: To maximise many of the lessons that the pandemic has brought, identifying Sport England's role in creating and protecting the places and spaces that make it easier for people to play sport and be active in their local areas.
Hollinsworth added: “This strategy comes at a critical time. Alongside of the National Lottery and government, we have made significant funding available, but many organisations are struggling, and activity levels have taken a significant hit.
"But amid all that challenge and uncertainty, we believe there are also enormous opportunities to fast-track the role sport and physical activity plays in helping people to live happier, healthier lives.
“With a short-term focus on helping sport to recover from the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, this strategy identifies the other major issues that for the next decade will be a priority. At the heart of all this is a ruthless focus on providing opportunities to people and communities that have traditionally been left behind, and helping to remove the barriers that stop them from playing sport and being active."
Reacting to the new strategy, Huw Edwards, CEO of industry body ukactive, said: "The new Sport England strategy provides a passionate case for the value of sport and physical activity in our society, a clear and ambitious vision for future growth, and an honest appraisal of the development required for the sector to play its fullest role in our communities.
“The publication of this strategy needs to be accompanied by a new level of urgency and commitment from the Government that it will not leave parts of this sector behind, and provide the necessary financial and regulatory support so desperately needed. Only with this can we confidently look to recovery, and sport and physical activity playing its maximum role in the renewal of our nation.”
• To read more about the new strategy, click here for the Sport England website.