Just before the General Election in June, Sky Sport News did a very effective investigation into the big sporting issues that were being debated, asking whether the political parties really cared about the agenda. Alongside a number of views from the general public that focused on the importance of physical activity amongst children and young people, there were a couple of vox pops from seasoned Westminster parliamentarians who commented that “it’s very difficult for sport to get a look in when you’ve got big issues such as the future the of the NHS, social care crisis, youth crime, mental health.” Such a statement reinforced – for many – the fact that sport and physical activity remains placed in a box in Westminster entitled ‘DCMS’ from which it shouldn’t stray and look to influence other issues which aren’t its business. The grown up stuff.
One of the great things about National Fitness Day (NFD) – taking place on the 27th September this year – is that it allows people to talk about, and celebrate, their personal relationship with activity and fitness. The #fitness2me campaign that forms part of NFD encourages people to hold a mirror to their lives and articulate how much they value being active and healthy. The breadth of stories that are captured – covering issues of mental wellbeing, isolation and loneliness, maintaining health in old age, young people’s behaviour and educational success at school and college – are some of the most powerful testimonials for the work the physical activity sector does, and a barometer of its importance to society.
It seems – perhaps echoing the some of our recent election results – that the public is ahead of too many of our elected representatives on this issue, having a greater feel for the value of physical activity and sport across different aspects of their lives. Furthermore, you just have to look at the major brands now aligned to physical activity to fully see the sector’s relevance. It’s fair to say that the ambition within Westminster is there. The vision set out in Sporting Futures – approaching its second anniversary of publication – does looks to up-weight the role that sport and physical activity does play. Yet despite the hard work of a great team of Ministers and officials at DCMS who live and breathe this agenda, I suspect that the strategy is unfortunately collecting dust in too many other Government departments.
There are exceptions of course, which we at ukactive are excited about supporting. Firstly, the Ministry of Justice is looking at how to strengthen the use of sport and physical activity in achieving positive outcomes for adult offenders and young people in the justice system. One of our speakers at this year’s ukactive National Summit – John McAvoy – is testament to the positive impact of physical activity on someone’s life, and his powerful and moving story will no doubt be a highlight from the event.
Secondly, The Department of Work and Pensions is working with ukactive to encourage more disabled people to play an active role in society through greater engagement with the physical activity sector. Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt MP is an advocate for our sector and believes that not only is this the right thing to do, but would allow the sector to benefit from the £249bn spending power of disabled people. Further afield from Westminster, we can only be encouraged by the dynamic way that devolved institutions – both nationally and city based – are approaching this agenda in an integrated way with physical activity and sport aligned to wider issues of physical health and mental wellbeing.
That said, this agenda needs to fully break out of the box that has been placed in within Westminster, with all Government Departments across Whitehall understanding, integrating, and implementing programmes that capitalise on the positive impact of physical activity and sport. We know from our members and from campaigns like NFD that the impact of activity defies static categorisation, so we must continue to support Government in harnessing its full, positive potential.