Sport England Strategy: 2008-2011
Analysis report and critical reflection
The purpose of this report is to critically reflect on the publication; Sport England Strategy, 2008-2011. The examination is undertaken through a process which focuses on specific areas of sport development. Four such areas are subject to assessment; British politics and sport and leisure policies; social inclusion/exclusion; elite sport v performance sport and Mega events. These four areas of analysis are dealt with individually. However, it must be bore in mind that although separate assessment is undertaken, the areas of analysis do interact with one another. Therefore, the four areas subject to assessment affect one another and as a consequence also impact on the critical reflection undertaken.
The report concludes that Sport England’s strategy for sport development is a positive development and shows the signs of potential in terms of developing an effective and lasting sport development policy in the United Kingdom.
Sport England have set out in clear terms the strategy they intended to adopt towards sport development in the three years between 2008 and 2011. This strategy centres on propelling the interests of sport and bolstering structural processes of development within British sport. As such, the publication Sport England, 2008-2001 represents a seminal work on how sport policy in Britain has been undertaken in recent years.
Given the above, the purpose of this work is to assess and examine Sport England’s strategy for sport development. It will be shown that the strategy adopted has significant connotations with various debates taking place in the academic fraternity. Given this, the assessment of Sport England’s strategy will take place in conjunction with consistent reference to academic studies in sport and sport development.
The assessment which is undertaken below centres on four areas of analysis. The four areas in question are; British politics and sport and leisure policies; social inclusion/exclusion; elite sport v performance sport and Mega events. As suggested in the abstract, although these four areas require different analytical analysis, they are nonetheless heavily interrelated. Given this, the reader should be actively aware that an inevitably cross-over of issues occurs at various points throughout the report.
The overall conclusion of this report is that the strategy proposed by Sport England is consistent with an effective policy for developing sporting excellence in Britain. In addition, the hope of achieving higher levels of participation in sport is propelled by the vision set out by Sport England. One of the primary means by which this is achieved is the alteration in the theoretical assumption of sport as a social mechanism. In particular, the willingness of Sport England to shift the focus of sport away from social and economic concerns towards a more sport orientated approach is most promising. Above all, sport for the sake sport itself engenders the best possibilities for increased participation. However, one cannot ignore the social role of sport and the ability of increased participation to improve the social conditions of vulnerable members of society.
- British Politics and Sport and Leisure Policies
It is important to note that decisions and policies undertaken in the political theatre have a direct impact upon sport and sport development. Over recent decades there has been an increasing political interest in sport, particularly the social connotations of sport and the positive impact sport can play in alleviating social problems (Houlihan, 2007). As such, the progression of interaction between sport and politics dates back to the formation of the welfare state. During the 1950s and 1960s, increased participation in sport was argued to be positive in terms of societal development (Hylton & Bramham, 2007). Therefore, the advent of universal welfare provision took place in conjunction with government investment in sporting infrastructures.
In many respects the development of sport policy at the national level mirrored the general ideological assumptions which directed the welfare state and the post war political consensus. As such, up until the 1980s, the prevailing assumption was that government should assume a central role in sport policy in order that effective outcomes were derived (Hylton & Bramham, 2007). However, the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 heralded a different political approach to social policy and sport development. The Conservative governments of the 1980s aimed to reduce the role of the state and thus increase the responsibility of private actors in publically related policy areas (Hylton & Bramham, 2007). In sport, this meant that new governing bodies were established which were essentially free from direct government intervention. Moreover, the Conservative governments of John Major carried out similar policies between 1990 and 1997.
The degree to which political ideology has impacted upon sport policy is exemplified by the discussion undertaken above. However, a further exemplification of how politics and sport interact can be seen with reference to the policy actions of New Labour after 1997. Furthermore, the procedures outlined in Sport England’s strategy have clear links with the theoretical agenda pursed by New Labour, particularly in relation to social policy. Therefore, one feels it is prudent to provide a measure of detailed assessment to this issue.
Above all, the social policy agenda undertaken by New Labour from 1997 centred on the idea of partnership (Byrne, 2001). Tony Blair’s vision was to bring an end to the polarised political extremes that had personified much of the political discourse in preceding decades. Therefore, collaboration and partnership between public and private sector actors was the hallmark of the New Labour approach (Byrne, 2001). However, collaboration and partnership also extended beyond this narrow base to include inter-agency interaction. Therefore, in social and welfare policy, stakeholder actors were required to work together in order to meet overall stated aims and objectives. In sport policy, the New Labour agenda was firmly set out with the publication of ‘Game Plan’ which specified the need for stakeholders in sport to work in conjunction with one another (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). Therefore, it is possible to see how the theoretical assumptions of government continued to directly affect sport policy after 1997 just as they had done before.
The concept and practical application of collaboration between stakeholder actors can be clearly seen in Sport England’s Strategy publication. Consistent reference is made throughout the report in relation to the need for sporting bodies to work in collaboration with other essential actors in order to propel sport and sport development. For example, the report details the need for “engaging higher education” and “engaging the third sector” (Sport England, 2008; 21). As suggested, there a plethora of other references given to collaboration between inter-reliant actors. Nonetheless, the suggestion that sporting bodies at the national and local level should engage with third sector actors and higher education institutions clearly indicates the degree to which assumptions in the political realm have directly affected the outlook and policy agenda of Sporting England.
Therefore, it is certainly credible to argue that sport and politics interact at a base level. Indeed, the next area subject to assessment also indicates this relationship between sport and politics, along with the inevitable tendency for areas of discussion in this report to interact and overflow with one another. Thus, the next section of this report will address the issue of social exclusion and inclusion.
- Social Exclusion/Inclusion
The issue of social exclusion has developed into being central to social policy in Britain. Above all, social exclusion denotes the process by which people in society are unable to develop and progress in their lives because of negative social processes around them (Kew, 1997). Although this report does not discuss the issue of structure and agency as a separate section, it is nonetheless important to give brief reference to this issue. Above all, social structures often serve as inhibitors to individual progress. Therefore, when such structures function in this way, the agency of individuals is negatively affected (Kew, 1997). Collins & Kay (2003) suggest that sport has the potential to act as a social structure which prevents people from enhancing their own position and thus furthering their agency. In particular, sports such as cricket are often quite exclusive, in addition to others such as golf. Therefore, it is important to note that sport often acts as a structure which negatively impacts upon the agency of individuals (Collins & Kay, 2003).
However, as suggested at the outset of this work, it is impossible to ignore the socio-economic impact of sport in wider society. Although some sports do have the potential for inhibiting individual agency, others have shown how sport can develop and enhance the ability of individuals to further their own life aims and objectives. Therefore, Collins & Kay (2003) also highlight the degree to which increased participation in sport can have a positive social outcome. Thus, it is unsurprising that Sport England’s strategy dedicates significant attention to the issue of participation and how to develop it.
However, in-line with the assertions made at the outset of this work it is essential to note the degree to which Sport England have attempted to move away from the traditional understanding of sport in terms of its socio-economic impact. In particular, Sport England (2008; 1) suggests that its primary and ultimate focus is centred “exclusively on sport”. The assumption of sport as a means of social and economic enhancement is made; however, the overall conclusion is that sport policy in Britain must focus on sport in its own right, as opposed to linking sport development policy with other areas of social policy. In doing so, Sport England hopes that sport development can take place on the basis of sporting excellence and prowess, without recourse to the needs and requirements of wider society. Thus, it is certainly possible to see the degree to which Sport England are attempting to shift the theoretical foundations on which sport development has traditionally rested.
- Elite Sport v Performance Sport
During the early and mid 1990s the Major governments set in place a series of sport policies which aimed to increase sporting excellence at the higher sporting levels. The Major governments drive to increase sporting excellence was personified in the publication; Sport: Raising the Game, which set in place a variety of funding processes for the higher echelons of sport in the hope that British performance at the professional level would increase as a consequence (Houlihan & White, 2002). Moreover, as with much of the policy agenda, New Labour’s ‘Game Plan’ assumed a similar position in relation to elite sport. However, it is important to note that the approach undertaken by Labour also highlighted the importance of performance sport and the degree to which lower levels of sport directly serve to enhance the professional and elite realm (Houlihan & White, 2002).
As such, the approach adopted by Sport England directly mirrors that of the political policy realm. In particular, Sport England (2008; 2) give significant reference to the “seamless pathway from school to community to elite”. As such, although Sport England are still concerned with the preservation of high standards at the elite level, there is also a tacit understanding of how lower levels of sport are equally important. Thus, it is credible to argue that Sport England have assumed a position which centres on the propagation of sport performance as much as it does in relation to elite sport.
The alteration in focus outlined above is beneficial for a number of reasons. Above all, in order that sport engages in an inclusive and socially beneficial manner it is essential that lower levels of sport are provided with increasing focus and funding. Moreover, the alteration from focusing on sport performance as opposed to merely elite sport means that the true benefits of sporting participation can be attained for the many rather than the few. Thus, although Sporting England have questioned the interaction between sport and wider social processes, the fact remains that the focus on sport performance will inevitably increase the role sport plays as a means of social progression.
- Mega Events
Mega events constitute one of the most obvious outcomes of sport and sport development. As such, Mega events such as the Olympics provide an opportunity for all nations to show how their internal processes of sport development have resulted in success at the professional level (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). Given this, Sport England’s willingness to maintain standards at the elite level is certainly positive in terms of propagating an effective and positive image of British sport at the international level.
However, the importance of Mega events stretches far beyond the elite performance of a few high level athletes. Naturally, there are obvious benefits to be derived from Mega events in terms of economic impetus. However, Mega event such as the London 2012 Olympics also provide an opportunity for the sporting establishments to show its ability to stage a large-scale and complex sporting event (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). As such, Sport England’s focus on processes of governance and accountability in British sport represents a direct attempt to put in place structural processes which will enhance the practical implementation of the 2012 Olympics.
It is also important to note that Mega events such as the London Olympics have wider impacts upon the areas where they staged. In particular, urban development which occurs as a result of Mega events can often reinvigorate areas which previously suffered from poor economic development (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). As such, events like the London Olympics provide organisers with a unique opportunity to engage in development in areas such as the East End of London and the Docklands. Sport England’s strategy does give reference to the potential development benefits of Mega events; however, one feels that greater attention should be paid to this issue. In particular, given that staging the Olympics will require investment is sporting infrastructure, there is considerable potential in terms of developing lower level sport in the way proffered by Sport England.
In conclusion, this report has highlighted the main issues which have been addressed by Sport England and its strategy. Above all, what is clear is that Sport England have provided a clear basis on which to formulate and direct sport development in the years to come. Numerous issues allow one to make this conclusion. In particular, the willingness of Sport England to move away from the traditional assumptions of sport and society is most beneficial. Ultimately, it is time for sport policy to be undertaken in the best interests of sport itself, as opposed to forging links with wider societal processes. Naturally, one can never dismiss the social role played by sport, which in many respects accounts for the assessment given above to this issue. However, the fact remains that sporting excellence and increased participation is best achieved when sport is assessed in terms of its own innate features and requirements, as opposed to the requirements of wider society. Therefore, the conclusion of this report is that Sporting England have provided a firm theoretical and practical foundation on which to base sport development policy in the future. Hopefully, if the assertions and assumptions outlined in the strategy are followed, the wider benefits of sport to both individuals and groups will be fully realised.
Byrne, D. (2001) Social exclusion Buckingham: Open University Press.
Coakley, J.J & Dunning, E. (2000) Handbook of Sport Studies. New York: SAGE.
Collins, M. F. and Kay, T. (2003) Sport and Social Exclusion. London: Routledge
Houlihan, B. (1997) Sport, Policy, and Politics: a comparative analysis. New York: Routledge.
Houlihan, B. (2007) Sport and society, Barrie Houlihan (eds) Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
Houlihan, B. & White, A. (2002) The politics of sports development. London: Routledge.
Hylton, K & Bramham, P. (2007) Sports Development: policy, process and practice. London: Taylor & Francis.
Kew, F. (1997) Sport: social problems and issues. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann Mayfield.
Sport England. (2008) Sport England Strategy: 2008-2011. London: Sport England.