Report: Sport England Strategy 2008-2011
The development of a coherent and consistent policy in relation to sport is essential in order for the best results to be achieved in terms of increased participation and sporting excellence. Moreover, significant academic attention has been paid to the fact that sport serves a social purpose which transcends the sporting realm itself (Hylton & Bramham, 2007). Thus, at a social and community level, sport can act as a source of social progression, in addition to combating a plethora of societal problems.
As such, Sport England Strategy 2008-2011 constitutes a vision propagated by Sport England for the development of sport in Britain over the last three years. Numerous issues are addressed in the strategy firmly placing sport within a social and cultural foundation. In addition, the advent of Mega Events such as the 2012 Olympics have been utilised as a means of propelling the sporting agenda and propagating sport as a form of social development and increased societal cohesion.
Given the above, the purpose of this report is to critically assess Sport England Strategy 2008-2011. This assessment will take a number of forms. Given that the agenda set out by Sport England is wide-ranging, it is prudent to focus the assessment on certain specific areas. Therefore, in terms of focus, this report will examine the wider connotations of Sport England’s three year strategy on the basis of four separate, yet interrelated areas. The four areas that will subject to assessment are; British politics and sport and leisure policies; social inclusion/exclusion; structure v agency and Mega Events. Each of these areas will be assessed in isolation, thus, individual sections of the report will deal with specific topics and relate them directly to the Sport England Strategy. As such, the assessment which follows below will examine each topic area through a process of broad and general assessment. Following this general outline of the primary theoretical issues, direct reference will be made to Sport England’s Strategy and the degree to which the strategy proposed seeks to address the essential issues raised.
- British politics and sport and leisure policies
Politics and sport interact at a fundamental level. Prime Minster Harold Wilson suggested that his 1966 election victory was due in part to the English football team’s success in the World Cup (Houlihan, 1997). However, beyond the popularisation of sport and politics, it remains possible to forge a clear link between the development of sport and the processes, functions and changes of the political realm.
The interaction between sport and politics also has a fairly long historical foundation. In particular, the establishment of the welfare state in the years following the Second World War had direct connotations with sport. Above all, the welfare state aimed to systemically address the prevailing social and economic inequalities that had personified pre-war Britain (Houlihan & White, 2002). Therefore, the use of sport as a mechanism through which to combat social degradation was central to the ethos and theoretical foundations of the welfare state. This process has been defined as ‘development through sport’. As such, throughout the post war decades, political actors sought to utilise sport as means by which socio-economic development could be enhanced (Kew, 1997). This interaction between sport and the social realm has thus been pivotal in the link between sport and politics. However, the original assumptions regarding the role of sport and a means of social development have altered somewhat in recent years. In the 1980s, the Thatcher governments sought to deregulate state-directed processes through the use of privatisation. Therefore, sport was essentially viewed as a privatised market-driven entity which should be free from impediment on the part of the state (Kew, 1997). The Major governments of the 1990s sought to continue this process, although greater emphasis was placed on developing sporting excellence, as personified by the policy agenda “Sport: Raising the Game” (Kew, 1997; 63). Under New Labour, the social connotations of sport were reasserted through the “Game Plan” which aimed to use sport as the mechanism of social enhancement it had been following the Second World War (Collins & Kay, 2003; 72). Thus, it is possible to see the degree to which the conceptualisation of sport and the manner in which sport policy is directed is heavily affected by the ideological assumptions of government and the general policy agenda.
Sport England (2008; 1) give reference to sport as a means of social development by suggesting that “Sport can and does play a major role in achieving wider social and economic benefits”. Therefore, the historical interaction between sport and social development is accepted and endorsed by Sport England. However, the strategy assumed by Sport England also seeks to distance sport development from this narrow social understanding. In particular, the traditional idea of ‘development through sport’ has shifted to that of ‘development of sport’. Therefore, the suggestion made by Sport England (2008; 1) that sporting processes should be aimed at “Sport for Sports Sake” denotes a willingness to view sport as a process of development in its own right, as opposed to focusing heavily on the social and economic benefits which can be derived from sport.
Therefore, it is possible to see the manner in which sport and politics interact with one another. However, the Sport England Strategy clearly highlights recent trends which have attempted to view sport development in isolation from the socio-economic realm. Nonetheless, Sport England make consistent reference to the interaction between sport and politics and the extent to which collaboration between various governmental and sporting authorities is pivotal to achieving overall success.
- Social Exclusion/Inclusion
The discussion undertaken in the previous section highlighted the degree to which Sport England have attempted to shift the focus of sport development away from the socio-economic understanding. However, although Sport England have undoubtedly asserted the benefits of sport in its own right, the social connotations of sport as a means of addressing societal problems remains paramount. Numerous examples can be used to highlight the link between sport and wider social functions, however, in terms of relevant academic investigation, the issue of social inclusion/exclusion is pivotal.
Collins & Kay (2003) have dedicated significant academic attention to the issue of social exclusion and the degree to which sport can act as a means of addressing this pressing social problem. Social exclusion is suggested to be the societal pressures which affect the ability of individuals and groups to further their own social and economic circumstances (Collins & Kay, 2003). Therefore, membership of a certain social group often inhibits the ability of that group’s members to develop their socio-economic position. The increased focus on social exclusion has in recent years overtaken the traditional arguments relating to poverty. Above all, the advent of universal welfare provision in the form of the welfare state failed to effectively address the issue of poverty (Byrne, 2001). Thus, the focus of combating poverty has shifted away from initial ideas of welfare and financial support, to that of socially based exclusion on the basis of social group membership (Byrne, 2001).
The debate which is presently taking place in relation to social exclusion/inclusion is diverse and fairly complex. However, at a base level, is it generally accepted that sport can have a considerable impact on the ability of socially excluded groups to develop their social and economic circumstances. Wagg (2004) suggests that the degree to which sport can act as mechanism through which to combat social exclusion differs considerably depending on the sport in question. Thus, whereas sports like Football and Rugby have traditionally served as areas where social exclusion can be actively combated, others like Golf have a poorer record (Wagg, 2004). Indeed, due to its financial connotations, sports like Golf are often viewed as being intrinsically based on social exclusion as opposed to social inclusion (Collins & Kay, 2003).
As suggested above, Sport England understands and accepts the need for sport development to be focused in a way which combats social exclusion. As such, the Sport England strategy aims to enhance the ability of socially excluded groups through the active use of sport and sport participation. Thus, the process of “developing the girls and women’s game, disability sport, and reaching out to diverse communities, is not an optional extra but a vital part” (Sport England, 2008; 4). Thus, it is clear how Sport England’s Strategy seeks to combat social exclusion on the basis of gender and disability, in addition to wider diversity in society. The degree to which Sport England is focused on this goal of using sport as a means of combating social exclusion is personified by the suggestion that sports which fail to undertake proactive measures aimed at greater inclusion will have their funding cut in preference to other more effective sporting areas (Sport England, 2008). Thus, although Sport England has attempted to shift the focus of sport away from the socio-economic base to a certain extent, it remains possible to see the intrinsic link between sport development and wider societal processes.
- Structure v Agency
The issue of structure and agency has direct connotations with the above discussion undertaken in relation to social exclusion. The academic debate with regards structure and agency is enormously complex. As such, for the purposes of this report it is not necessary to examine in detail the sociological understanding of the interaction between structure and agency. Nonetheless, this subject area is important to sport development and the ability of sport to enhance the individual development of people in society. Thus, some measure of assessment is clearly required.
Agency is suggested to be the ability of an individual or group to affect their own social or economic circumstances (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). Therefore, someone with agency has the ability to develop and progress their opportunities through individual endeavour and effort. On the other hand, structures in society are the institutions and processes which act as the basis on which social progression rests (Coakley & Dunning, 2000). Thus, social and institutional structures such as local and national government, the welfare state and the police all impact upon the agency of individuals. This interaction between structure and agency is widely accepted as being unavoidable. However, a significant problem occurs when institutional and social structures inhibit the agency of individuals and groups. As such, with reference to the discussion undertaken in the previous section, negative structures in society have a direct role to play in social exclusion. Thus, sport once again has a central role to play in ensuring that negative social structures do not negatively affect the agency of individuals and groups.
Sport England does not deal directly with the issue of structure and agency. However, there are numerous implicit references made to how sport is essential in developing the ability of individuals to alter their own social and economic positions. The key term used by Sport England (2008; 4) is “empowerment”. As such, the strategy proposed by Sport England centres on empowering people within the sporting community in the hope that this will allow for greater success in changing people’s circumstances. Various references are made to how this process will be implemented. However, in terms of the interaction between structure and agency, the assessment of the role of National Governing Bodies (NGB) it particularly pertinent. Above all, Sport England (2008) hopes to encourage NGB to increase participation and inclusion in the sporting areas for which they are responsible. As such, it is possible to see how NGB themselves could be viewed as a structure which impacts upon the agency of individuals and groups. Thus, Sport England’s attempt to encourage NGB to develop an increasingly inclusive base could be viewed as being a means by which to address the problem of structures affecting agency.
- Mega Events
Mega Events (ME) acts as a focal point for sporting achievement. As such, ME such as the 2012 Olympics in London represent a unique opportunity to use sport as a means of propelling various other agendas and aims. For example, ME such as the Olympics have obvious connotations in the economic realm. Houlihan (2007) suggests that the economic potential for ME are considerable and diverse. For instance, in addition to the obvious benefits derived from increased tourism and public spending, ME also provide an opportunity for the local area to receive high levels of investment which will serve to act as sources of development and benefit for years to come. Moreover, ME also have the potential for addressing and combating the issues of social exclusion discussed in section three of this report. Thus, the use of ME such as the Olympics is clearly an area of significant concern for bodies such as Sport England.
Sport England gives a number of references to the London Olympics in their three year strategy for sport development in Britain. The general assumption is that the Olympics have the potential to “provide a focal point for developing a world-leading community sport system” (Sport England, 2008; 1). Therefore, all the prescriptive processes that Sport England outlines in the strategy are essentially based on utilising the Olympics as a key ME capable of enhancing sport development in Britain on a number of levels. Therefore, it is certainly possible to see the degree to which ME are capable of engendering increased interest in sport development, both from the political realm and also wider society. Thus, it is important to re-emphasise the fact that Sport England’s strategy is ultimately based on the foundation of ME status and the degree to which such events can bolster the processes and innate functions of sport and sport development.
Above all, this report has aimed to examine and assess the strategy proposed by Sport England in developing and enhancing sport and sport development in Britain over the stated three years. What is clear both from Sport England’s three year strategy and wider academic studies is that the development of sport is a complex subject. Various different factors and issues serve to affect the degree to which sport can be developed. Moreover, although Sport England have attempted to shift the focus of sport development away from the socio-economic base so popular in the post war decades, one still cannot understate the role sport can play in addressing social problems and societal concerns. Above all, issues such as social exclusion are central to the societal problems facing modern Britain. Therefore, any attempt to counter such problems should be celebrated and supported. Of course, it is also the case that attempts to view sport as an isolated issue are important in terms of developing sporting success and increased participation. However, the processes and functions outlined in Sport England’s Strategy clearly personify the vital social role played by sport. As such, it is the conclusion of this report that sporting development strategy such as that offered by Sport England should not attempt to distance itself too far from the socio-economic connotations of sport. Above all, in addressing pressing social needs and issues, sport has a central role to play. Thus, strategies aimed at enhancing sport and sport development should take active account of this central role and attempt to propel the ability of sport to act as a positive social mechanism.
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