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Sport for development sector

How organisations in the sector advocate for physical activity across the UK

October 27, 2022

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Organisations that work in the sport for development sector must weather a lot of change. From tackling fundraising to persuading the most staunch of naysayers, creativity is paramount. Three CEOs from the UK’s leading organisations give their unique view on the growth of the third sector and the impact of community grassroots and youth sport.


Community sport as a driver for female participation

Sported UK has a national remit. They support nearly 3000 deeply rooted community sports networks and the volunteers that run them. Nicola Walker, the CEO of the organisation, spoke about how their criteria for support is driven by social purpose.

“If you’re a traditional football or tennis group whose focus is winning the league, that’s not where we place our support. However, if they’re creating positive social change, through inclusion, starting a women or girls group, for example, those are the outcomes we can support.”


Nicola always saw sport as a way to create connections with people. Throughout her life, she has used sports as a way to make friends and socialise. This is core to her understanding of how communities engage in grassroots sport and how it has the capacity to engage girls and women.

“Girls continuing to play an active sport falls off a cliff during secondary school and beyond. For the majority of children in mixed-gender schools, boys’ participation for girls may be off-putting, but community sport offers a real opportunity. The groups are smaller, the environment is more fun, which means it has a better chance to create a habit for life.”


Measuring the impact of sport & the sector

Youth Sport Trust advocates for sport and physical activity for young people. They create programmes of activity and support that empower practitioners and young people to engage with sport, play and leadership. With more than 15 years under her belt, the CEO of Youth Sport Trust, Ali Oliver, has seen her fair share of change in the sector.

Youth Sport Trust

She has had first-hand experience with how the sector can be sidelined when it comes to impact. She added:

“One of the biggest challenges we have is showing how sport improves physical health, mental health standards, education and anti-social behaviour. Sport is never going to be the biggest driver of improvement. Not in the short term, and definitely not in isolation. If you look at the long-term impact, however, it lays the foundations for behaviours and lifestyles that can last a lifetime.”


Often when the government is looking to reduce budgets, the activities sector is the first on the cutting board. When that happens, it’s easy to get sidelined by what you could have done differently. Ali recounts her time and how seeing the positives was essential when that axe came down:

“In hindsight, maybe more could have been done to prepare for when those central policies and funding didn’t favour us. Yet there were some good points. 450 hub sites from the former Schools Partnership Network were retained, and a new government policy on school sports introduced the School Games. This broadened opportunities for competition and personal development – a real game-changer for us.”


Commercial acumen that drives community sport fundraising

Made by Sport’s Sarah Mason has had an interesting career in the third sector, education and commercial sports fundraising. Whilst working in sport, she would eventually have first-hand experience in the commercial sports world and grassroots advocacy.

Made By Sport

“When I worked in commercial sport, I would genuinely regret the missed opportunities to work in fundraising for community sport. If you look at grassroots sport, there are about 150,000 sports clubs and 40,000 charities in the UK using sport for social purpose. If we keep the focus on professional sport, we don’t see the benefits of sport in other social ways, in the way they do in other countries.”


Part of her role is to convince corporations that if they invest in community sport, they will see the impact. That as an understanding of the need to be socially focussed grows, people are using their purchasing power to engage with brands with a strong social purpose.

“It’s really difficult to gather data at scale, but there are 180,000 organisations who are deliberately using sport as a vehicle for social change. And many corporations immediately think that these things aren’t connected. We are the grantmakers to those organisations, we aren’t remaking the wheel.”


There’s more where that came from! Why not check out The Drive Phase podcast, where speakers from across the sector discuss how they continue to make a difference. Listen to the voices of the sector with The Drive Phase!

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