Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former councillor in Suffolk.
As we recover from a period of traditional over-indulgence, let’s celebrate the New Year by launching a UK City of Sport to promote sport and fitness.
Instead of another expensive competition, award the first title to a city with the potential and ambition to deliver. The ideal candidate is Birmingham, hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022 with a £750 million investment, including building the UK’s largest permanent athletics stadium, and four indoor arenas – as well as accommodation for teams from 70 member countries. Birmingham will also enjoy an influx of visitors from around the world, and will be gearing up to ensure they receive the welcome they deserve in a multi-cultural environment.
Capitalising on widespread recognition that the UK has the capability to create and manage such important world class events is somewhat overdue: this is the third time the UK has hosted the Commonwealth Games (Manchester in 2002 and Glasgow in 2014) as well as the Olympics and Paralympics in London in 2012.
Developing a sporting legacy by building on that enthusiasm should be a priority. We all know that being active is good for health (diabetes alone costs the NHS £20 billion a year) and mental wellbeing, but too many of us don’t actually know what that means beyond taking the stairs rather than the lift, or going for a brisk walk for a minimum 10 minutes every day.
Yet, we are actually a sport-loving nation: football is top of the list, with millions of people turning out to watch big games, or to play for their local club. When our national cricket and rugby teams do well on the international stage, enthusiasm increases. The BBC’s annual Sports Personality Awards highlight the splendid range of role models we have, right across the sports spectrum, although it’s disappointing that women’s achievements are rarely fully acknowledged by voters.
So, the introduction of a UK City of Sport would surely encourage more participation amongst all age groups, by raising awareness of the benefits. It’s a fact that getting children to run a mile a day during school breaks builds fitness, reducing obesity when 30 per cent leave primary school overweight, but enthusiasm wanes – especially amongst girls – during their teens. Dropping rounders in favour of cricket for girls is a move in the right direction, building personal confidence, friendships, and interest in a sport which can be pursued for a lifetime – potentially professionally.
Those of us who were pretty useless at sport and PE during our school days, criticised by teachers and contemporaries, lost all confidence in even attempting to play tennis or swim for the sheer fun of it, but could be lured back with the right encouragement. Sports England programmes for walking, netball, and football are a way of engaging older and disabled participants, and those previously too embarrassed to have a go. Park runs are also growing in popularity, enabling people to socialise with each other (and their dogs) without any pressure to ‘win’.
However, facilities ownership is currently fragmented, and unnecessarily duplicated, often with limited access for the general public, when everyone could benefit from joint promotion and working amongst state and private schools, academies, as well as clubs, gyms, hotels, local authority leisure centres and parks to devise complementary programmes supporting all levels of (in)competence. Community groups could (and do) manage school swimming pools and sports fields at weekends and during holidays for local people to use, providing significant additional school income.
Coordinated programmes would also benefit developers focused on the expanding retirement market if they partnered with the public and private sectors to provide joint facilities, including 9-hole golf courses, bowls and fitness classes. Another benefit would be reducing loneliness, which isn’t confined to the elderly and retired, but also affects the young. Enhanced social interaction, having a laugh during a game of tennis or football, followed by a coffee, helps general wellbeing and confidence.
Nearly seven million people already volunteer to organise events and coach across the whole range of sports, and Sports England is keen to support greater engagement; by coordinating activities, it should be possible to tap into their various funding streams.
If we aim for 2022, there is plenty of time for each local authority to make plans, and for schools to develop an educational programme focusing on the Commonwealth, which is such an important part of British history – both good and bad – which shouldn’t be repressed.
With the Commonwealth Games scheduled for the school holidays (27th July-7th August), it would be good to have some large screens in parks and football grounds, offering family season tickets, with local restaurants setting up food stalls, and enabling amateur groups, players and musicians, to provide a variety of entertainment. In the weeks after the Games, a range of events from fun runs for all age groups to wheelchair tennis could build on the enthusiasm generated. Local businesses could offer prizes, and the media commit to regular follow-ups to ensure that interest is sustained.
The economic benefits of being the UK City of Sport are likely to reflect those accrued by Cities of Culture, attracting more Tourism. Local Enterprise Partnerships should invest in regional sports engagement strategies, alongside their Skills and Cultural Strategies, to maximise the potential.