Tracey Crouch is Minister for Sport and Member of Parliament for Chatham and Aylesford.
Sport is a central part British life. Millions of us take part – some of us are world-beating, some of us are mediocre but dedicated, and some of us just play for fun. Others prefer to walk or dance. All such activity has great value. It keeps us fit and makes us happy, takes pressure off the NHS, reduces crime, improves educational attainment, entices tourists to our shores, binds communities and nations together, and is very big business.
Conservatives understand this instinctively. That’s why Sir John Major had the foresight to create the Department of National Heritage, (now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport), which gave sport much more clout in Whitehall and beyond. He also created the National Lottery, which has brought additional billions of pounds into sport, helping us to win medals and build facilities all over the country.
It has been 13 years since the last government sport strategy. A lot has gone right in recent years – especially a fantastic Olympic and Paralympic Games that helped regenerate an extremely run down area, brought in billions of pounds to the economy, encouraged many people to take up sport, and got the whole country buzzing.
But while sport can do immense things to transform people’s lives, it isn’t doing enough. Our strategy, Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation, published today, will change this.
Far too many people are inactive. Just 56 per cent of adults are active for the recommended 150 minutes a week, and certain groups including women, people from poorer backgrounds, people with disabilities and older people are particularly disengaged.
Sport has also been rocked by drug scandals, match-fixing and allegations of corruption. And while the vast majority of volunteers who make sport possible are positively heroic, we must be ever vigilant about those who would use their position to hurt the vulnerable.
And of course we want to do whatever we can to help our athletes win even more medals and titles.
All of which means a new kind of strategy for sport and physical activity. We plan to invest more than £1 billion in taxpayers’ and Lottery money in sport over the next five years. It is essential that not only do we get value for this money but it is spent for the benefit of everyone.
So we will no longer simply count the number of people taking part. Ours will be a much more sophisticated and comprehensive approach. Funding decisions will include projects that incorporate social good. Success will be assessed far more rigorously, and judged on the basis of five key outcomes: physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, individual development, social and community development, and economic growth.
Nor will we concentrate all our efforts on those who are already active. Asking someone like me who is already engaged in sport and fitness to do a bit more is pointless and not the best use of public money. Getting someone who doesn’t do anything to do something will however add massive value. There are enormous benefits to be had from encouraging those who are inactive to take up sport or other forms of exercise ranging from physical to mental well being as well as wider community engagement.
We will ensure funds are targeted at those who are under-represented.
And we will measure those currently not counted in official statistics, like the thousands of children who take part in sport every weekend. By broadening Sport England’s remit so that it is responsible for sport outside school from the age of five, rather than 14, we will start to address the problem of kids dropping out of sport when they hit their teens.
We will also do more to support volunteers and supporters. A new duty of care will protect people, so that there is greater confidence in the safety and well being of those who participate.
Confidence in sport will be further boosted by a fierce resolve to tackle corruption and transgressive behaviour. We will create a new code in this country that sets an improved international standard.
The strategy also recognises the fact that elite sport is dependent on and has responsibilities towards the grassroots. I am delighted that following my negotiations with the Premier League, they have agreed to at least double their investment in grassroots football, pending the outcome of an Ofcome investigation into how they sell their broadcasting rights.
This is a cross-Whitehall effort but will also depend on arm’s length bodies, the NHS, local authorities and others. Sport touches many, many aspects of life. It can never be an afterthought.
Sir John Major realised that – and so too does the current generation of Conservative politicians. We are going to get the whole country on track for success.