Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Committee of Public Accounts

Related inquiry: Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity

Date Published: 8 January 2023

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The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London were a success in many ways. But ten years on, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has fallen short of the increase in grassroots sports and physical activity participation promised as part of the long-term legacy of the Games. The Department recognises that it relied too heavily on a national event to deliver increased participation and since 2015 has focused on local based approaches and encouraging the least active to become more active. While this shows some signs of working, disappointingly it has not translated into meaningful national level change. Despite Sport England spending an average of £323 million of taxpayers money each year since 2015 to increase participation in sport and physical activity and to support the sports sector, the percentage of active adults increased by only 1.2 percentage points between November 2016 and November 2019. Nearly two in five adults in England still do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for recommended activity.

Increasing activity levels has the potential to deliver financial savings across government through a healthier population and improvements in people’s wellbeing. But the Department and Sport England have made little progress in tackling inequalities and barriers to people participating in sport and physical activity and Sport England’s spending data is not sufficiently granular to assess how well it targets spending at the least active. For example, it distributed £1.5 billion in grants in the five years starting 2016–17, but only knows which local authorities this funding went to for £450 million of this spending.

The Department lacks a compelling vision for integrating physical activity into everyday life and we are not convinced that its approach to working with wider government and industry is effective. The Department must urgently work with the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities and other partners to address the financial sustainability and condition of the nation’s leisure centre stock. Looking ahead, it will be essential that the Department’s new strategy focuses on addressing the motivation, confidence and opportunity barriers to people participating in sport and physical activity, particularly among the most inactive groups, and sets out what it will do differently to achieve change where it has not so far succeeded.