Grassroots Sport and the European Union - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 2: The Societal Role of Sport

11.  The Commission's Communication highlights a number of ways in which sport can contribute to the targets set out in the Europe 2020 Strategy: "sport has a strong potential to contribute to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and new jobs through its positive effects on social inclusion, education and training, and public health."[10] This chapter first considers the evidence received about the range of outcomes sport is capable of delivering, before moving on to consider where the EU could act to provide added value to its existing actions and those of Member States in order to maximise sport's potential in these fields.

12.  The Committee received a wide range of submissions which drew attention to the variety of ways in which sport can be used to deliver benefits for individuals, specific groups of individuals and communities. These could be broadly classified into benefits relating to: health; education, skills and personal development; and social inclusion. These are all areas in which the EU already acts. In the areas of combating social exclusion (Article 153(j)), public health (Article 168) and education (Articles 165-6), the EU's competence is largely restricted to a supporting one whereby it complements the actions of Member States and encourages cooperation between them. It can adopt incentive measures and recommendations to Member States, excluding any harmonisation of laws.

Health Benefits

13.  There was broad agreement amongst our witnesses that the evidence base was strongest and most well-established around the positive physical and mental health outcomes that can result from regular participation in sport. These include reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis and obesity, amongst others.[11] Evidence documenting sport's role in improving mental health for those who suffer from depression and anxiety was also highlighted.[12]

14.  Participation in sport can therefore have particular benefit for groups at greater risk of developing these conditions. For example, the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) highlighted that the prevalence of mental illness is around three times higher amongst those with a disability than in the general population[13] whilst Sport England noted that individuals of African Caribbean origin have a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes.[14] The Royal National Institute of Blind People also drew attention to the role physical activity can play in improving balance, mobility and coordination for those with a visual impairment.[15]

Education, Skills and Personal Development

15.  A number of witnesses drew attention to sport as a tool in engaging individuals at all stages in the educational process, contributing to improved academic performance and assisting in the development of skills and attributes which can help move individuals further along the path to employment.

16.  Examples of personal development included confidence building and improved self-esteem. Groups particularly identified as benefiting from this included young women,[16] individuals from disadvantaged communities[17] and those with a disability.[18] It was also stressed that despite these benefits, these were all groups which are currently under-represented in terms of participation in sport.

17.  With regard to outcomes in the education system, a number of witnesses drew attention to studies which have suggested a positive correlation between participation in sport and improved academic success in school.[19] Others focused on the use of sport as a tool in increasing motivation and attendance. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) cited a project which has used sport as a means of facilitating the return of 14-16 year old young offenders to mainstream education.[20] The Premier League highlighted an innovative programme run in conjunction with schools which uses football as a method of engaging pupils and encouraging uptake of languages at GCSE. Football related resources are used in language teaching in the classroom, followed by football coaching in the language.[21]

18.  Participation in sport can also help develop soft skills, such as communication and confidence-building, which can assist individuals back into employment or in their progress towards it. A project run by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in association with the Prince's Trust and Gosling Tennis Academy aimed at developing skills essential for employability such as teamwork and leadership. In their pilot project 98% of participants were classified as educational under-achievers and 30% were ex-offenders. Following the programme 89% either continued in education or went into training or employment.[22] The Football Foundation had similar success with a project run in conjunction with an NHS mental health partnership which combines football with educational activities. Evaluation of this project revealed that following the programme 75% of participants went into education, volunteering or training.[23]

19.  Participation in grassroots sport also offers opportunities for educational and personal development to volunteers. StreetGames described how for those from disadvantaged communities volunteering "can significantly improve their life chances and help achieve their full potential through teaching leadership and life management skills, as well as providing a route to recognised qualifications." These included Sports Leader and Coach awards, first aid and lifeguarding qualifications. Surveys of participants revealed that these opportunities were highly valued, with individuals reporting that the experience had provided "a doorway to the future ... a practical way of learning" and had "helped me get back on my feet ... before, there were some days I couldn't leave the house."[24] The opportunities available for educational and personal development were also highlighted by Nary Wijeratne, a Volunteer Coordinator to whom we spoke in the course of our visit to Swiss Cottage School. She provided an example of a volunteer programme designed as a personal empowerment and leadership scheme for young girls.[25]

20.  We also received evidence regarding the role sport can play in awareness-raising. For example Premier League Health is a programme which aims to harness the popularity of sport to promote health issues. Run by clubs working with local health agencies who are able to identify the needs of a particular locality it aims to target individuals, many of whom may otherwise be hard to reach, within settings which are familiar and accessible to them. Work as part of the scheme has included bringing health professionals into stadiums on match days to talk directly to fans.[26] Sport Wales also emphasised the usefulness of sport, particularly in isolated rural areas, as a vehicle for bringing people together which could then be capitalised upon for other purposes, for example to broaden access to education and technology.[27] The European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation (ENGSO) and Supporters Direct considered the potential of sport as a vehicle for non-formal learning could be extended even further to promote more intangible concepts including European citizenship and democratic participation.[28]

Societal Benefits

21.  The Commission Communication draws particular attention to the potential of sport as a vehicle "to promote social inclusion of minorities and other vulnerable or disadvantaged groups and contribute towards better understanding among communities, including in post-conflict regions."[29] The societal role of sport is one of the areas where the Government express their clearest support for the Commission's objectives. In their Explanatory Memorandum they state that they support the Commission's desire "to derive clear benefits for EU citizens and the continuing and effective use of sport as a positive policy instrument" and that "on that basis, the Communication should be regarded as a particularly constructive and welcome narrative of EU sports policy goals and ambitions in this area."[30]

22.  The role sport can play in helping to integrate individuals excluded or isolated from society was highlighted by a number of our witnesses. The Sport and Recreation Alliance[31] and ENGSO[32] drew attention to the benefits of participation for older people and the minister described increasing their levels of participation as "a huge area of possibility."[33] The Football Foundation, which funds a project aimed at addressing physical and social inactivity of those aged over 55 and the Jubilee Hall Trust, which runs a dance class for those over 50, both highlighted feedback from participants which suggested its role in reducing feelings of social isolation in addition to increasing their sense of physical and mental wellbeing.[34]

23.  A number of our witnesses spoke of the potential role of sport in bringing together diverse or fragmented communities. Sport Northern Ireland described the "vital role" sport had played in "bringing the peoples of Northern Ireland together in an area that was safe and secure and in which there was mutual respect for their traditions and identities." The EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland acknowledged sport's potential in this area, funding projects aimed at community cohesion and good relations.[35] Leon McCollin, a volunteer with StreetGames, explained how sports activities in his community had brought together individuals from a diverse range of religious and cultural backgrounds[36] and how this had had success in encouraging integration beyond the time of the formal sessions. The football project Kickz, funded by the Football Association and the Premier League and run in association with the police, has also had success in bringing together individuals from diverse ethnic groups in areas of deprivation where gangs often pose serious problems.[37]

24.  We also received evidence which stressed the effectiveness of sport as a method of reaching disengaged young people, particularly at "jeopardy ages." StreetGames described the ways in which they tailored their programmes in order to address directly the protection and risk factors which affect young people falling into criminal or antisocial behaviours.[38] These are set out in Box 3. StreetGames also provided a number of practical examples of where their projects had contributed to measurably reduced rates of offending. For example data provided by Greater Manchester Police indicated that reported figures of antisocial behaviour in two wards where StreetGames targeted its projects were reduced by 39.7% per month in the course of a year.[39] Such projects can help local communities and businesses affected by offending whilst also providing opportunities for the police and other authorities to build up trust and relationships with young people and their families.[40] A report published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2009 concluded that "there is a clear association between levels of trust in a community and membership of sport and cultural groups." [41]


Using sport as a method of preventing youth offending
Risk factors are those which are known to increase the likelihood of subsequent involvement in youth crime. These can include weak communities, social alienation and attitudes which condone offending.

Grassroots sports projects can help mitigate these through creating stronger communities and helping build a sense of pride and belonging particularly through competitive events. Participation can also bring different communities together, helping to relieve tensions. Coaches and leaders can be used to transmit social understanding to participants, highlighting unacceptable behaviours and presenting the message that offending is unacceptable.

Protection Factors are those that buffer children and young people against the risks to which they are exposed.

Leaders of grassroots sports projects can provide positive role models within communities. Participation in sporting activities can also provide opportunities for individuals to develop social and intellectual skills and self-esteem. In addition it can provide a forum in which participants are able to learn to deal with setbacks.

25.  We believe that the EU could gain most from the new competence, particularly at a time of financial constraint, by regarding sport not as a peripheral policy area but as a powerful and effective tool in the delivery of objectives across the policy spectrum, notably in the health, social and educational spheres. We welcome the Commission's focus on this in the Communication.

26.  With particular regard to EU policy, sport can make a strong contribution to the achievement of three out of the five headline targets of the Europe 2020 Strategy, namely those on employment, education and poverty and social exclusion. Increasing levels of participation in grassroots sports should therefore be a priority in the field of sport for the Member States, and for the EU within the limits of its competence.

27.  Our evidence also highlighted that participation in sport can bring particular benefits to groups whose participation rates are lowest. These include women and girls, those with a disability, the unemployed, older people, migrant communities and those from disadvantaged communities. Particular effort should be devoted to increasing participation of these groups. We welcome the Commission's proposal to support projects promoting their inclusion.

10   COM (2011) 12 Back

11   Recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer cited in Q 41, Q 121, Department of Health Be Active, Be Healthy, 2009, cited in GSEU 29 and GSEU 14 Back

12   GSEU 20, GSEU 19, GSEU 29 Back

13   GSEU 14 Back

14   GSEU 29 Back

15   GSEU 13 Back

16   GSEU 15 Back

17   GSEU 11 Back

18   GSEU 14 Back

19   GSEU 31, GSEU 29 Back

20   GSEU 7 Back

21   GSEU 17 Back

22   GSEU 27 Back

23   GSEU 20 Back

24   GSEU 34 Back

25   Appendix 3 Back

26   GSEU 17 Back

27   Q 212 Back

28   GSEU 30, GSEU 32 Back

29   COM (2011) 12 Back

30   EM 5597/11 Back

31   GSEU 1 Back

32   GSEU 30 Back

33   Q 231 Back

34   GSEU 20, GSEU 23 Back

35   QQ 210, 224 Back

36   Q 101 Back

37   GSEU 17 Back

38   GSEU 34, Youth Justice Board, Risk and Protective Factors, 2005 Back

39   GSEU 34  Back

40   GSEU 17, GSEU 11 Back

41   DCMS, Lifting People, Lifting Places, 2009 Back

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