27 07 2010

News broke yesterday (26th July) that the Government is to merge UK Sport and Sport England in order to streamline the running of sport in England (sport is devolved in the Celtic nations).

Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson provided Inside The Games with an exclusive, announcing that under the proposal UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust will form a new body that will be answerable to a single governing board.

While UK Sport and Sport England are, to all intents and purposes, Government Quangos, the Youth Sport Trust holds independent charity status and the new proposals will need to find a way around this in merging the three bodies.

That issue aside, this author believes such a merger is not only welcome but long overdue. That said it is with cautious optimism that I welcome the announcement for the new structure will be meaningless without the right strategy in place.

What the proposed streamlined structure does is to align the way sport is managed in this country in a way the current model does not.

The development of sport from the very bottom of the grass roots to the very top of the podium should be a continuum, an unbroken chain. Indeed, there is something called ‘the Sports Development Continuum’ which has been overlooked by Government and its Quangos for too long.

The Sports Development Continuum provides a simple model to ensure sport is catered for at all ages, stages and abilities and although only four words long (Foundation, Participation, Performance and Excellence) serviced properly, it covers all elements required in a way that lumping great aspirations together and hoping they find linkage does not.

Under the previous Government, we have seen little understanding of this basic principle as sport has been ‘lumped’ into either ‘Elite’ or ‘Mass Participation’ or ‘School Sport’. No flow, no continuum.

This has, in part, been due to the fractured administration of sport where UK Sport looks after their ‘lump’, Sport England theirs and the Youth Sport Trust theirs. Although each has their ‘strategy’, this is Horizontal Integration of strategy where Vertical Integration is clearly called for.

That Vertical Integration of strategy will be further aided when other Government departments, who have a stake in sport, such as Education and Health, find they only need to communicate with one body when coordinating plans. Revolutionary thinking I know, but I did say cautious optimism and I am typing with my fingers crossed!

In bringing the different bodies together care and consideration will be needed to ensure that where there has been good work it is continued and ultimately improved upon while the lower quality delivery all too often seen in many areas must not be mistaken for being better than it is.

UK Sport for example, have overseen a rise in excellence in elite sport in this country the envy of much of the world although behind the headlines there are sports which have struggled to keep pace and medal counts have been boosted by a small group of overachieving sports rather than higher levels across all (or at least the majority). Delivery of Excellence can only be maintained and improved if the supply route bringing talent through Foundation, Participation and Performance is strong; you cannot plan one part of the continuum without consideration for the rest.

Below national level there will undoubtedly be a rush to restructure before any new unified, Sports Development Continuum based strategy is in place. Such restructuring must be avoided until the demands of strategy are known for, as I have said before in this blog, structure should be strategy’s servant, not its master; a mistake from the past which must not be repeated.

A further benefit to sport which I am sure the Minister has considered, and much of grass roots sport will applaud, will be the reduction in waste as, theoretically at least, more money finds its way to sport rather than to its (currently) overpopulated administration.

So; cautious optimism from this corner but, as ever, the real devil will be in the detail.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010

Twitter: @cowanglobal



7 responses

27 07 2010
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I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

27 07 2010

So will this mean that Sport England raises to the standard of UK Sport or that UK Sport falls to the depth of Sport England. Unfortunately I think answer is inevitable!! Possibly the worst decision ever made by a very ill informed government department

28 07 2010

Hi Johnny,
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Your fears may be well founded IF the new merged body is allowed to continue imposing Government agenda/initiatives, as per Sport England, on sport rather than allying it to sound sports development principles.
You will note that elsewhere I have challenged the Minister to show us his strategy within which (I hope) the answers reside.
So, as I said in closing, cautious optimism from this corner but, as ever, the real devil will be in the detail.

28 07 2010

Hi Jim,

Interesting thoughts and on the surface there is some sound reasoning for the merger, but is this decision being made to aid sports development or to save money?

I have concerns with the announcement for several reasons but the main one is from a feeling that this leads us back to the old ‘Sports Council’ and the challenges of a dual English / British mandate. Does this decision not lead us to a sporting ‘West Lothian Question’ where some issues to be dealt with by the Board of the new organisation will be British and some will be completely English, therefore what about the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish involved in the Board – will the Home Country Council Chairmen be involved in the Board or will they be excluded? It certainly does not seem fair that they are involved on decisions relating to English only matters but it is equally unfair to exclude them from debates on British matters.

It seems a shame that a system which, although not flawless (certainly at a British level – I have no direct experience of the English level), seems to have been working quite well and delivering on the performance front is being changed in what appears to be the name of efficiency.

If it is a matter of saving money then would an alternative not be to look at merging the back office services (Admin, Finance, HR, MarkComm etc., ) and share facilities (Offices, Meeting Rooms, etc.,) and leave the front facing services as they are, leave two separate Boards focusing on the policy areas they are expert in, leave the staff interfacing with NGB’s and other sports organisations with a clear understanding of their role and remit be that performance or development.

I accept the argument that a single body should aid the continuum but it will not be a single body covering the UK, sport is a devolved issue and that needs to be taken into account. A UK Sport sitting above the four home nations should be capable of taking on an additional role to that of performance and that is one of co-ordination between the Home Nations to ensure fair and equitable systems designed to deliver strong participation and talent development platforms.

Just my thoughts!


28 07 2010

Hi Colin,
Some great points, there is obviously a need for thorough debate around this issue which will (hopefully) happen especially given Cameron’s promise of greater consultation with the public.
The crux to me is the strategy part of it. Politicians love to talk about strategy but we need to actually see genuine strategy in place, vertically integrated and properly implemented.
Over to you Minister?

3 08 2010

Another great blog, thank you.

Having read a few of your blogs now I’m fast forming the opinion that the Government could do worse than seek your advice!

Keep it up.


22 01 2012

[…] we have instead is a continuation of the silo mentality I had hoped the proposed merger between UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust would consign to history. There is certainly little sign of the vertical integration so key to […]

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