31 10 2010

One of my recent blogs which looked at the likely cut in the public (exchequer) funding to sport following the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) was picked up and published on a number of sites drawing some interesting comments.

Many of these comments caught me a little off guard as they centred on a school of thought which, I will be honest, had never occurred to me; sport should not be funded from the public purse at all. Interestingly, this thought came from people involved in sport not a gang of anti sporting couch potatoes!

I don’t intend to discuss whether sport should or should not be publicly funded in this blog. Instead what I would like to do, is suggest to those involved in sport but not supporting public funding of sport that they are confusing public funding of sport with Government funding of sport and to further suggest that without public funding, sport as we know it in the UK would very rapidly disappear!

Sport at its most basic level relies heavily on public funding. Imagine Sunday morning football without the local

Park football would suffer greatly without public funding

 authority making space available, marking out and looking after pitches up and down the country. Imagine taking the family for a swim without access to a publicly funded, local authority swimming pool.

From athletics tracks to general use sports halls, grass-roots sport in this country simply could not happen without funding provided by local authorities to build, manage, maintain and staff facilities. I would go as far as to suggest that without public funding of sport we would have very little meaningful sport at all in this country. And before anyone tries to distance elite sport from grass-roots sport, less sport at the bottom end will inevitably lead to a lessening of people coming through to the elite end.

To me, the important question that arises from the comments mentioned above is not whether we fund sport but how we fund sport?

The previous Government, its Quangos and many employees of Quango funded bodies have, for the last decade, banded around the word ‘sustainable’ in association with funding to the point it has almost lost all meaning. Funding was channelled towards using sport as a tool to achieve political objectives with a seemingly endless stream of initiatives coming and going; every single one of them apparently ‘sustainable’.

However, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that despite the millions ‘invested’ by Government in sport of the last few years, the nation’s biggest investor in sport remains the local authorities who are also the nation’s biggest provider of sporting facilities.

Yet, unlike many European countries, there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to provide any support for sport whether funding, facility, sports development or any other. And in the light of cuts following the CSR, the logical place for many local authorities to make savings will be by cutting those services with no statutory requirement for their provision.

Which brings me to the title for this article; ‘The Public Funding of Sport and a Legacy from 2012.’

If we are to safeguard the future of sport in this country, if we are to do it in a way that is about sport for sport’s sake not sport as political tool, if we are to do it in a way that is truly sustainable and if we are to leave a genuine lasting legacy from the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games the Government need do only one thing – pass legislation making the provision of sporting facilities, the support of clubs with community roots and backing for the development of sport a statutory requirement of local authorities.

Such an action might not pump new money into sport but it would undoubtedly safeguard its future at grass-roots level.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal




2 responses

31 10 2010
john bicourt

Public funding through local council provision of facilities (as opposed to direct government funding of sports national governing bodies) should not be confused with a “2012 legacy.”

The “legacy” is a term banded about by Coe and co., promising something which is presented as wholly dependent upon the nation’s investment (from their taxes) in the 2012 £10billion Olympic Games.

But as you correctly point out, ‘the nation’s biggest investor in sport remains the local authorities who are also the nation’s biggest provider of sporting facilities’ and it is this more than London’s glittering two week sport’s carnival that will provide any real and sustained legacy, just as it always has and every other country has since they began local council sports facility provision.

10 11 2010
Bob Procter


Your viewpoint is extremely valid.
As one whose business relies on securing private funding to deliver sports activities to schools the medium to long term dangers are obvious.
Local authorities have to a great extent done a fine job in many areas of the UK but the pressures being put on them and the cuts they are now having to deal with will lead to the inevitable I’m afraid.
Leisure & sporting facilities are a softer target for cost reductions and without legislation the provision of “sustainable” facilities will be diminished significantly.

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