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The Sports Think Tank – why take sports policy seriously? By Sam Tomlin – Research Officer for the Sports Think Tank

by on April 23, 2012

Sport is a fascinating industry. Few other industries have such cross-sector reach and ability to engage swathes of the country, as we will see with the Olympics coming to our shores this summer. It is estimated that sports related employment accounts for around 1.8% of employment in England and while the English economy grew by 97% between 1985-2008, the sport-related economy grew by 140% (The Economic Value of Sport 1985-2008, Sport England, 2010). The Olympics themselves will cost around £9.3bn with some estimates as high as £11bn. Sport also has major implications for other major government departments; Health for example with obesity costing the taxpayer around £4bn a year, and Education, with much evidence showing the correlation between performance in school and opportunity to play sport, especially in young boys.

All this means that sport matters beyond simply the state of Manchester United’s midfield or which nation wins the 6 Nations rugby championship (although these things are still important of course!) You would have to have been in a hole for the last year or at least not picked up a newspaper to ignore the headlines generated not only by sports men and women, but the governing bodies and those responsible for deciding sporting policy at a local and national level. Unfortunately these headlines are more often negative than positive, and this is part of the reason the Sports Think Tank has been set up.

Launched just a few months ago with Andy Reed (MP for Loughborough between 1997-2008) and Nick King (former Conservative Central Office), the Sports Think Tank’s aim is the advancement of the education of the public in sporting policy and its incumbent benefits through rigorous and evidence-based research. Despite its spectacular popularity and high levels of engagement, sport is still relatively under-appreciated at a governmental level, without its own department, sitting within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In fact the sporting agenda often depends on how much the current Prime Minister values sport, with resurgences seen under, Wilson, Major and Blair compared to the relatively low profile given during the majority of other post-war prime ministers’ times in office.

We (Sports Think Tank) are an independent, cross-party organisation, underlining the reality that there is a great deal of cross-party agreement and friendship in sporting policy with differences far less pronounced than with economic or social policy generally along the political spectrum. However, the Sports Minister (currently Hugh Robertson) is not the only person with power to affect sporting policy. The loss of £162m allocated to school sport by the Secretary of State for Education has prompted much criticism from those within sport who were surprised that such a major policy shift could be made seemingly without reference to serious policy or evidence that suggested what was in place was fundamentally wrong. This shows there also needs to be more cross-departmental discussion on sporting policy, and another aim of the Sports Think Tank is to facilitate this.

Sports Think Tank Director, Andy Reed stated that, ‘through the last 14-15 years I have seen policy made up on the hoof to meet political deadlines as well as some really good people developing ideas for long term delivery and then backed by Ministers. You could say it has been a picture of the good, the bad and the really awful.’ Our desire for the think tank is for it to be a safe place to discuss the big questions outside the need to meet short term political deadlines. We aim to do this through research projects, publications, seminars, workshops and networking events, covering four main areas: Governance in sport; The role of the private sector in sport; elite vs school vs community balance in sporting provision; and sport for development.

Our hope is that with the widest range of support (including our current partners) we will be able to achieve this and the role of sport and physical activity both here in the UK and abroad (the sport for development sector is a growing and exciting sector) will be enhanced as much as possible for public benefit.

We are currently working on a number of projects including the role of sport in society, future funding for sport beyond 2012 and the provision of sport in Local Authorities. If you would like to find out more about the Sports Think Tank, please email:

Sam Tomlin is Research Officer for the Sports Think Tank. He has always been a passionate sportsman, representing his county and university at cricket and football as well as engaging in the power of sport and physical activity for social change. He has been involved in various policy work and is the co-author and lead researcher of ‘Football & the Big Society’ (2011) with the think tank CentreForum.

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