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I’m feeling restless. Maybe it’s the election that’s the cause. I think there’s a sense of inevitability about the outcome and whilst a new government will cause uncertainty there’s also a sense of opportunity that should be grasped too.

The need for change is, I believe, arguably prevalent in the sport and physical activity sector too and it’s this that is (and arguably always has) making me feel restless. I feel change is coming.

Ten years ago I attached this label to the rearview mirror of my car at the time. It is still there three cars later. It has been my touchstone, my ‘go to’ if you will.

10 years and 3 cars later- it still inspires me

10 years and 3 cars later- it still inspires me

At the time, as CEO of the British Athletes Commission, I felt that the Olympic and Paralympic athletes I represented were treated very much as disposable commodities that were needed to win medals (and secure future funding). I felt then, as now, that the athletes should have a voice collectively and individually and they should not all be treated the same.

Many athletes lived in a culture of fear – fearful of being dropped or not selected, losing funding, or even talking openly about their mental health in case it was seen as a sign of weakness. Now on the outside looking in, I wonder how much has changed as we head to the Paris Games? It is hard to say as, by and large, sport still ‘marks its own homework’ and lacks proper scrutiny and accountability. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson called for an independent ombudsman in her duty of care review (published 2017) and also said that the BAC – now the BEAA – should be truly independent. The only thing that’s changed is the name.

There is always change at the end of every four-year funding cycle. People retire or change jobs and as we head into the ‘Los Angeles 2028 ’ cycle, sports are already on alert that there will be less public funding available so that will mean reorganisation and inevitably redundancies as jobs are lost. Rather than shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic is this the time to bring forward support and develop the next generation of leaders? (Rhetorical question)

So there’s an opportunity for change in looking at how sport is both delivered, measured, and therefore funded. Could/should there be mergers of the smaller National Governing Bodies? Could/should there be more sharing of ‘back office’ services? I recently visited the House of Sport on the Sports Park at the Loughborough University campus – it looked like a warehouse of desks and laptops. There was NO ONE there. A review of facilities wouldn’t go amiss as the way of working has seemingly changed for ever.

If that is sport, what about the bedfellows in the physical activity sector? My thought takes me to the phrase adopted by Sport England for their strategy – ‘uniting the movement.’ What does that phrase mean in reality? For me it relates to addressing the health crises in the United Kingdom and using physical activity as both a preventative tool as well as a way of aiding recovery. For this to be genuinely sustainable this is going to require – buzzword alert – genuine ‘collaboration’ between both the sport and physical activity sector and the health (primary care) and social care (social prescribers, link workers) sectors. There’s relationships, trust, and an understanding to be built at local, regional, and national levels to be built and it will require all concerned to get out of their tramlines and work differently.        

I get a sense that there is a groundswell of activity building in people (including this writer) looking at different ways of working individually and together to make a difference. I was once asked a few years ago why I stayed in sport particularly after my breakdown in 2017. My answer was (and still is) that I have to believe that there will be change and I can’t sit still and wait for it to happen. I can’t bring about change on my own, but I can if I am working with others (collaborating) who are as restless as I am.

Here are two examples I (DOCIAsport) are involved in.
Matt Ratana Rugby Foundation
I have had the honour to be asked to join the Matt Ratana Rugby Foundation as a trustee. The name Matt Ratana is easily remembered by many, but for the wrong reasons. He was a serving police officer in Croydon killed by a shotgun fired by a young man being held in police custody. Matt was also the Director of Rugby at East Grinstead RUFC in Sussex and an inspiration to those that knew him. Two stalwarts of the club set up the foundation in his honour and they have COLLABORATED with The Atlas Foundation and STAR scheme to create Tackle London  Creating Change for Young People in London (tacklelondon.org)    This is using sport for change addressing inequalities in the city and supporting children and young people who have had Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). This is ‘uniting the movement’ in my view especially as the model in Croydon is replicable and can be adapted to any area of the country and its particular needs and challenges. Community, ‘nextgen,’ rugby and mental health – what’s not to like?? Watch this space – two other ‘Tackle’ initiatives are in the making and I am delighted to being involved.

CIMSPA ( www.cimspa.co.uk ) are another force for change looking to ‘professionalise’ the workforce in the sport and physical activity sector – in broad terms. As part of their governance structure they have what they call Specialist Expert Groups (SEGs). I have the pleasure on sitting on two. The first relates to COLLABORATING with insurers to make the sector itself sustainable and protecting all those employed/deployed and the participants. This is to protect the sector so it can make a sustainable contribution to communities local and national in the UK – uniting the movement.

The second SEG is focussed on mental health and wellbeing. The first task is to set the minimum standards required of deliverers to those who live with a mental health condition so that they can be included in an appropriately safe and inclusive environment.
The second task will be to set up pan industry standards for employers/deployers to work to and be applied to the working environments. To do this the core team of the SEG – Ben Hulson (CIMSPA) Professor Andy Smith (Edge Hill University) and Hayley Jarvis (MIND) and myself will invite individuals from not only the sport and physical activity sector, but also the Health and Social Care sectors too. We’ll rip up the tramlines we have been working in and relay the tracks sharing knowledge, designing best practice and building trust.

Duty Of Care In Action; Looking after the people looking after the people. Now where have I heard that phrase before????

So we are at a critical stage for our nation and within it the sport sector. There are people clambering to get off their current buses and look for a different way. All change please, all change.




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