‘Little progress’ in solving obstacles to participation in sports – MPs

A woman runs on a treadmill in the gym
The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines say adults aged 19 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week

“Little progress” has been made in recent efforts to tackle barriers to participation in sport and physical activity in England, an influential group of MPs says.

In a report, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it was “not convinced” the government’s approach was effective.

It claims the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) “lacks a compelling vision for integrating physical activity into everyday life”.

PAC scrutinizes the value for money of government contracts and spending.

A cross-party group of MPs says a strategy shift by funding agency Sport England in 2015 to local efforts aimed at targeting the least active is “showing some signs of working”.

But it adds that “disappointingly” this “has not yet resulted in a significant change in national rates”.

The MPs said: “Despite Sport England spending an average of £323m of taxpayers’ money each year since 2015, the percentage of active adults has increased by just 1.2% between November 2016 and November 2019.

“Almost two in five adults in England still do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for recommended activity.”

The commission’s report also says:

  • Hopes to boost grassroots sport from London 2012 “failed to materialise”, with the proportion of adults taking part at least once a week falling in the first three years after the event
  • Sport England’s spending data “is not precise enough to assess how well it is targeting spending at the least active”
  • DCMS applied “some but not all” of its learning from the London 2012 Olympics to hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, with no mechanisms in place to monitor the long-term legacy of participation from the Birmingham event.
  • Sport England “recognises the fragile financial position of some leisure providers but has no understanding of the support the sector may need. Leisure facilities also face longer-term challenges” and DCMS “should urgently review the state of leisure facilities”.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “After the short-term financial boost, there was very little to show in terms of legacy, even in my immediate area of ​​East London where the 2012 Games were held.

“Resets since 2015 have not started to bring the anticipated benefits for moving to a lower level.

“More waste, more waste of desperately needed public money. As the cost of living crisis bites hard, DCMS must determine what it will do differently to achieve change where it has failed.”

In a statement, a government spokesman said it had “made the nation’s health and fitness a priority and people’s activity levels were at an all-time high before the pandemic”.

They added: “Through the pandemic we have secured £1 billion to support leisure sectors such as public pools and leisure centres, as well as grassroots and professional sports, and we continue to encourage participation, particularly for under-represented groups.

“Activity levels for young people have now returned to pre-pandemic levels and we continue to work with Sport England to invest in sport for all, recently announcing £320m for schools and more than £260m to build or upgrade thousands of grassroots facilities the field.

“We will soon announce a new sports strategy with our ambition to continue to increase activity rates.”

A spokesman for Sport England said: “Activity levels were at record highs across England before the pandemic – participation in sport and activity continues to recover.

“Sport England invests public money responsibly and transparently, recording and publishing details of all grant recipients – including location details down to postcode level.

“It’s all clearly available online, with information about where every pound we spend goes.”

Hitesh Patel, from the Sport for Development Coalition, said: “The inquiry calls for a more compelling vision for citizen participation in sport, and nowhere is this more evident than around the world. [our] a growing network of charities and organizations across the UK, using sport to tackle key social issues.”

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