Legacy, Sport and Physical Activity –

Last night I was delighted to be at Liverpool John Moores University in my first official duty as a visiting professor of Sport Policy and Development to talk about the Olympic Legacy to the Physical Activity agenda for policy makers.
I guess the drift in policy from sport to physical activity is reflected in my own drift in policy emphasis too. As a key champion for sport in parliament, including being a vocal supporter of the Olympics coming to London in 2012 most of my work was done to promote sport, sport funding and policy to support the sporting landscape. Like many I was driven by using the Olympics as an inspiration for a generation to get into sport and driving up participation in sports clubs.
Whilst this still remains a massive emphasis – the power of sport is still something I will champion at every opportunity I realised that not everybody either shares my view of sport or is ever going to despite how many times I tell them it is great. Over the last 5 years I have learned a great deal about the motivations of the 70% of people who don’t play sport or exercise regularly and this has changed my focus to look at a wide range of things that we need to do as policy makers to be much more consumer focussed.
So back to Liverpool. We had a room of the key drivers (mainly from the public sector to be fair) for sport, recreation, exercise, leisure, physical activity as well as the researchers from LJMU. I didn’t come with any solutions – but just lots of questions about how the people in the room could build in the notion of creating an active lifestyle for the people of Liverpool in all the work they do. The answer to the inactivity timebomb was in the room amongst the practitioners and policy makers, from the Chief Constable to the head of public health and leisure services.
The key messages and challenges are; inactivity is intergenerational and pre determined to an extent before a child enters school, so how do we rebuild play and physical literacy into pre school, parenting. What is the purpose and best practise for school to be doing PE, PL, school sport and games. How do we build an active school – not just in the 2 hours of PE. In a time of austerity – we heard eye watering figures for cuts in Liverpool, including halving the leisure spend what does a ‘service’ look like in 5 years time. It certainly won’t be the same. New partnership will need to emerge.
We all know the various figures of the cost of obesity and inactivity – in fact we almost become immune to the sheer size and scale of the figures from £2bn to £56bn quoted in Street Games lifetime costs, so health have a massive interest in this. We heard of some great examples where CCGs, not just health & wellbeing boards understand the need to invest in physical activity. Once again thanks to @exerciseworks and people like Dr William Bird and Optima health we have been increasingly making the case for exercise as one of the best medicines going! But this needs to turn to become the norm and mainstream not just a few profiled projects.
We also turned to the role of planners and urban designers and architects in making our living environment one conducive to making physical activity part of our normal day. Cycling is making progress but we need to do much more and much faster.
As always I touched on the role of technology and the changing nature of the consumer based on our Future Foundation work at the SRA and Sport Wales. We have to be thinking differently about the way we deliver sport, recreation and exercise. We have to understand behaviour change much better before assuming because we know best people will follow or be coerced into activity. We heard some great examples from Everton FC community work – using the Club to reach groups who otherwise might easily not be engaged at all.
The discussions flowed, the consensus grew and whilst everybody understood the challenges of austerity and doing all of this at a time of little money, this could help as the catalyst to make the partnerships that existed even stronger and more meaningful. It requires greater creativity in thinking rather than creating a pot of money and some more ‘projects’. If the energy in the room can be captured and the partners working closely together across local government, university, education pubic health, museums, Leisure, the private sector and health commissioning as well as the CSP and sports sector there is likely to be an evidence based programmes of solutions to the challenge. Hopefully last night was the start of the next part of a journey in Liverpool in which physical activity becomes an increasing norm for policy makers – and as the room concluded for the the people we aim to serve. If we listen to them a lot more (genuinely listen not just another survey) then we might start to effect real change.
As ever I hope to cajole, question, offer insight and challenge through SajeImpact and SportsInnovation and as a Professor of Sport Policy and development I get a posh title to help!

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