The Value of Sport

Following a commitment by Sport England in 2008 to fund ‘sport for sport’s sake,’ [1] viewing sport for its instrumental value – that is how it contributes to crime reduction, community safety, the economy, health and so on, has increasingly come under scrutiny.  Instead, sport for sport’s sake is about understanding the significance of sport in itself, rather than the additional benefits it can bring.  It is about the benefit of sport or recreation coming from the act of physically exerting yourself, training and challenging yourself and competing against others.

Politically, the instrumental value of sport can help further different agendas.  Policy makers rely on the substantial evidence which supports the wider benefits of sport to justify investments of public money in sport.  As a result of this it is beneficial for sporting organisations to be able to demonstrate the role of sport in meeting wider social and economic objectives.  However, there is also a desire within the sporting sector to acknowledge, and not lose sight of the fact, that ‘sport matters in itself’. [2]   

The UK is currently emerging from a long recession [see economic downturn]; in order to tackle the budget deficit, policy makers have made some tough decisions on where to cut public spending.  Spending streams are now subject to greater scrutiny over the benefits they contribute to and their importance in relation to the wider political landscape. 

One area that is a government priority is tackling obesity and the associated public health crisis which may result from its prevalence in the UK.  In England, a quarter of adults were classified as obese in 2008 (24% of men and 25% of women), [3] and childhood obesity is on the rise.  As, ‘physical activity is central to reducing obesity’, [4] there is an extra emphasis on the instrumental value of sport for its benefits on physical fitness and health. 

In combination with this due to the economic downturn and the increase in VAT, many individuals will also be cutting back on their personal spending and finding their leisure time to be more scarce [see time and energy deficit].  A scarcity in leisure time increases the value that people place on the time which they do have and has seen more and more people aiming to incorporate elements of their life into their daily routine in order to maximise their leisure time, for example; cycling to work in order to fulfil some physical activity for the associated health benefits as part of a daily routine or monitoring golfing performance using free technology on gadgets and watches such as the Golf Buddy (in fact there is a lot of quality golf equipment on offer which can help with performance tracking - even high-quality golf trolleys can help you do so).

Such a focus often means that the value of sport for the benefits of the sport itself is increasingly overlooked for more practical options at both a governmental and individual level.   

What are the implications?

  • A focus on sport for weight loss and fitness could lead to an increasing market for participation to occur in the form of sport regimes such as weight loss camps and military fitness programmes, rather than voluntary sports clubs
  • This would weaken community involvement and collective enjoyment in sport, and may create negative associations regarding sport for children who are targeted through government plans to reduce childhood obesity
  • Individuals experiencing increased constraints on their personal time and finances may, as a result, prioritise leisure activities and reduce sports club participation.  This is likely to impact on children who are involved in numerous sports clubs and activities, with parents ending up in a position where they only have the time and/or finances for their child to continue with one club or after school activity   
  • In order to save time and money, members of the public may incorporate their sporting activities into their daily routine, placing an increasing emphasis on sport to fulfil another purpose such as health benefits or cheaper transport
  • Solo activities such as cycling to work or taking a lunchtime run are increasingly individualised in comparison to belonging to a sports clubs
  • There are however opportunities for increased voluntary community involvement by combining physical activity with voluntary action.  Existing examples of this include running to visit an elderly, less mobile person [see The Good Gym Website] or exercising in ‘Green Gyms’ which allows volunteers to undertake physical activity outdoors that will improve both their health and the environment
  • Streamlining participation in sports clubs in favour of more individually-focused, practicality-led activities runs the danger of increasing individualisation.  Conversely, combining the value of physical recreation with voluntary action could lead to a more empowered sports volunteer or increased positive perceptions around the value of sport and the value of volunteering
  • Physical activities which are cheaper, or regarded as being good value for money, may experience increased participation levels whilst participation in other sports declines.  Private sector gyms will also be competing for these participants and are likely to lower prices and run special offers to entice customers to the private sector [see the commodification of membership]
  • User-generated informal sports clubs may grow in popularity, using technological advances to organise themselves at no cost and minimal effort, for example by setting up a Facebook group
  • The structure of sports clubs may evolve in line with the informal, technology driven organisational approach and facilitate increased involvement from younger volunteers.  For example, formal elections for official places on the committee of a club may be replaced with a more ad hoc way of working where volunteers do what they can when they can, using technology to organise individuals times in relation to the tasks which need doing

Moving forward

The rise of the value of sport higher up the health agenda creates some real opportunities to increase participation within voluntary sports clubs and the community if the value of sport is perceived and acted upon in the correct way.  At the same time, there is a real danger that sports clubs will decline in membership and some may disappear under the weight of increasingly individualised practical physical activity.  This could also detract from the enjoyment and social cohesion generated by the community sports club.

  • What values do you attach to your organisation and what messages do you promote about the value of sport and physical recreation? How will these values appeal to members and potential members?
  • In what ways is your organisation involved in voluntary action?  Are there other ways in which you can conduct voluntary action through physical activity?
  • How could your organisation use online technology to organise and orchestrate activities efficiently and in a way that establishes a positive relationship with younger members?
  • Does your organisation offer good value for money to your members?  How, if at all, might this be improved?

Want to know more?

The Good Gym

Published by: The Good Gym

Date: 2010

Format: Website

What is it? A website for the Good Gym scheme currently operating in only in Tower Hamlets in London explaining what the concept is, how it works and ways to get involved

How useful is this? Although this is quite a specific website their explanation of the idea is interesting and inspiring.  The information on the site might help others to put something similar into place and demonstrates how volunteering can be made easy.

The Value of Sport Monitor

Published by: Sport England

Date: 2010

Format: Website

What is it? Sport England and UK Sport produce this monitor in conjunction with the University of Stirling.  It is a comprehensive online portal for up-to-date data, reference sources and critical reviews of published research evidence covering the value of sport in relation to broader social issues.   

How useful is this? The data is grouped according to seven briefly outlined categories which allows for easy identification of relevant information.  Each category contains a wealth of relevant pieces of research and reviews which can easily be expanded to detail the key findings or downloaded in full.  It is also possible to download an overall summary for each category which succinctly distils the most relevant information into a couple of pages.  The seven categories are;

Crime reduction and community safety

Economic impact and regeneration of local communities

Education and lifelong learning


Physical fitness and health

Psychological health and wellbeing

Social capacity and cohesion   


1. Sport England Strategy, 2008-2011 -Sport England, 2008 [back]

2. James Purnell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in 2007 -cited in CCPR, 2008, Getting the Ball Rolling, London, CCPR [back]

3. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet -The Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2010 [back]

4. Labour Fringe –Solving the Public Health Crisis: We’ve Found the Miracle Cure! -Fred Turok, Chairman of the Fitness Industry Association, Panel Debate, 28/09/2010 [back]

Last updated at 12:16 Tue 29/Mar/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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