Sports cuts will impact upon social opportunity and life chances

By Grant Jarvie and Dominik Birnbacher

The news that sport in Scotland is to be cut by 20% backs up research first released by Edinburgh University in the Scotsman back in December 2016.. Figures released by BBC indicated that in 2015 52 sports benefitted from a total revenue of £65.1million. A figure that by the end of 2018 will have fallen to £58.1 million, a fall of 20% in the three years between 2015 and 2018.

While the Sportscotland response to the cut in funding focused upon the impact upon elite athletes many other areas of Scottish life could be affected. All of this in a week when the Holyrood Health and Sport Committee considered barriers to involvement in sport and physical activity.

In 2016 the United Nations put sport on a statutory footing in recognition of the contribution it could make to the 2030 sustainable development goals. What was significant about this was that having evaluated the available evidence about sports contribution the conclusion was that sport contributes to development goals 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 16. The Commonwealth Secretariat has concluded the same.

The point being is that what has being evidenced here is not a sterile debate about sport v physical activity or medals v participation but that sport is a valuable social tool that contributes to development and as such merits statutory provision.

Sport in Scotland is not statutory and yet it contributes greatly to young people’s heath and therefore their development (Health). It involves young people in positive activity, thereby helping them avoid trouble (Social Cohesion). It encourages concentration, motivation and other learning skills that helps young people’s education and their working and social lives (Education).

Sport is not a magic social silver bullet. No one silver bullet exists but if you want a healthier, more socially cohesive, socially mobile Scotland where the educational attainment gap has been challenged and Scottish cities are much more connected internationally then Scotland has to value much more the social tool box that is sport.

Yes, world sport has challenges over integrity and governance and physical activity can be addictive as well as healthy but clearly sport based approaches to development have a valuable contribution to make in terms of resilience, rehabilitation, social cohesion, soft power and diplomacy, connecting cities and many social and development goals.

The initial total proposed spending plan for Scotland in 2017-18 amounted to £31.4 billion of which £13.1 billion (41.7%) is allocated to Health and Sport. This represented a decline in both cash and percentage terms from the £12.9 billion (42.5 %) of the overall £30.4 billion allocated for 2016/17.

The allocation of resource for sport through the Health and Sport budget has reduced year on year from £71.8m in 2015-16 to £45.6m in 2016-17 to £42.4m for 2017-18. While this does not represent the total money available to sport the crucial point is that the consistent trend in the total funding made available through the Health and Sport budget has in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games been a downward spiral.

In an austere Scotland sport, it is worth remembering, has not always been determined by power and privilege. The draft 2017-18 Scottish budget runs the danger of increasing inequality and displaying a real lack of knowledge about what sport can and is doing in other parts of the world.

The vision of a Scotland where more people are more active more often, underpinned by an Active Scotland Outcomes Framework which is underpinned by a commitment to equality, is not backed up in expenditure terms.

The vast majority of the money allocated to sport within the Health and Sport allocation goes to the national sports agency which has the unenviable task of delivering government objectives and using its resource strategically to cover over cracks in other parts of the system. The excellent Active School Sports Co-ordinators programme was introduced in the 1980’s to cover over the cracks in a school sport and physical education brought about by a teachers strike while the innovative and contemporary Community Sports Hubs initiative serves to cover up cracks in local authority provision for sport.

The allocation of funding to the national sports agency is in itself unfair given the role that it is asked to play by government. The Scottish Governments 2017-18 draft budget sees a fall of 7.02% compared to the 2016-17 draft.

The budget lines are split between sport and legacy funding and physical activity funding. The Sport and Legacy allocation is down 7.57%. The physical activity allocation remains static at a time when participation levels in sport and physical activity for 2-15 year olds have still to reach a 2008 high of 71% according to the Scottish Health Survey’s figures.

The standard Scottish Government argument for Scottish funding ills is invariably that of UK austerity. An argument that fails to recognise that all main government funding streams into Scottish Sport are showing signs of decline. The advent of the 2014 Commonwealth Games perhaps masked the extent of the funding cracks for a while as the injection of funds to support the event and the creation of major capital builds such as Oriam, The National Performance Centre and the National Para sports centre help to conceal downward trends. Such developments can be seen to have delayed the onset of austerity in sporting terms.

The allocation of funding to the national sports agency consists of three main items Scottish Government funding made up from the General Fund and Grant in Aid and the share of National Lottery funding that is distributed through Sportscotland. The allocation of Cash back funding produced from the receipts of crime has from time to time augmented funding levels but such expenditure is difficult to plan since it may or may not be allocated to sport and lies within the Ministerial gift.

Scottish Government Funding for sport fell between 2015 and 2016 mainly due to the removal of capital funds between the two periods. According to Hudson and O’Donnell (2015) the allocation of funding in real terms fell by 36.5 % between 2015-16 and 2016-17 with the £71.8 million allocated in 2015-16 falling to £45.6 million in 2016-17.

Scottish Government Capital Funding fell to £2 million in 2016-17 compared to a high of £15.7 million in 2012-13 and the run up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The amount of revenue funding for sport has also fluctuated between 2011 and 2016-17 reaching a high of £33.7 million in 2015-16.

National Lottery Distribution Funding allocated to sport between 2007-8 and 2015-16 generally increased before decreasing.

The total resources distributed through Sportscotland generally increased up until 2015-16 and then decreased.

The proportion of the 2017-18 budget allocated to sport remains small compared to the total health and sport sector budget. The 2017-18 draft budget allocation of £42.4 million compared to £45.6 million in 2016/17 is a decrease of 7.0%. The Scottish Government’s sport budget as part of the health and sport portfolio, amounts to £13.1 billion or 41.7 % of the overall £31.4 billion Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL). This can be compared to £12.9 billion or 42.5 % of the overall £30.4 billion (DEL) for the year 2016/17. An increase in real terms and a fall in % terms.

The positioning of sport within the Health and Sport portfolio has been both enabling and constraining. The contribution that sport and physical activity has made to health has been grasped and prioritized. The sports contribution to Scottish society has at best been marginalized and least not provided with the space and resource to flourish. No where is this more evident than the allocation of time spent discussing the contribution that sport can make to Scottish Society within the overall business of the Holyrood Parliamentary Health and Sport Committee.

Admittedly Scotland does not control foreign policy but sport is one of the considerable avenues open to Scotland through which it can enable its influence on the world stage. The USA and parts of Canada tackle gender inequality in sport by legislating for it to be outlawed through Title IX provision as opposed to a £300,000 pa gender equality fund.

Norway and Holland have long since recognised the role of sport in International Development. The place of sport and physical activity within the challenge of educational attainment should be much more centre stage. Those lost safe common spaces for play could be recreated.

One respected political commentator has recently pointed out that football could actually be the conduit for breaking down barriers to tackling child abuse. All this and much more could emerge if sport was fully understood in terms of its full potential to Scotland.

The daily mile is to be applauded but daily enjoyable physical education provision should be recaptured and fought for not to mention the alternative education provision, such as the Spartans Academy, provided through sport in Scotland.

As China’s capacity supply of marathons, fun runs and building facilities for other countries outstrips demand and Australia’s development of it’s second sports diplomacy strategy begins to take on legs and arms it is doubtful if health and health alone is the main rationale.

In our sports stars Scotland has an an army of potential cultural ambassadors that with correct training could become potential diplomats and yet all of these potential possibilities and others could be lost if Scotland cannot find the space and political will to be far more politically aspirant and knowledgeable about what sport can do.

Yet the really sad thing about all of this is that sport used to be a proven pathway of social mobility and even an escape from poverty for a few. It reached into areas of multiple deprivation in a way that few other social tools can and yet falling trends of public funding for sport runs the risk of opening a social class divide in Scotland where cost and access to funds means that consumption of sport becomes the preserve of the leisure middle class,

The face of sport from the Health and Sport Committee Members, as opposed to substitute members, to Scottish Governing bodies remains almost entirely white and the real tools to create gender equality in and through sport such as a Scottish version of Title IX legislation is deemed to be too expensive.

This can be said while still acknowledging that the advent of the National Para Sports Centre is progressive and groundbreaking, the potential of the Community Sports Hubs to the conduit for developing human capabilities in challenging environments is enormous but not as a replacement for school or after school activity activity but rather a complimentary resource.

It does not have to be this way and yet the spaces to enable the potential of sport to deliver more for Scottish Society are few and far between and the cutting of resources to national sports agencies, amongst others, means that the capacity to paint over the cracks is diminished, the invitation to increase private provision for some is increased and the capacity to influence other parts of the world through sport is seen as an add on.

The only winners if Local Authorities cut the resources given to Sport and Leisure Trusts are the private providers whose pricing structures tend to reproduce rather remove social class patterns of sports consumption.

One of the potential dangers of Brexit upon sport in Scotland is the further pealing away of human rights legislation and its impact upon the protection for para-athletes and disability in general. Sport can shed a real light on concerns over Brexit but is it discussed at all in white papers and the volume of Brexit briefing papers?

Genuine sport for all means people cannot be excluded by cost, by lack of safe places, by lack of quality sustained pre school school and post- school experiences, or by lack of legislation that protects involvement in sport at all levels. Genuine sports for all is worth fighting for.

The social returns delivered by this primarily devolved activity are as much about the political choices made in Scotland as they are about funding cuts. Sport requires greater agreed cross-party support, statutory protection and political understanding of what can be delivered.

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