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The British Sporting Model 2012

by Paul Kitchin

‘The proliferation and coordination of sport and health programmes at local government level provides great opportunities for communities to access these services….’

By 2012 the British sporting model is the envy of its European neighbours. The coordination of government and private initiatives is central to its success. In fact their establishment was one of the key factors in London being awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

By 2012 the focus on sport and physical activity has increased significantly in the community. An increasing number of Britons see some form of physical activity as part of any regular day. Nevertheless Britain still has a long way to go to meet the 70% activity target set a decade earlier in 2002. The success of sport and physical activity is due to a revolution in government investment and initiative in sport at local and national levels.

The two tier development of sport throughout Britain focused on ‘Centres for Sport and Health’ and the coordination of extensive activity outreach programmes. The Centres serve to provide a community focal point for health and wellness, where the provision of sporting services are seen as part of this. The latter provides a combination of these services for those without access to the Centres and their related local facilities.

The proliferation and coordination of sport and health programmes at local government level provides great opportunities for communities to access these services. The model is reliant on those individuals that have for many years had a sustained, continuous ability to provide activity, health and education; the physical educator and sport development officer. The local coordination of the School Sports Coordinator Programme (Sisco) through each local education authority school provides a decentralised web that links schools, clubs and communities that allows real pathways through sport.

The model has a history of recent success by providing elite sport with a supply of well-trained, knowledgeable and highly skilled athletes across a variety of sports which has been represented at elite level. Centres for excellence in Specialist Sports Colleges take the gifted and talented from their programmes and link them with national governing bodies of sport and professional sports teams across the country.

Elite sport has benefited not just from high quality athletes but from modernisation and professionalism of working methods. The appliance of science to on- and off-field matters and the adoption of modern management techniques off-field make modern sporting bodies unrecognisable from their amateur roots. But the modernisation is absolutely essential because in 2012 competition throughout world sport is greater than ever. Continued dominance by North American, Asian, African and Australasian athletes will make the 2012 Olympic Paralympic Games the most competitive ever seen.

The initial success of the model exists because of a series of 'drivers', some adapted voluntarily, some forced upon British sport but coincidentally resulting in a model which is distinctive, original and successful. The current model has evolved in ten years from a highly fragmented, disjointed but potentially successful sporting model. As these drivers highlight it is actions taken at local levels that have created the current situation. Local and regional initiative is what drives British Sport in 2012.

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Driver 1: Thinking Global, Acting Local

For over twenty years the varied success of top-down sport policy at the National level created service quality issues within sport development teams, school heads of sport and local sporting clubs throughout Britain. Policies intended for national uptake created tension in policy direction and uptake from wider areas of Britain. Nevertheless in 2000 a partnership of organisations at government and national sporting body level introduced the School Sports Coordinator Programme (Sisco).

This programme works at the local authority level linking the area’s schools through a central administrator and a series of secondary-school coordinators and primary link physical education teachers.

Basically the programme formalized the work done by physical educators across the country, specifically in their efforts to coordinate inter-school sport, place a higher priority on sport and activity with non-sporting Head of Schools - especially at primary levels, and outsource specialist coaching services to local sporting clubs and sport development officers. One of the aims of the programme was to facilitate the achievement of two-hours of physical education for all British school children.

The introduction of the programme did not achieve great gains in this goal. This was primarily due to the voluntary take-up of the programme throughout the local education authority. This meant that only a few schools benefited, basically those that did were generally those schools with pro-physical education Heads that allowed the programme to be used in the first place.

In 2005 the Sisco programme was re-launched across the Nation but this time it was compulsory for all schools, and the programme was also adopted by Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This had the desired effect those supporting sport had wished for. Given the opportunity to participate in after-school and inter-school sporting competitions levels of participation in schools ‘shot-up’ dramatically. Central to this was a rise in the provision of individual sports and non-competitive sports, particularly in the curriculum area of outdoor and adventure.

This spread of activities has been crucial in the maintenance and continual increases in youth participation levels since 2005. Another factor central to this success is maintaining participation over the key stage 3 and 4 periods. Modern physical education provision works diligently to cut-out repetitive sporting programmes, for example in the National Curriculum football-type games are recommended to be taught in key stage 2 and not repeated throughout the duration of the programme over the latter key stages.

By 2012 the programme incorporates every school in each local education authority whether urban, suburban or country. The local management of the programme and its links with sporting clubs provide a dual-pathway by which the general participants are provided opportunities for a sporting and active life while the gifted and talented participants are progressed toward elite competition though national governing body’s centres for excellence and the UK Institute of Sport.

Outside school in the wider community a vast array of development/inclusion/physical activity programmes were offered by many organisations at local levels throughout the late 1990's and the following decade. These programmes were intended to facilitate access and opportunities within the community for participation at all levels of the sport development continuum.

Despite the array of programmes and initiatives a number of conflicting goals arose. Although exceptional development programmes were offered by private clubs and national governing bodies the intended access benefits were not forthcoming. These programmes, although positive, did not overcome the problems of participant access.

This was particularly evident in London and some countryside locations where complexity and diversity of the populations, in ethnic and geographical terms, posed problems for participation levels.

Throughout this period the complexity of these schemes was evident whereby some local authorities were provider and funder of development programmes in their respective communities and competed for participants with other privately run programmes.

Although each programme engaged numerous groups from traditional sport providers a coordinated approach was required. It befell Local Authorities in East London to seek a new approach. Transposing skills from housing and social issues to the coordination of sport development initiatives enabled the Boroughs to quantify the programmes, match their goals and significantly reduce duplicity of goods and resources.

This meant that each organisation, both public and private, adhered to the direction of the Borough. Although initial concerns over the restriction of private choice and over-bureaucratization of such schemes, the accessibility and participation benefits were significant. Even in 2012 the social and health benefits of this coordinated approach, now adopted by local associations throughout Britain, are still only in their infancy.

Nevertheless the use of local coordination and development teams actually listening to participants’ needs and concerns have revitalized the local development of sport and the development of inclusive practices in healthy living.

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Driver 2: Short-Term Sustainable Out, Long-Term Successful In

The importance of sport to the Nation has at times been overplayed but usually under-resourced. With a growing need for Britons to lead lives based on healthy lifestyles, a reorganisation of philosophy was required.

The need to modernise local services to reduce costs at local and regional levels led to an over-emphasis on sustainable programmes and initiatives. The cost consuming nature of sport and health provision led to decreases in services and goal achievement as costs were reduced after the period of initial funding was withdrawn.

This led to a period of ‘initiativitis’ where a lack of long term focus doomed most sport and health development programmes as soon as the umbilical cord of funding was repealed. This philosophy was in direct contrast to increasing the levels participating in regular exercise, and by the turn of the last century there posed a seemingly impenetrable barrier to developing long affiliations with exercise. Local authorities acted to bring about a change in ideals in order to attempt to meet the targets for physical activity. Non-participants in sport were targeted through two methods.

The first method was the acceptance by many local authorities that get-active programmes were not sustainable. Sustainability focuses on long-term achievement but it is only successful in other pursuits where operating margins are higher, this does not include sport and health.

Achievements in activity requires investment similar to the long-term campaign against smoking. Activity programmes focusing on low-competitive sport and fitness programmes were introduced at local leisure facilities and schools. These were funded jointly from the participant and the local authority but importantly they made use of local, close to home, facilities thereby reducing the total leisure time (being that leisure time consists of the travel to and from home/work as well as time for the activity itself).

Central to these programmes’ success was the creation of a fun environment that used children (who were at the time benefiting from the Sisco programme) to encourage full-family participation. The non-competitive nature of the local programme and an emphasis on play and enjoyment, all within local settings, led to gradual increases in participation within the local communities. These increases, although not as steep as some wished to see, were however positive.

The second method was to focus on areas of the population that had low general activity levels. The marketing of specific programmes based on gender, ability, socio-economic group, ethnicity and age provided a network of community programmes administered and managed by members of each group and their local sport development team.

Once again these programmes were reliant on the use of local facilities but importantly the practical aspect of these programmes ran in isolation of each other, while only the administration was centrally managed. Addressing the needs of these groups demanded that they, unlike other activity programmes, performed in relative isolation during the initial stages in order for participants to then move onto programmes once participants’ confidence improved.

The programme allowed some of the barriers to be removed that have traditionally been in place preventing people from a variety of groups participating in sport and activity programmes, and by a policy of isolation eventually lead to inclusion.

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Driver 3: Reaching Out with ‘Centres for Sport and Health’

The use of sport as a focal point for social development has been a feature of the model since the mid 1990’s.

The use of outreach programmes to target hard-to-reach groups; socially, economically and geographically were successful in achieving social benefits for communities.

The Centre for Sport and Health model was adopted across Britain. In these situations existing sporting facilities were integrated with the health and wellness services. These Centres for Sport and Health in regional areas such as, Bath, Belfast, Stirling, Sheffield, Manchester, and Birmingham plus the three in London housed a range of sport development officers and exercise referral specialists who linked through the schemes, like Sisco, to go into the community and take sport and health services to those who had difficulty accessing them.

These types of outreach services are barely sustainable but the long-term benefits arising from the successful programmes have led to decreases in other costs usually attributed to governments, in areas of health, street crime and truancy. Hence the focus of funding was essentially investing in activity to create other long-term benefits, like saving other costs.

Central to the long-term focus of these plans was the vocational training participants received in the coaching, officiating and administration of sport. As progression to regional and elite squads is, and still is, essentially for a gifted few the problem was keeping the mass participants involved in sport and activity.

Local programmes to train participants across a range of vocational skills enabled many the opportunities to continue involvement in sport and earn an income from doing so. The national governing bodies of sport’s coaching and administration courses, subsidised by local authorities and facilitated at further- and higher- education campuses enabled other organisations to link in with the process, thus enabling a more community focused development.

The disjointed nature of sport facility provision within the Greater London area had for many years deprived London from attracting the top-rate major events it so-craved. The development of these facilities was central if the city was to be seen as a focal point for sport.

The redevelopment of Wembley Stadium in the north-west and the regeneration of the Crystal Palace Sports Centre in the south created the first two of these Centres. The development of Olympic Park in the east of the city provided the third activity hub for sport development within London.

These Centres linked with other private and local government health and sport facilities, like leisure centres, throughout the London area to crate a coordinated web of activity programmes. Similar to the Sisco programme a network was created that maintained a focus on individual choice but minimised local duplication of high-cost services.

A number of local Health Care Trusts geographically close to these sites managed to convince government to amend the planning applications in order to purchase medical facilities and walk-in centres within the developments.

This deal enabled these key sporting hubs to also provide primary and secondary health care and wellness services and advice. The move was inspired. Access to health services increased dramatically for those able to get to the Centres, the creation of these one-stop shops to cater for local health needs was very successful.

The success has been hinged on the redevelopment of other factors within the city, for instance the completion of the East London Line in 2010 has allowed the hub at Crystal Palace to open up the South East of the city and provide these services to a wider local community. Without developments in transport and awareness campaigns in the media the success of the Centres would have been minimised.

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Driver 4: Success at Elite Levels

The success of British Sport at elite levels has been increasing over the past twenty years. This sustained success has been due to a number of changes that occurred in the sporting institutions that cater for elite sport. A rise in the use of scientific techniques in coaching and player development and the adoption of professional sport-management principles at organisational level have allowed the spread of professionalism to encompass elite British sport.

The science of sport has been used for many years within British sport and is by no means new. But science down to the micro-biological level has been infrequently adopted by other sporting nations as it has by Britain over the last ten years. Advances in athlete health and training frequencies have been benefited by this new focus.

Whereas altitude training works on cardio-respiratory fitness the micro-biological treatments work on the athletes’ immune systems allowing more consistent training and performance. Advances in biomechanics for example have allowed athletes to become more efficient in their actions, the appliance of this was so dramatically demonstrated in the 2006 World Cup where England’s penalties were virtually unstoppable but highly reliable. It was the human equivalent of the winged-keel. Science does not dominate British sport but it does play an ever-increasing part in its success.

The adoption of professional management within national sporting bodies and professional sporting clubs has seen a revolution in levels of success and player satisfaction. The management of elite sport exists on two levels.

The first level is the coordination and organisation of player-related aspects of competition. Britain’s international squads are larger than ever, but the squads now include professional support staff like nutritionists, statisticians, sport-psychologists and others who tour with the playing squad to provide essential services to the athletes.

The second level exists at club, sporting body management level. By 2012 sport managers dominate the management positions within these organisations. A hybrid of business managers and sport administrators these individuals are trained to deal with the complexities of elite sport, for instance those issues that are beyond an administrator’s leadership skills and those that are too sensitive for the business manager. The prevalence of these types of managers are responsible for the professionalisation that permeates British sport management.

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Driver 5: The Department of Health and Physical Activity

During the late 90's and the decade that followed sport was used as a catalyst for social development and lifestyle education. This use of sport was not reflected in direct funding from the exchequer, rather it relied on the funds from the National Lottery. The problem with this funding was that firstly it varied, and secondly it was in direct competition for funds with cultural activities and the arts. While these ideals promoted education the physical health aspects of such pursuits was limited with respect to those sport and activity could provide. A new path for sport was needed in order to attempt to achieve the high participation targets set by government.

Intense lobbying by the bodies representing English Sport to increase long-term funding to health related sport development projects suffered continual set backs until 2007 when a shock went through the British populous. The average life expectancy of Britons for the first time in generations failed to increase.

Reasons for this failure were wide and varied but public opinion forced government into radical changes to health and sport policy alike. In order to minimise health related diseases such as coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity wide sweeping changes to the labelling of food and drink. Other initiatives like increases in taxation on food lacking nutritional value and tax-incentives for businesses encouraging employee health and fitness were implemented.

Of the major changes to take place was the use of sport as a tool for health and wellness. The Ministry of Sport was integrated into the DoH, creating the Department of Health and Physical Activity.

Funding has increased dramatically to ensure both elite success and mass activity/participation, as each is now acknowledged as essential to the development of the other. Over the past four years knowledge of healthy lifestyles among Britons has increased dramatically, but importantly the way of life has remained. Slowly activity levels are starting to rise throughout the community, and more and more Britons are using sport as form of enjoyment, not just entertainment.


To my sport development students graduating from UEL this November for the proliferation of ideas and issues that make up this chapter, thanks.

Paul Kitchin is a lecturer in sports management at the University of East London.

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© 2004·05

Background image © Steve Hall

“Since the 1990s, sport had been used as a catalyst for social development and lifestyle education”

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