The British-based Centre for Social Justice has published a new report calling for a minimum of two hours of after-school sport for all children, regardless of their social demographic.

In an introduction to the report, which has been broadly welcomed, they say that “Sport has the power to transform lives. Of course, it keeps us fit. But so much more. For the young people of this nation, sport unlocks lifelong friends, introduces mentors, provides purpose, builds confidence – and keeps us out of trouble. It boosts academic prospects, combats mental ill health, and gets us ready for the world of work.”

It also draws the point though that the levels of physical activity that children engage in are directly related to their social demographic and that this needs to be countered by a whole-of-society approach.

“One in five primary and secondary pupils do no extracurricular activities at all in an average week, rising to one in four pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Still, the UK lags behind its OECD counterparts, with activity levels lower than Finland, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Spain and the EU average.”

“It is no wonder that our young people are fed up, disenchanted and disempowered. They include the so-called ‘ghost children’ of lockdown who, absent from school and without urgent re-engagement, will graduate into a post-pandemic world for which they are grossly underprepared, three times more likely to offend by age 17.”

“And yet, our research shows that far from abandoning them to this fate, now is the time to double down on our commitment to the next generation. After the damage inflicted by successive lockdowns, we owe it to our young people to offer them the brightest possible future.”

“We believe that sport holds the key to this. In a nation famous for inventing many of the world’s favourite sports, how can it be that Premier League footballers are bought and sold for tens of millions of pounds while local authorities spend an average of just £156 per young person? Why is it that a nation that can proudly host elite international sporting events to the tune of £9 billion allows its own, local, facilities, clubs and youth centres to fall into disrepair?”

Thankfully Ireland has addressed this latter failing largely through the Sports Capital Grants programme but still in research published last week by Sport Ireland there is a shortfall in the amount of activity we would like for young people and a marked difference in terms of social demographic in terms of their access to sport.

One of the key recommendations of the report is that “The Government should announce a new Right to Sport for all secondary school pupils, underpinned by new funding to unlock five hours of extracurricular activity for every pupil in secondary schools in England. The Right to Sport would see all pupils participate in a minimum of two hours of extracurricular sport per week, on top of PE time already scheduled on the curriculum, closing the ‘activity gap’ between state
school pupils and their independently educated peers.”

There is a danger that sport and physical activity is becoming an area that is exclusive to those who have the means and the family background to encourage it, but this is an area that should be for all and where Government, the Department of Education, Local Authorities and Local Sports Partnerships should be leading the way.

The gap in sport and physical activity based on social demographics is an area we discuss in our latest Sport for Business Podcast with Benny Cullen of Sport Ireland which will be available on Sport for Business and wherever you get your podcasts from tomorrow.

It is one that has proven most stubborn to shift but will only change if concerted action is taken.

You can download the report by clicking on the image below: