Dr Dan Parnell



School Sport

Children, youth and physical activity – in schools during leisure time

This post was originally posted on Connect Sport here.

An international meeting of 24 international researchers from a variety of academic disciplines took place at a ‘Consensus Conference’ in Denmark in April 2016. In this article Dr Dan Parnell, Research Director for ConnectSport, offers an overview of the consensus statement and highlights some of the important recommendations for researchers and practitioners in community sport.

The aim of the meeting was to reach evidence-based consensus about physical activity in children and youth, that is, individuals between six and 18 years.

How can we describe physical activity?

Physical activity is an over-arching term that consists of many structured and unstructured forms within school and out-of-school-time contexts, including organised sport, physical education, outdoor recreation, motor skill development programmes, recess and active transportation such as biking and walking.

What does the consensus statement offer?

The consensus statement presents the accord on the effects of physical activity on children’s and youth’s fitness, health, cognitive functioning, engagement, motivation, psychological well-being and social inclusion, as well as presenting educational and physical activity implementation strategies. The consensus was obtained through an iterative process which began with presentation of the state of the art in each domain followed by plenary and group discussions.

Ultimately Consensus Conference participants reached agreement on the 21-item consensus statement. The 21-items are split across the following four themes:

  • – Theme 1: Physical activity in children and youth – fitness and health.
  • – Theme 2: Physical activity in children and youth – cognitive functioning.
  • – Theme 3: Physical activity in children and youth – engagement, motivation and psychological well-being.
  • – Theme 4: Physical activity in children and youth – social inclusion and physical activity implementation strategies.

You can access the full consensus statement here and it has been published on (Bangsbo et al., 2016).

It is important to not only understand the evidence, but to understand what meaningful action can be taken which is informed by the evidence base. Therefore, I have included all recommendations made across the four themes and believe many are particularly important for community sport.


Theme 1: Physical activity in children and youth – fitness and health.

  • – Fitness levels should be measured in children and youth for cardiometabolic risk stratification.
  • – Reliable and valid field testing, including intermittent maximal tests such as the – Andersen and Yo-Yo intermittent children’s tests and measurements of waist and height, are recommended to provide a preliminary assessment of the cardiometabolic risk for children and youth, and to provide feedback regarding relevant improvements in fitness and health status after training interventions.
  • – Small-sided ball games, like football, team handball, floorball and basketball, are recommended to elicit high cardiometabolic and musculoskeletal loading, individual involvement and favourable cardiometabolic and musculoskeletal training effects.
  • – Active transportation to and from schools, when safe, should be encouraged. Commuter cycling to and from school is recommended and is more effective to improve cardiorespiratory fitness than walking.
  • – For all children and youth, inclusive of healthy and those with chronic diseases, it is relevant to distinguish between training effects on cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal fitness, when evaluating the fitness and health effects of various types of physical activity.
  • – Assessment of cardiometabolic risk for children and youth should include fitness and be based on standardised continuous risk factor scores.
  • – Musculoskeletal fitness and health can be enhanced through several types of physical activity in sports clubs and schools when children and youth are engaged in vigorous, intermittent, impact-promoting activities, such as jumping, circuit strength training and ball games.


Theme 2: Physical activity in children and youth – cognitive functioning.

  • – Physical activity can promote scholastic performance in a broad sense. Whether it does so, depends on active participation and engagement in the physical activities.
  • – Initiatives and adjusted practice to increase motivation and competence for participation is thus essential. Opportunities include, for example, active transport, physical education, active lessons, recess, and after-school programming.
  • – Integration of movement into teaching activities of academic subjects holds promise, but studies are ongoing and there are at present only a few (but positive) available studies on this relationship. Presumably, a key feature is that the movement or physical activity is directly related to the intended learning objective.
  • – A single session of moderate intensity physical activity has transient benefits to brain function, cognition and scholastic performance with benefits derived for approximately one hour, depending on the characteristics of the physical. Physical activity immediately prior to a learning session should not be too intense since high stress or fatigue may blunt the beneficial effect. Additional benefits to memory may be derived when moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is performed after learning.
  • – Mastery of fundamental movement skills is beneficial to cognition and scholastic performance in children and youth, and both physical activity throughout school and in leisure physical activities can benefit motor functions. Motor skill screening provides a valuable tool for identifying children in need of adapted support in motor skill development. Specific ‘adapted’ interventions should be developed and offered to children with motor skill deficits in order to benefit motor development and motivation for participation in physical activities.
  • – The school is the arena where it is possible to reach the vast majority of children and youth, also those who are not otherwise regularly physically active. Increased focus on, and time for physical activity with qualified activities can be a possible way to promote motor skills and school performance as well as motivation for participation in physical activity.


Theme 3: Physical activity in children and health – engagement, motivation and psychological well-being.

  • – Children and youth should be provided with fun, personally meaningful and developmentally-appropriate physical activities, which offer opportunities for positive social interactions.
  • – Adults need to empower children’s and youths’ feelings of competence and personal autonomy and facilitate their enjoyment of, and engagement in physical activity by creating environments which are autonomy supportive (eg provide a voice, choice and decision-making), mastery-oriented (eg emphasise the value of hard work, personal improvement, co-operation and continual learning) and socially supportive (eg ensure young people feel cared for, accepted and respected, separate children’s sense of worth from their performance).
  • – Children and youth should be encouraged to do physical activity with close friends and be provided a variety of mutually-valued physical activity options in school and out-of-school-time settings.
  • – Parents should serve as physical activity role models, by communicating a positive attitude about physical activity, being regularly active and demonstrating value toward physical activity through consistent verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Parent education programs can inform them about the importance and features of positive physical activity environments.
  • – Coaches and teachers should receive systematic training regarding the rationale for, principles of, and strategies they can adopt to create more empowering physical activity environments for children and youth.
  • – Adults should take the opportunities afforded via children’s and youths’ engagement in physical activity to teach them life skills, such as interpersonal, self-management, and conflict resolution skills, which can generalise or transfer to other domains such as school, future work and home life.


Theme 4: Physical activity in children and youth – social inclusion and physical activity implementation strategies

  • – Provide a wide variety of physical movement experiences for all children early in their lives to build fundamental movement skills and familiarity with physical activity.
  • – Offer a variety of sporting and physical activities which recognise and engage diverse children and youth.
  • – Offer a range of contexts for sporting and physical activities in order to support the inclusion of children and youth into specific activities and contexts that are meaningful to them.
  • – Provide capacity building interventions (eg policy, in-service training, ongoing technical support, resources and evidence) which support the implementation of PA policies and programmes in schools and community environments.
  • – Organisations and stakeholders involved in sport and physical activity provision should develop social inclusion policies and practices.
  • – Support socially inclusive practices with education, training and support for physical activity providers.


How can you use the consensus statement?

Reading these recommendations will no doubt leave many within community sport in agreement. This consensus statement and recommendations can be shared with funders and policy-makers. Furthermore they should be used to inform and guide practice and research.

For further details please see the full report here and research here.

Dr Dan Parnell is Research Director at ConnectSport, co-founder of The Football Collective, an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.



Heads up! How small-sided football can help the nation’s health

This article was originally published here.

Dr Dan Parnell, of the Business School at Manchester Metropolitan University, offers some thoughts on recently-published research which highlights how small-sided football training can contribute to the health of the nation.

In England, we have observed the growth of professional football clubs as deliverers of Primary Physical Education (PE) (Parnell et al., 2016). Whilst Primary PE has been outsourced to a range of willing providers, recent research suggests that football could offer some real answers to tackling the health of the nation.

In June 2016, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published an editorial by Peter Krustrup, Juri Dvorak and Jens Bangsbo, which discusses the role of small-sided football training in schools and leisure-time sports clubs, and how it improves physical fitness, health profile, well-being and learning in children (Krustrup, Dvorak and Bansgo, 2016).

How can small-sided football training help children?

The editorial highlighted that of the research on Football for Health (about 100 scientific articles from 2009 to present), approximately one third have investigated football training in schools and in sports clubs.

The conclusions are encouraging:

  • small-sided football training induces high heart rates, a large number of intense actions along with high involvement, technical success rates and training effects for boys and girls irrespective of body mass index, fitness level or prior experience with football;
  • 98% of children who are members of football clubs live up to the physical activity recommendation of health authorities and they have stronger bones, less fat and greater aerobic fitness than non-sport club members, and
  • small-sided school-based football interventions with just 2×30, 3×40 and 2×45-minute weekly games improve bone health, heart health, physical capacity and learning in children aged eight to 12 years old.

This provides a clear message for all stakeholders from policy-makers to headteachers: Football has the potential to get children fit and healthy! 

What can we do?

We have already highlighted the lack of research and understanding of the role of professional football clubs in the delivery of Primary Physical Education (Parnell et al., 2016). But that aside, those involved in (and genuinely interested in) getting our children fit and health need to, in football terms, ‘get their heads up’.

We need to deliver high-quality, focused programmes which use small-sided football training to deliver health targets. And this needs to be supported with clear research and evaluation, to make sure we are getting this right in practice (Lansley and Parnell, 2016). The evidence is there – we just need to make this happen.

This article is based on the following research article:

Krustrup, P., Dvorak, J., and Bangsbo, J. (2016). Small-sided football in schools and leisure-time sport clubs improves physical fitness, health profile, well-being and learning in children. British Journal of Sports Medicine, doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096266 (open access here).

Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.


The new sports strategy and the outsourcing of Primary Physical Education

The new sport strategy ensures that outsourcing of Primary Physical Education (PE) will continue until 2020, meaning that external providers will access the PE and Sport Premium funding for the duration of the this period. As this context is set to continue It is now more important than ever to take a moment, reflect and in football terms, ‘get our heads up’ and see what is in front of us.

Originally posted on the Sports Think Tank.

In recent research by Parnell, Cope, Bailey and Widdop (2016) published in the peer-reviewed journal Sport in Society, a number of challenges for external providers and primary schools, have been highlighted. Ultimately, we do not know what the real impact of PE and Sport Premium funding is – we do not know whether it works and at present, we are making policy based on weak evidence. This runs contrary to the government’s position of basing policy on a strong evidence base. This needs to stop.

At best, we can continue to retweet, like and share those impressive (and growing) participation figures that are distributed widely, providing little more than some breathing space for under pressure commissioners and managers whom are ill-equipped or unwilling to evaluate the impact of their work. At worst, we can continue to blindly accept the glossy reports, press releases, and annual reports that provide the most convincing narrative around the impact of Primary PE – such as improved concentration, behaviour, educational attainment and overall physical health – all of which lack evidence (Zwolinsky, McKenna, Parnell and Pringle, 2016).

Our research explores the role of sport/football coaches involved in the delivery of Primary PE, specifically professional football clubs. This is because professional football clubs are leading the way in this work; partly a result of experience and credibility of working in primary schools settings and partly a result of funding from the Premier League to develop and enhance this practice. Indeed, it could be argued this is more as a result of the scope of this work nationally by professional football clubs than a substantial amount of evidence.

The new sports strategy provides further context for the continued outsourcing of Primary PE. Moreover, the increased funding allocation for the PE and Sport Premium will be welcomed by many. Despite this, we argue that this increased funding should not be confused with increased impact and suggest the following urgent actions:

– Enhanced professional education and training is required to equip those sport/football coaches delivering Primary PE with the necessary skills;

– Enhanced education and training needs to be delivered and evaluated to analyse its effectiveness;

– Sport/football coaches and generalists need to work in partnership, to shared practice, skills and support their shared professional development (Parnell, Cope, Bailey, Widdop 2016; Parnell et al., 2016);

– We need to evaluate the current practice of those delivering Primary PE;

– This evaluation must go beyond asking people about their perceptions and must include children, capturing their experiences, and generate evidence (both qualitative and quantitative) of this provision and measurable outcomes.

This research was prepared with Dr Ed Cope (University of Hull), Dr Richard Bailey (International Council of Sport Science and PE) and Dr Paul Widdop (LeedsBeckettUniversity). The research can be cited using the following reference and be found here:

Parnell, D., Cope, E., Bailey, R., & Widdop, P. (2016). Sport Policy and English Primary Physical Education: The role of professional football clubs in outsourcing. Sport in Society, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2016.1173911

Dr Daniel Parnell, Senior Lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and Research Director at Connect Sport. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport and football.You can read more about his research here and contact him on or on Twitter @parnell_daniel

Dr Ed Cope is a lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance at the University of Hull. He has extensive experience in coach education and pedagogy. Ed’s research centres on understanding how children perceive and experience sport. He is leading a novel research project for the International Olympic Committee and has worked within the team for the School Offer Review for the English Premier League. Contact or follow @EdCope1 on Twitter.

Dr Richard Bailey is an international recognised authority on sport, physical activity and human development. He has directed studies which have influence policy and practice both nationally and internationally. He is a former Primary and Secondary schoolteacher, teacher trainer, coach and coach education. He works with agencies such as sportcoachUK, UNESCO, the World Health Organisation, the European Union and the International Olympic Committee. He was also lead consultant for the influential ‘Designed to Move’ agenda and directed the School Offer Review for the English Premier League. Contact or follow @DrDickB on Twitter.

Dr Paul Widdop is a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University. His research interests are in the consumption and participation of sport, especially in relation to social networks, geography, and neighbourhood effects. Contact or follow @Fire_and_Skill on Twitter.

Healthy Stadia: an insight from policy to practice


This article was originally published on Connect Sport, found here.

Public health is a major priority for the governments of developed and developing nations. In a bid to develop methods to engage with populations of people rather than individuals, a settings-based approach to promoting public health has been applied. One such approach has been around sport clubs and their stadia under the banner of ‘healthy stadia’. This article presents a collection of articles edited by Dr Daniel Parnell (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Kathryn Curran (Leeds Beckett University) and Dr Matthew Philpott (European Healthy Stadia Network CiC) in the peer-reviewed journal Sport in Society, titled ‘Healthy Stadia: an insight from policy to practice’.

The healthy stadia initiatives were developed in the mid 2000s and they emphasised the potential of health promotion in sports venues, across three themes: (i) healthier stadium environments for fans and non-match day visitors (eg smoke-free environments); (ii) healthier club workforces (eg bike to work schemes); and (iii) healthier populations in local communities (eg child obesity interventions). The working definition of a healthy stadium is:

“those which promote the health of visitors, fans, players, employees and the surrounding community … places where people can go to have a positive healthy experience playing or watching sport.”

At present there is a limited amount of research surrounding the healthy stadia agenda, which you can read more about in the special collection’s editorial. There is an abundance of applied activity, under the support of the European Healthy Stadia Network. The role of the network is to capture good practice and to disseminate these case studies across its membership which comprises decision-makers within governing bodies of sport. The applied impact of policy and practice of healthy stadia is impressive, most notably the achievement of implementing tobacco controlpolicies at sports stadia. Indeed, the forthcoming European Football Championships in 2016 will be tobacco-free thanks to collaborative work between the Healthy Stadia Network, the World Heart Federation and UEFA.

As a result of the impressive applied work, accompanied by a lack of peer-reviewed research, the editors [Parnell, Curran and Philpott] developed a special collection proposal. Now published, the collection includes applied perspectives; articles which consider sport stadia for public health promotion; research on the outcomes of physical activity and health promotion programmes in football clubs; the role of Physical Education and the implication of current sport policy; contributions on the lessons learned from sport, PA and health promotion interventions, and findings from an older men’s community-based, football-led weight management intervention.

A list of the contributions is detailed below and we would encourage readers to explore the collection and articles which offer practical implications, which can assist those who commission, manage or deliver physical activity and public health-related interventions through amateur and professional sports clubs. The link to the latest articles on the journal website is here, where you will find these articles appearing. If you would like to access the articles please contact Dr Dan Parnell on email or the corresponding authors directly.

– Editorial: Healthy Stadia: An insight from policy to practice. Daniel Parnell, Kathryn Curran, Matthew Philpott.

– An insight from those involved in Healthy Stadia. Daniel Cade, Kathryn Curran, Andy Fuller, Jenny Hacker, Clive Knight, Simon Lansley, Daniel Parnell, Matthew Philpott.

– Who ate all the pies? The importance of food in the Australian sporting experience. Keith D. Parry, Timothy Hall, Alastair Baxter.

– Sport Heritage and the Healthy Stadia agenda: An overview. Gregory Ramshaw.

– An evaluation of opportunistic health checks at cricket matches: The Boundaries for Life initiative. Chet Trivedy, Ivo Vlaev, Russell Seymour, Matthew Philpott.

– Health promotion orientation of GAA sports clubs in Ireland. Aoife Lane, Niamh Murphy, Alex Donohoe & Colin Regan.

– The community impact of football pitches: A case study of Maidstone United FC. Anthony May, Daniel Parnell.

– Improving the physical and mental wellbeing of typically hard-to-reach men: an investigation of the impact of the Active Rovers project. Colin J. Lewis, Matthew J. Reeves, Simon J. Roberts.

– Success of a sports-club led community X-PERT Diabetes Education. Programme Angela Morgan, Dee Drew, Angela Clifford, Katarine Hull.

– Tackling mental health: the role of professional football clubs. Kathryn Curran, Simon Rosenbaum, Daniel Parnell, Brendon Stubbs, Andy Pringle, Jackie Hargreaves.

– Sport Policy and English primary Physical Education: The role of professional football clubs in outsourcing. Daniel Parnell, Ed Cope, Richard Bailey, Paul Widdop.

– ‘It brings the lads together’: A critical exploration of older men’s experiences of a weight management programme delivered through a Healthy Stadia project. Lorena Lozano-Sufrategui, Andy Pringle, David Carless, Jim McKenna.

– Lessons from the field for working in Healthy Stadia: Physical activity practitioners reflect on ‘sport’. Jim McKenna, Thomas Quarmby, Nicky Kime, Daniel Parnell, Stephen Zwolinsky.

Editorial to cite:

Parnell, D., Curran, K. and Philpott, M. (2016) Healthy stadia: an insight from policy to practice.Sport in Society, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2016.1173914 Available online here.

Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contact or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.

Dr Kathryn Curran is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health at Leeds Beckett University. Kathryn’s research focuses on investigating the effectiveness of community physical activity and health interventions primarily with socially disadvantaged groups. or follow @kathryn_curran on Twitter.

Dr Matthew Philpott is Executive Director of European Healthy Stadia Network which he helped to set up as a social enterprise in 2012. He is responsible for the overall operations and growth of Healthy Stadia, including the co-ordination of numerous EU-funded sport projects and health interventions for UEFA. Contact: or follow @healthystadia

Outsourcing in PE and School Sport

Pleased to finally have this article published with Dr Ed Cope and Dr Richard Bailey.

Cope, E., Bailey, R., & Parnell, D. (2015). Outsourcing physical education: A critical discussion. International Journal of Physical Education, 52(4): 2-11.

Click here for the full article.


Football and health improvement: an emergent field

I am very pleased to present the latest published issue of Soccer & Society, Football and health improvement: an emergent field. This issue was edited by my colleague Dr Andy Pringle and I. 

Volume 17, Issue 2, 2016.

The issue includes contributions from across the UK, Europe and the middle-East and includes special contributions from the English Premier League, Football League, Football Foundation and European Healthy Stadia Network.

This eclectic mix of contributions discusses and challenges the role of football as a vehicle for health improvement, whilst celebration developments in the field. The below section outlines the contributions from the authors, however if you require access to any articles please do not hesitate to contact me on (Twitter @parnell_daniel) or the corresponding author directly:

Football and health improvement: an emerging field Daniel Parnell , Andy Pringle Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

A perspective from key stakeholders on football and health improvement Angus Martin , Simon Morgan , Daniel Parnell , Matthew Philpott , Andy Pringle, Michael Rigby , Andy Taylor , Jon Topham Soccer & Society  Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Supporting lifestyle risk reduction: promoting men’s health through professional football

S. Zwolinsky , J. McKenna , A. Pringle , A. Daly-Smith , S. Robertson , A. White Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Effectiveness of a community football programme on improving physiological markers of health in a hard-to-reach male population: the role of exercise intensity Andrew Thomas Hulton , David Flower , Rebecca Murphy , Dave Richardson , Barry Drust , Kathryn Curran Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Evaluating conflict mitigation and health improvement through soccer: a two-year study of Mifalot’s ‘United Soccer for Peace’ programme Tal Litvak-Hirsch , Yair Galily , Michael Leitner Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

The pursuit of lifelong participation: the role of professional football clubs in the delivery of physical education and school sport in England Daniel Parnell , Sarah Buxton , Des Hewitt , Matthew J. Reeves , Ed Cope , Richard Bailey Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Can ‘English Premier League’ funding for PE and school sport achieve its aims? Stephen Zwolinsky , Jim McKenna , Daniel Parnell , Andy Pringle Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

The influence of club football on children’s daily physical activity Glen Nielsen , Anna Bugge , Lars Bo Andersen Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Football for health: getting strategic Simon Lansley , Daniel Parnell Soccer & Society Vol. 17, Iss. 2, 2016

Football and Health Improvement: an emergent field

The Editorial for our special issue on: Football and Health Improvement: an emergent field. The full and original article can be found here.

All of my other articles can be found here.


Parnell Pringle

Research and analysis PE and sport premium: an investigation in primary schools

The Department for Education have recent updated their research into the physical education (PE) and sport premium, its use and effect in primary schools.

The link to their research is here.

The link to all things PE and School Sport on this site is here.

Local authority cuts loom large over community sport


Original article on Connect Sport found here. 

In this article Dr Dan Parnell, Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Neil King take a look at the potential implications of the recent Spending Review, provide a number of predictions and deliver a rallying call to policy-makers, practitioners and researchers, as the community sport sector seeks to navigate the next five years.

The past five years has seen real change in budgets which has reduced funding for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and Department of Education, amongst many other departments (including budgets for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) (Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2015).

This month’s Spending Review will pave the way for further funding cuts across departments including local government, which through cuts to the DCLG will receive another sharp blow – falling by 56% by 2019/20, which equates to £6.1billion from their annual £12.8billion budget. This means funding for local authorities will fall by 6.7%.

This falls hard on an already depleted DCLG that had previously had funding cut 51% since 2010, which resulted in grants to local authorities falling by 27%. Whilst the laudable aims to balance the books are clear, continued delivery upon an already depleted state as a result of the 2010 spending review is highly contentious.

Whilst such cuts are seen by some as necessary measures, many others view cuts to local government and social welfare as a huge blow to society – especially given the growing financial pressures on education and health.


There have been a growing number of commentators on the threat the cuts pose for sport and in turn society, due to the social impact of sport can have (Parnell, Millward and Spracklen, 2014). The Conservative Manifesto did outline a commitment to elite and school sport (Jarvie and Widdop, 2015), therefore it is no surprise that sport has been treated kindly by the Chancellor who appears supportive of the importance of elite sport and the social impact of sport.

Some of the highlights from the spending review for sport include:
•       DCMS administration budget cut by 20% (annual budget of £1.5billion)
•       UK Sport, who are responsible for elite sport, will have a budget increase of 29%
•       The schools budget will be protected
•       The Sport England grant in aid budget will increase and 2017-21 budget will be very similar to 2013-17 (Sport & Recreation Alliance, 2015)

However it is again important to provide more context by summarising the cuts the DCMS received between 2010 and 2015. These included:
•       Funding cut by 30.7%
•       Mainly cuts to administration
•       30% cut to the budget for the Arts Council (England) (DCMS, 2015)

The protection of elite sport is excellent news on the road to the Rio Olympics in 2016 and, further ahead, to Tokyo 2020. Many within UK Sport will be delighted at the Chancellor’s continued and growing support for sport. With national lottery contributions set to increase to support our elite sporting endeavours this should be an exciting time for all involved.

Of course some cynics might suggest that cutting funding for local government will not attract the potential media backlash associated within cutting funding for elite sport performance. Is it an easy target? Furthermore recent evidence would suggest that there seems to be little legacy from elite sport. It begs the question: would money be more wisely invested in grassroots sport in order to achieve broader impacts for society?

Sport England will receive £325million from the Exchequer and lottery funding, which is primarily invested in grassroots sport. There will no doubt be greater competition, higher expectations and scrutiny of funding for national governing bodies and programmes (a pressure recently highlighted by Parnell and Lansley, 2015)


The Chancellor also called for more strategic working and greater contribution from local authorities. This was echoed by the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch on an interview with BBC radio (BBC Radio 5 Live, 2015). Yet, we already know local authorities are dilapidated thanks to the 2010 spending review and it is clear they will carry a further deficit-reducing burden, making their contribution seriously limited.

Commentators such as Owen Gibson of the Guardian have begun to narrate the level and extent of such cuts to local authorities – 40% in some cases (Gibson, 2015). Similarly research pre-empted these cuts (APSE, 2010), as a result of sport being a discretionary spending area. This is something that avid football fan and shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has recently championed (Burnham, 2015).

Moving forward there is much to be buoyant about in sport, especially elite sport and the potential acclaim attached to elite sporting success. However, policy makers must seriously reflect on the merits of elite sport during times of austerity – we note with interest the residents of the city of Hamburg, Germany saying ‘no’ to hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games (see link).

There is no evidence that investment in elite sport results in increased mass participation. In fact, quite the opposite. Research by Widdop et al (in press) demonstrates that participation has not risen despite legacy promises and it is likely that this is because of the impact of austerity measures on community sport, most notably cuts to local authority finance.

Whilst the administration budget of the DCMS will reduce, the amount of total public investment appears to have grown during this parliament. This additional funding from the Exchequer will crucially provide the DCMS with some breathing space to develop the new sports strategy.


There is a growing amount of content emerging about sport and austerity (Parnell et al.,2015), and the Sport and Recreation Alliance delivered a commendable social media campaign#GetYourKitOn to encourage those in grassroots sports to raise awareness of the impact of austerity directly to the Chancellor.

The concerns and criticisms regarding the cuts made under the banner of austerity is not confined to the sports industry. Indeed, Professor Mark Blythe warns of the dangers of austerity based on lessons from history (see link). Despite this, there is still little research and some would argue interest, in the impact of austerity – especially in sport.

More research and literature is appearing on blogs and sites like ConnectSport, the Sports Think Tank and University sites such as the Academy of Sport. These organisations and platforms are leading the way in bridging the gap between academic rigour and journalistic content on sport to the wider populace. Evidence suggest that public-facing blogs and online material which sit outside of peer review can play a useful role in shaping policy (see link). Yet, we must also accept that more research and more thorough research is needed. The challenge, unsurprisingly, is funding.

Another key challenge is finding a way to measure sport participation which is more robust than the Active People Survey. Without meaningful data, policymaking is made on a set of assumptions such as the London Olympics inspiring a generation to take up sport, when it clearly does not. Neither has any other previous Olympic Games, which is especially important information in a context where governments remain fixed on unworkable and counterproductive austerity measures.

As we look to the future, we know welfare spending will fall sharply, and that both education and health will come under financial pressure, with repercussions for state investment in sport and consequently local communities. As Sports Minister Tracey Crouch finishes her final, pre-maternity touches to her grassroots sports review and subsequent strategy we must rise above the fact that sport is the little fish in a big pond when it comes to funding cuts. Sport has a vital role to play in society – even more so in times of austerity.


Although the recent Active People Survey pointed to a small but welcome increase in participation (especially amongst women), we can expect grassroots sport to continue to face serious challenges to getting more people active. Local authorities will have to reduce services and sell major assets. This will no doubt have impacts further impacts on swimming, golf and footballparticipation; sports which rely heavily on municipal facilities.

Following the Spending Review, the Sports Minister said: “This settlement recognises the wider value of sport in society and how it plays an important role in boosting the economy. The increase in funding will support our elite athletes in the run up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, grow the grassroots to get more people involved in sport and promote clean sport in the UK and beyond.” (Sports Think Tank, 2015). This will be a major challenge given that sport and leisure opportunities provided by local authorities and has been gradually depleted year on year since 2010, with more cuts to come.

If the emphasis lies in elite sport rather than community sport, perhaps we should instead be thinking about the value of sport and physical activity to those people living in relative poverty, who are dependent on basic state services such as a local leisure centre or community programme for their children.

It is encumbent on us to collect, collate and disseminate what the real value of sport is, and what the real impacts of the cuts to sport and leisure are and who is experiencing them. By ‘us’ we mean academia, practitioners, managers and policy makers. Funding will be key to evidencing the impact of austerity on sport and similarly the true value of sport for society.

We must wait and see who can help take this forward. However, we at ConnectSport and a growing team of academic researchers are committed to providing evidence. For those interested in, and willing to join and support our endeavours, to shed some light on the real impact of austerity on sport, please contact Dr Dan Parnell at

Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. This includes the Football League Trust, the English Premier League, the Football Foundation and Barclays Spaces for Sports. Contact or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter.

Dr Neil King is an active researcher and publish in sport, recreation and physical activity. His research interests include policy and management, particularly in public sector sport and leisure contexts. He works with leading organisations concerned with the management and delivery of sport and leisure across the United Kingdom. Contact

Dr Paul Widdop is a research fellow at Leeds Beckett University. His research interests are in the consumption and production of sport, especially in relation to social networks, geography, and neighbourhood effects. Contact or follow @Fire_and_Skill on Twitter.

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