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New faces bring experience and expertise to the OSS

By 15 January 2021January 22nd, 2021No Comments

RECENT Scotland women’s football manager Shelley Kerr, political and finance expert Geoff Aberdein and leading European researcher Geoff Nichols have joined the Observatory for Sport in Scotland’s drive to use sport to improve the nation’s health.

Aberdein, the former Chief of Staff to Scotland’s First Minister and Global Head of Public Affairs at Aberdeen Standard Investments, has taken over as OSS Chairman from founder Charlie Raeburn. Kerr, who stood down as Scotland women’s team manager last month, after leading Scotland to their first World Cup Finals in 2019 and just missing out on the Euro Championships, has joined the OSS board.

The OSS was formed in 2016 and is modelled on research think-tanks across the world that have shown their governments how to use community sport to tackle participation declines and create positive impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing. Aberdein said:

“I am excited to be joining the OSS and it is a huge privilege to be asked to chair the organisation at what I think is a crucial time for sport in Scotland. Community sport activity used to be an important part of our way of life in Scotland but research tells us that around 50% of people in Scotland – and more and more people from deprived backgrounds – are no longer engaged in any kind of sport activity.

“We have a huge drop-out from the age of 11 and with more and more barriers put in people’s way, despite some terrific work by many people and organisations, that has had a direct and long-lasting impact on Scotland’s health, our education and economy. The signs are that post-Covid sport and recreation activity will become even harder to access, and more people will be deprived of opportunities to participate, so we have to do something now.

“We are not talking about elite sport but sport in its simplest sense, just activity that everyone can take part in close to their home, and that suits their needs, but crucially helps all ages get out and socialise with people, and have a bit of fun. That is what is being lost to more and more people.

“The idea of a sports think tank seems an obvious thing for Scotland, but I applaud Charlie Raeburn for making it happen because to effect change you need credible, independent scientific evidence. I have been very impressed by the work of the OSS and its researchers to open eyes to the value of community sport as a tool to effect change. And I have learned a lot about how sport is now being used cleverly across Europe to effect lasting improvement in health and communities, and all ages and abilities, so I am keen to roll up my sleeves, bring my experience to it and work with stakeholders across Scotland to bring that same change here.”

Shelley is similarly keen to get involved and help widen access to sport across all communities in Scotland, but particularly among girls and women. She commented: “I have always been passionate about sport at all levels,” she said, “but the simple fact is that if we keep going the way we are in losing people – particularly teenage girls and boys – we may not have sport worth talking about in Scotland and the impact of that on our health and wellbeing, from children to older people, and on health budgets, will grow.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the SFA and women’s football, and I want to see more girls and women getting into sport in the coming years, and enjoying the same life benefits that many of us have and do.

“So, I’m delighted to join the OSS board and play my part in helping us to drive change, and I would urge everyone who shares our passion for sport to join us and shape a positive future where everyone can take part in fun activity in their community.”

In our research department, respected European researcher into community sport, volunteering and sport and crime reduction Geoff Nichols (top right) joins a research  unit now numbering 28 advisers, associates and assistants. Geoff has been the UK contributor over the past two decades to numerous European research projects into different aspects off community sport, facilities and delivery models. He recently completed a study of how clubs are coping with the pandemic and Covid’s affect on volunteering, which he will continue with the OSS.

Retiring recently from lecturing at University of Sheffield, Geoff stated will also enable him to further indulge his love of walking and sailing in Scotland’s great outdoors.

“I am really looking forward to working with researchers from across the globe under the OSS banner. We don’t have an independent sport research think-tank in England so, spending as much time as I do in Scotland, I’m delighted to be able to bring my experience to the OSS.

“I look forward in particular to seeing what we can produce in 2021 that helps us better understand the impact of Covid on community sport.”