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Research Q: The Value of Sport, Beyond Physical Activity – does public policy underestimate the value of sport to social benefit, population health and wellbeing? The implications for sport and public policy in Scotland.




As European governments increasingly grasp the potential for sport to support health improvements, particularly post-Covid, OSS researchers Nick Rowe and Ryan Brown examined policy direction in Scotland and how it prioritises sport as it relates to much wider health and wellbeing in society. The investigation report suggests that sport in Scotland would benefit from new policy guidance, following examples in England and across Europe, where community sport is being invested in as a route to improving health and wellbeing, and social cohesion in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

The summary and full report are provided below. A number of key recommendations have been made by the researchers to help to shape community sport policy, practice and delivery in Scotland, including:

  • Scottish sport must agree societal purpose and demonstrate impact, value and reach
  • Community sport should be recognised in public policy for multiple contributions to outcomes that drive improved wellbeing in Scotland
  • Scotland lags behind England and Europe in research around sport and its wider benefits, and requires a cultural and funding shift in research commitment in areas of sport policy
  • Community sport in Scotland requires renewed strategic purpose to provide a platform for investment and unite stakeholders in a shared vision and agenda for change
  • Topic area reviews: Priority topics to be agreed in a strategic planning stakeholder consultation

The researchers commented: “The central argument made in this review is that community sport provides value beyond the well-evidenced benefits of physical activity, and that public policy in Scotland currently fails to recognise or give sufficient priority to its contribution as it seeks to define social progress not solely by measures of GDP but by a wider set of values that prioritise sustainability, population health and wellbeing, individual happiness, and social and civic connection.

“Taking part in sport is to be physically active, but is that its sum total? What do we miss if we characterise sport solely in terms of frequency, intensity and duration of activity but ignore other attributes associated with play, such as self-esteem, self-confidence, mastery, self-expression and social connection? Community sport makes a significant contribution to helping the nation be active, but does it do much more than this?

“In exploring these questions, we do not suggest that a choice be made between public investment and support for ‘sport development’, and public investment and support for ‘physical activity promotion’. Both are vital to a healthy and thriving population. However, our review of the research and policy evidence shows that the direction of travel in public policy in Scotland has increasingly been to conflate the two; to treat sport and other physical activities as equivalents and, consequently, by design or default, potentially dilute or waste resources and investment in seeking to address the huge public health challenge that is physical inactivity.

“This analysis does not seek to mount a defence or uncritical affirmation of the value of all community sport but suggests that conflation of physical activity and sport in public policy could be failing both by not playing to their respective strengths and consequently not optimising the impact of investment of limited public resources. We conclude by recommending a new vision of ‘sport as society’, not merely ‘sport in society’, supported by a new National Strategy for Sport in Scotland engaging widely across government, health, education and communities, underpinned by investment in research capacity and evidence building.”


The Value of Sport - Beyond Physical Activity Exec Summary (Final Release)

Full report

The Value of Sport - Beyond Physical Activity Full Report 280423