This report explores a wide range of possible social benefits associated with sport. It is designed to encourage an informed debate about the potential of sport to contribute to a range of policy areas. The central argument is that maximising these benefits requires systematic thought, informed planning and proactive management rather than simply increasing participation. The report is separated into sections exploring sports association with physical and mental health, young people and education, anti-social behaviour and crime, community cohesion and development, and economic impact.
The analysis is premised on an essential distinction between the necessary conditions and the sufficient conditions for achieving the desired social benefits of sport. The former refers to simple participation, whilst the latter refers to the processes, relationships and experiences needed to maximise the potential benefits.
Sport has a strong association with physical and mental health benefits. However, it is important for health policy to consider participant experience in addition to the required minimum level and frequency of participation. ‘Sport plus’ programmes that provide a range of non-sport activity are important for educating young people, as well as reducing anti-social behaviour and crime. Sports potential is maximised when complemented with development. Effective programmes provide protective factors for at-risk young people, including supportive adults, a sense of acceptance and belonging, and models for conventional behaviour. Potential for sport clubs to contribute to community development requires a bottom-up approach. Volunteers should be recruited from the immediate community and supported by a more systematic approach to training. Finally, there are clear economic benefits obtained from a more active and healthier population.
This report highlights the complexities of sports contribution to different policy areas. It challenges assumptions about what is required for achieving desired policy outcomes; it is not what you do but how you do it. Policy makers in Scotland could benefit from prioritising their focus on creating positive sport experiences, complemented with social development programmes, rather than simply aiming to increase participation.