Community Sport in Scotland – Dying? Dormant? Dynamic?


Considering the establishment of an Observatory for Sport in Scotland

Scotland celebrated a fantastic year of sport in 2014, hosting the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, which have helped to raise both profile and enthusiasm for sporting activity across the country.  A participative and active society – not only at elite level, but importantly across all age-groups and disciplines – has a positive influence on a country’s social and economic welfare.

However those of you who follow my blog, know that I believe more needs to be done to encourage and support community sport in Scotland and I am delighted that in in partnership with ALERCE Trust and QTS Group and with the support of SCVO, Reform Scotland and SCDI, this week will see a seminar held to examine what has been done in other European countries and consider the establishment of an Observatory for Sport in Scotland.

The creation of an ‘Observatory for Sport in Scotland’ as independent organisation, if established, would aim to act as a research platform showcasing how sport can be a force for improvement in all aspects of life.  Observatories for Sport are already established institutions in several countries and exist across different sporting disciplines – gathering, analysing and publishing data on the state and development of sport within their regions and translating social and educational values into policy and action.

I am delighted that this event will focus on the policies and practices of 3 countries – Scotland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

International experts Henrik Brandt, Director of the Danish Institute for Sports Studies and Professor Koen Breedveld of the Mulier Institute, Centre for Sports in Society in the Netherlands will also both share their insights and learnings with us.

Neil Ross and Stuart Younie will examine the current Scottish landscape and look at the challenges faced in delivering community sport across the country.  Neil Ross is a consultant with Integratis Consulting, having previously held senior roles at North Lanarkshire Leisure and West Lothian Leisure, and has recently been involved in a number of research projects assessing the impact of Sport on various aspects of society.  Stuart Younie sits on the board of the Scottish Sports Association (the body that represents and supports Scottish Governing Bodies of Sport) and  is the Service Manager for Sport and Active Recreation with Perth and Kinross Council.

Background to An Observatory for Sport in Scotland

Opinions on the state of community sport in Scotland are varied.  And there are many questions around the topic:

  • What is community sport?
  • How many people participate in Scottish sport?
  • How is participation measured?
  • Who governs community sport and how transparent is that governance? – Is community sport development in the contracts of the 23 newish Scottish Sports and Culture Trusts?
  • Is community sport accessible to all?
  • Are there barriers to access – eg affordability?
  • Is there sufficient infrastructure to support community sport? – Who is planning the facilities provision and access for sport on a community basis?
  • What is the effect of austerity measures on community sport?

Firstly, I think we need to understand what community sport is and then look at who is trying to answer the questions.

Are the reasons and the need to ask the questions obvious?

We certainly don’t appear to have enough detailed information about sports participation in Scotland and with almost non-existent statutory requirements for sport provision by local authorities, what is really happening to sport with all the cuts to local authority spending?  Furthermore, what hard information is given to local and national politicians about community sport?

At the same time, I think it’s important to understand how is each sports governing body is targeting its support?  What is the balance between performance and performance development, and participation? Why do members of clubs drop out of a particular sport?

My experiences are that so many people in clubs, in local authorities and in schools are really concerned and often very upset, about the current direction of travel.  However more often than not, these people don’t feel able to express their concerns.  There appears to be so little information available beyond reading about Government sponsored projects.  There is no obvious dialogue and there are no discussion forums to explore these issues and more.

We know that more than £42m has been promised for performance sport in Scotland over the next four years – we don’t have hard information about community sport.  There is no trail as to how national and local government money is spent on sport – through direct investment, sportscotland funding, lottery funding, capital spend, proceeds of crime et al.  Frequently there is very short term funding – little obvious commitment to sport over the long term and little political commitment from any party.

We should also be aware that in Scotland, sport seems to linked with the health and in particular the physical inactivity agenda.  To what extent is that connection relevant?  Other countries recognise community sport is mostly about civil society, engagement and a sense of belonging.  Should Scotland reconsider the positioning of community sport?

Of course there are many other issues that could be explored concerning both community and school sport in Scotland.  I believe it would help everyone, if there was more ongoing healthy debate about sport provision.

It is all of these concerns and the experiences of other countries that is driving the idea of an Observatory for Sport in Scotland.  As mentioned earlier, similar institutes have already been established in a number of northern European countries, eg. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland – all nations with which high levels of sports participation are associated.  Their institutes have been and are deliberately established as small, trusted and independent organisations.  A Scottish Observatory would develop an evidence-based platform for the potential improvement across a range of sports activities at all levels.  The initial focus would be on community sport.  The work of the Observatory would drive open and ongoing transparent debate and decision making aimed at taking sport forward.

I am delighted that Henrik Brandt and Prof Koen Breedveeld, the lead officers of two of the most respected European Observatories, are joining us at the event and look forward to hearing them share their experiences with the audience.

Our attendee list includes representatives from across Scotland’s business and sporting sectors, and I am very much looking forward to a healthy debate between our speakers and participants.

Responsibility for the future of sport in our communities should not only sit with the many volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to run sports clubs, but should instead involve every one of us in positively supporting and influencing our country’s social and economic welfare.

Further information

If you are interested in attending the event, please contact Kirsty Davidson (, places must be registered in advance, providing details of your name, position and organisation.

To share your opinions or to further discuss the Observatory for Sport in Scotland – please comment below or get in touch with me through the contact section of this blog.

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