The Seminar – Friday 2 October 2015

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The day arrived – a lovely sunny autumn day in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. I was very pleased that we had attracted a goodly number of delegates – in fact 71 on the day, plus another 12 from the SCDI (The Scottish Council for Development and Industry) our hosts , our speakers and sponsors. The slide deck from all the presentations can be found here: Slide Deck

The choice of a Friday was in the aspiration to attract both potential funders and at least a few of the big army of volunteers from Scottish sport (a group that is so often not seen or heard in sports debates).

Our hosts were the SCDI who proved to be really professional in the conference facilitation, the venue, the set up, the slide presentations and the seminar programme.

Our moderator for the day Fiona Duncan from the Lloyds TSB foundation was outstanding in her own preparation, and her ability to ensure that everyone was involved and of course that we kept to the time schedule.

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Koen was kind enough to pen the following description of how the seminar unfolded ( as he waited for his return flight to Amsterdam at 6am. the next morning!

“The Flying Scot suite in The Corinthian club was packed with sport-lovers and experts discussed the future of Scottish sports in a meeting that was hosted by the SCDI. Originator of the meeting was Edinburgh ex swim coach and local authority sports manager Charlie Raeburn. Finding himself worried over the current state of affairs of Scottish sport-policies, Raeburn came up with the ‘mad idea’ (his own words) of setting up a Scottish ‘sport observatory’. Similar sport observatories have been set up successfully in several other European countries, adding to the evidence base on sport in those countries with independent and trustworthy research.

Raeburn himself, in his opening speech to the meeting, summarized his worries: cutbacks in municipality budgets for sports, decreasing participation rates, a general lack of detailed information on barriers for people to take up sports, and little opportunities for debate, all added to a sense of urgency with Raeburn that something needs to change in Scottish sport policies, if it is to remain a vehicle for a healthy Scotland. Raeburn stressed that it was not his intention to attack any of the current organizations in the field. Rather, he pleaded for a joining of the forces in a sport observatory for Scotland, representing both  as well as academics and other researchers.

Next, Prof Dr Koen Breedveld explained the works of the Dutch sport-observatory. With a budget of 2 million euro a year and a staff of 20, the ‘Mulier Institute’ yearly delivers a range of independent monitoring and evaluation reports that has fueled the debate over sports for more than a decade now. Breedveld explained that part of the strength of the observatory had been its independence, thereby adding to the credibility of the reports and eliciting interest from policy makers and politicians. Currently, the Netherlands are in the top-3 for a number of sport-indicators, e.g. club membership and volunteering. Yet, the Netherlands to face major challenges, says Breedveld. One of the biggest challenges according to Breedveld is closing the gap between lower educated people and higher educated people when it comes to sport. The first group consistently participates less in sports than do the second group, and these differences have not changed  in the last 40-50 years.

Henrik Brandt from the Danish sport observatory IDAN painted a similar picture for his country. Having started in 2005, IDAN now has a staff of 15 and a budget of £1.5m.,and uses these capacities to continuously organise debates over Danish sport and collects relevant data to fuel these debates. In Brandt’s opinion, it is of key-importance to bring the different stakeholders together and discuss the direction of Danish sports. Workshops and conferences on these matters are generally well attended, demonstrating that stakeholders value the opportunity to be involved in shaping the future of sports. Over the past years, as in the Netherlands, sport-participation has grown considerably in Denmark. Most of this growth has come from new initiatives and ways to do sports, e.g. fitness, and personalized training through social media and web-based coaching. Brandt said that more of this is expected in the future, challenging the traditional sport-sector and forcing them to open up their eyes and move beyond the traditional offer by sport governing bodies and clubs.

After these introductions, a very lively debates first through workshop led by Stuart Younie and Neil Ross- sbegan with the steps needed to set up a similar observatory for Scotland and the direction it should take. It was argued that even though the situation in Denmark and the Netherlands might be slightly different from the one in Scotland, the challenges and parties involved are in fact quite similar and comparable. It was also argued that the building of a sport observatory might take some time, and that the idea might need to grow and start off by taking series of small steps. Later Fiona Duncan chaired a panel Q & A session, where there was discussion about one of these steps  – it could well be to document the already existing research on barriers to sports and on the effects of sport on health, social cohesion on the Scottish economy, as it was believed that a great deal of that knowledge is currently not being brought together and is not being handed to policy-maker and politicians in a useful manner. In order for sport to be considered a legitimate object for government-investments, it was stated that it is not enough to cite one successful project, and that in fact what is needed is the gathering of as much scientific evidence as possible on the role that sports may play in enhancing health, social integration, school-achievements, or e.g. employee-productivity.

Initiator Charlie Raeburn once again invited all persons present to express their interest in establishing a Scottish sport observatory.

At the end of the meeting, Ross Martin CEO SCDI thanked the speakers for their contributions and the delegates  for taking time to debate this topic, and expressed his sincere wish to see a Scottish observatory for sports to be launched as soon as possible.”

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Claire Phillips presented in a presentation titled “Future Setting” the Business Case for the establishment of the Observatory. Her presentations slides  (and indeed all the presentation slides) can be seen on the Observatory pages of this website. Importantly all those individuals and organisations that would like to discuss or contribute to the establishment of the Observatory – are asked to contact me at charlieraeburn@yahoo.co.uk

The next steps will of course be difficult. We hope that people and individuals are now better informed about the potential of the Observatory for Sport , and the need to take care to protect its independence and to ensure quality its performance. The immediate challenge is to attract enough funding to set up an Observatory, to identify also support of organisations and individuals through first a short life working group and later a Shadow Board.

The seminar was filmed and it is hoped to add a link to the footage from this website.

I finish with some observations from Henrik Brandt form IDAN:

“The meeting clearly demonstrated the large and increasing number of stakeholders in Scottish (community) sport and the wide range of sectors that can actually be engaged/is involved in the delivery of sport.

A successful observatory could be the catalyst for new partnerships and new successful programmes.

The seminar meeting was in itself a proof for the need of an independent overview of the sector that can assist all stakeholders in developing their strategies and filling their role in community sport. Information should not be restricted to membership figures of organized sport, information should be accessible for all – it is not enough for figures to rest on the shelves of a ministry or a sports organization…

The efforts of municipalities, ministries, leisure trusts, social entrepreneurs, the commercial sector etc. are important as well and theirs is much to be gained by collecting and disseminating data and knowledge from them as well.

In times of cutbacks in the public sector maybe an observatory could also be instrumental in showing new ways to develop sport by engaging new stakeholders and empowering governing bodies, sports clubs, local facilities and communities, or innovative individuals in developing new ‘mindsets’, new initiatives and programmes. One should not forget that the biggest ‘economy’ in community sport is probably still the voluntary work – but voluntary leaders also need access to knowledge and inspiration to deliver a better product.”

Slide deck from all the presentations: Slide Deck

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