Should sport receive ‘payment for services’?

Sports governing bodies could potentially receive “payment for services” if they can prove they are contributing to important social outcomes, according to the Chief Executive of Swim England.

Jane Nickerson was speaking at a recent conference on investment and funding in grassroots sport in London.

In December 2015, the DCMS ‘Sporting Future’ strategy laid out the Government’s vision for how the sports sector must look further than increasing participation alone, to improving physical and mental health and wellbeing, and individual, community and economic development.

Since its publication, many governing bodies (NGBs) such as Swim England, have focused on proving the value of investing in sport and physical activity programmes. As an example, Nickerson spoke about the return on investment for the health sector in swimming programmes such the dementia-friendly project run by Swim England.


She said: “We’ve just launched a health and wellbeing report. An independent, robust, scientific report which shows the benefits of swimming far beyond the cardio benefits for fit people. Swimming is an activity which we can now prove prevents, manages and in some cases, helps to cure, long-term health conditions.

“So, let’s talk about funding, or perhaps it should be payment for services, because our service delivery is solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of the nation. Traditional funding in sport has shifted from a focus on helping national governing bodies, to nurture and increase talent, to a focus on getting the nation active.

“We have the knowledge and expertise to deliver these programmes, to achieve the outcomes, and can also form partnerships to do this. However, national governing bodies cannot fund all the work to achieve the outcomes, and arguably we shouldn’t have to. There’s also concern that the amount of money provided to Sport England to distribute is now much less than it was in the past, but now it’s spread much further across more outcomes, away from the original purpose of nurturing talent in grassroots sport, for sport’s sake.

The challenge is that funding into sport is reducing at a time when expectation to increase the reach of sport is increasing. But if we prove there’s a benefit to another sector, should they not be responsible for paying for it?


“For example, let’s look at health. As swimming now has the report which shows the benefit it can bring to the prevention, management and in some cases the cure of long-term health conditions. Fifteen million people in England are living with at least one long-term health condition. This is set to rise to 18million in 2025. That’s one in four people. People with long-term conditions are two to three times more likely to have a mental health condition. 50% of GP appointments and 64% of outpatient appointments are for people with long-term health conditions. £1.42 billion is spent on emergency admissions for people with long-term conditions. The average cost per person, per year for a person with one long-term health condition is £1,000. It rises to £3,000 per person per year if they have two long-term health conditions, and £8,000 per year for three or more, which means that £7 out of every £10 of the health and social care budget, is spent on people with long-term health conditions.

“If this continues over the next 50 years, by 2062, the UK will be spending nearly 20% of its entire wealth on the National Health Service.

“So, is this a case for diverting some funding from the NHS, and also charities, other health charities, into interventions, provided by sport which prove that they can reduce the financial impact on the NHS of long-term health conditions? It’s also down to traditional NGBs to help themselves by using their expertise and knowledge to create partnerships, to attract new revenues from other Government departments and the charity sector.”

The success of the dementia-friendly swimming programme has enabled Swim England to link with charities of other health conditions.


Nickerson explained: “We’re rolling out a GP referral education qualification for exercise professionals. We are now putting the people who are already dealing with people who are referred to them in the gyms into the swimming pool. One additional benefit of putting them into the pool has shown that they have been put into a place outside their comfort zone and they’ve suddenly realised what it’s like for somebody who doesn’t normally go into a pool or into a leisure centre to walk through those doors. That’s something we need to build on, how people who look after the people referred to them actually know what it feels like.

“If we get this right, we will need a lot more facilities to ensure there is capacity for all the work we need to do and perhaps we need to change our views on this around swimming pools. We need appropriate training and competition pools, but we massively need community pools and teaching pools, and the wellness hubs is definitely a way forward.

“We’re currently looking at different funding models and different ownership models, includingclubs starting to build their own pools and how spare retail space could be utilised; many out-of-town supermarkets now have too much space because of online shopping so, can we pop a pool in there? There’s also a need for different contracts between local authorities and operators to maximise the use of pools and income generation, whilst retaining the aims of the local swimming provision.

“Sport can deliver these outcomes, but funding and payment must come from different places.”

Jane Nickerson was speaking at the WestMinster Media Forum Keynote Seminar on sports funding.


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