You are here

Tanni: Let’s share the ‘secret’ of sport for development

Copyrights: Laureus

Tanni: Let’s share the ‘secret’ of sport for development

Sport for development will remain “a well-kept secret” until other sectors such as health and justice appreciate the full value of sport and physical activity to society, according to Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The former Paralympic champion was speaking this week at the Laureus Global Summit in Paris, in partnership with Allianz, where 130 programmes from across the world gathered to showcase and share how they use sport and physical activity to support young people in the greatest need.

Despite the amazing work carried out on a daily basis across the globe by these organisations, which are all funded by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Grey-Thompson believes there is still some way to go before that vision of sport helping to build a better world – famously articulated by Nelson Mandela at the Laureus World Sports Awards 18 years ago – can be realised.

She said: “You can’t really beat what Nelson Mandela said but it (sport for development) is like a well-kept secret. It’s good and it’s fun - but it’s also hard.”

In particular, Grey-Thompson sees barriers to physical activity in people’s everyday lives as one key reasons why the social impact of sport has not become a mainstream topic of conversation - with elite sport remaining the dominant voice, for example, when it comes to media coverage.

We all know that sport and physical activity is good for us, just like you know that you are supposed to eat five fruit and vegetables a day,” she said.

But I think this is often about people’s previous experience; if you experienced sport in school – perhaps if you are a woman of my age – then probably your experience of sport wasn’t great.

And then if you’re working or if you’ve got kids, if you’re changing your job or moving house, your interaction with sport and physical activity changes.

Even people who are ‘sporty’ drift in and out, so it’s how we engage with the ‘hardest to reach’ people who just don’t see the value.

For example in the UK, women’s pension ages are only going one way, and 80% of women aren’t fit enough to be healthy, for a whole host of reasons.”

Furthermore, Grey-Thompson believes the political cycle in some countries can inhibit the implementation of long-term physical activity strategies, with integrated objectives around health or the reduction of crime, and cites the UK as an example.

Funding models have changed, depending on the government of the day, and that affects both UK Sport and Sport England funding.

Cuts to local authorities are affecting what they are able to do, they are having to make really tough decisions between health, social care and looked-after children versus a leisure facility.

I was at a Local Government Association conference over the summer where a lot of people were saying they were running out of money to look after kids in care. It’s pretty hard to argue against that!

There are tough decisions being taken all the time, and you have to work within that environment all of the time.

But there’s lots of physical activity which don’t have to cost and doesn’t have to be complicated; for a whole pile of stuff you don’t need much equipment, but you need an open space and you do need to feel safe.

If a woman doesn’t feel safe in an open space, she is not going to be active.”

In parallel to this Grey-Thompson believes it’s vital that a narrative is developed which focuses on physical activity, as opposed to sport. Organised or team sport can sometimes be a foreboding prospect to some sections of society, for example teenage girls.

She said: “We talk about sport as if that’s everything, but sport is just a sub-set of physical activity, and elite sport is a tiny part of it.

However if you compare the media attention and the column inches, on elite sport and then how sport is played elsewhere, then – while I am not saying we should cut the amount of coverage on elite sport – it is out of kilter.”

Since 2001 Grey-Thompson has been a member of the ‘Laureus World Sports Academy’, an exclusive group of more than 60 sporting legends co-ordinated by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, and she will continue to use her profile to raise awareness of the social benefits of sport and physical activity.

I use the word ‘campaigning’ because there is so much more for us to do,” she said.

We are helping many thousands of children around the world, but there are many more who need our help, and sport is a great way to achieve that.

We just need to keep going and spreading the word. Research and hard evidence is massively important, and this summit is so important because we are learning from each other, learning about good things that have worked and maybe other things which haven’t worked so well.

It’s all that knowledge which comes together and helps us to build a much better narrative, to help win funding and help us to do more.”


Article type



Simon Lansley


Thursday, October 18, 2018 - 08:56