Sarah Powell calls for a shared focus on increasing rates of physical activity
The annual National Survey for Wales, compiled from conducting over 11,000 face-to-face interviews with the Welsh public, is an important health check on the state of the nation. This year’s figures are particularly significant for Sport Wales as they will be the last set of results to be published before we launch the new Vision for Sport in Wales, and in due course, our new strategy. They will help to inform and shape the future of sport in Wales, and widely echo the already extensive and in-depth conversations we have had with people the length and breadth of Wales during the consultation phase.
The data published on June 20th was very encouraging. It shows a growth of 3 percentage points in participation amongst those undertaking sport three or more times a week. You may be thinking 3 percentage points, ‘so what?’ Well in reality, that is an additional 74,000 individuals over the past survey cycle. It is important to also remember this is at the three times a week level, impressive when we know people are time poor and must make tough choices around many competing commitments.
What is even more exciting is the detail behind that headline, which recognises an approach to developing an active nation based on sport and physical activity being an outlet for everyone. Except for the 25-34-year-old category, which remained constant, every single age group saw an increase in participation. 17 of Wales’s 22 local authorities saw increases in their participation numbers; if we look at a regional breakdown on a North – South –East – West basis they all saw an increase; there was an increase in both rural and urban community activity and across both male and female participants. This is testament to the work of National Governing Bodies of sport, local community clubs, the thousands of volunteers, parents and everyone else in-between who are in some way contributing time, energy and effort to facilitate people getting active.
Of course, the national survey figures are also clear about the challenges that need to be met. Approximately 4 in 10 people in Wales are not participating in sport or physical recreation. The evidence demonstrates that where people are encouraged to participate in sport they remain committed and enjoy the physical, mental and social benefits of doing so. What must happen now, and what is already happening at many levels, is that there is a cooperative and collective approach to engaging those who are doing nothing. We know that those first steps into becoming active can be difficult for some people to take. Being involved in sport may not necessarily be the right vehicle for this approach, nor indeed the ultimate desire for some, at least in a competitive sense. Instead, understanding the motivations behind what can and will drive people to be more physically active, at whatever level, is crucial. The choice should be attractive and barrier free.
Sport Wales have been empowered by the goals established through the Well-being of Future Generations Act. This has strengthened the approach to cross sector and organisational cooperation which has led, and continues to lead, to different ways of tackling shared problems. Inspiring more people to participate in sport or physical activity is not simply a challenge for the sport sector but also for public health, for the economy, for education, culture and the environment of Wales. It will take the collective resources and the collective intelligence of several public-sector bodies, which is why we have increasingly worked closely with Public Health Wales, Natural Resources Wales and others to craft the forthcoming vision and ambition for Wales.
Gone are the days of sport being a standalone consideration. The benefits of a physically active nation reach across every aspect of our lives. From reducing the burden on the NHS through ill-health prevention and better mental health to improved educational attainment; from improving leadership and resilience to promoting Wales as a global brand. Sport is integral to a brighter, better more prosperous Wales. This survey shows us where we are. We look forward to launching the new Vision for Sport in Wales to show where, together, we can and must go.
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