Be a sport!

SportsAid Chief Executive, Tim Lawler, blogs about 40 years of SportsAid ahead of the launch of SportsAid Week, a campaign to raise awareness of the charity's work with young athletes.

It seems an obvious thing to say, but sport matters. It matters so much and in so many ways and to you I probably don't need to list them.

So for those of us working in the sport and recreation sector, what are we doing for sport? Not in sport or with sport - what are we doing for sport?  I don't mean this as some obtuse, argumentative dig or to suggest that our efforts aren’t making an important difference across the sector and society in general.  I simply want to consider things from a different angle for a moment.  Sport makes a difference in  a multitude of ways but what does it do to help itself? 

I welcome Sporting Future, the new Government strategy and also Sport England’s refresh of its approach too. Both create a canvas for sport and it's up to us to paint a bright, clear vibrant picture across the sector. Sport has perhaps not been as good as  it should have been at creating that clear picture. To keep the metaphor going, we've been prone to the odd abstract stroke here and there, often before the last effort has even dried. A bit more Jackson Pollock than John Constable. We now need to paint a better picture of sport.  

The challenge – and it’s an opportunity too – is to ensure as many people as possible understand why sport matters.  From the stellar sparks of inspiration and admiration in high-performance sport, wearing the red, white and blue, to the individual transformation in mood, character and self-esteem that we see every day across the fabric of sport – just as stellar in its own way. Sporting Future is asking us to do this together, but we each need to focus on our bit.

So to SportsAid – 2016 will be remembered as a very high water mark for British sport in terms of performance and achievement with both elite teams placing second in the medal table in Rio.  2016 also happens to be significant for at least one other reason: it marks SportsAid’s 40th anniversary. In April 1976, SportsAid was born, pre-dating the National Lottery by around 20 years. 

For four decades, SportsAid has worked closely with Sport England and the national governing bodies (NGBs) to recognise and help talented sports people – formerly the top performers of the day; latterly the emerging next generation. That’s a hell of a shift. Just think how much has changed in day-to-day life, let alone in sport, since the long hot summer.

Amongst a number of things to mark SportsAid’s anniversary, SportsAid Week is here taking place from Monday 26 September to Sunday 2 October. A few days of fun and fundraising to celebrate and support the charity’s work with young sports people.  There are several objectives in this first year, but the priority is to raise awareness for SportsAid and not least across the sport sector. 

As any marketer will tell you, awareness leads to understanding; understanding leads to affinity.  We’d like more people to know about SportsAid and more of them to understand what we do and to feel inclined to help us.  And that help will make a difference: SportsAid helped 65% of Team GB and 68% of ParalympicsGB competing in Rio, with 20 of Team GB’s 27 gold medals from SportsAid-supported athletes and 70% of the Paralympic medallists.

Whilst these stats are very telling proof of SportsAid helping the right athletes at the right time, in the early formative years of their sporting journey, it is the insight and understanding of the NGBs that informs the process.  They know what’s needed to progress and succeed in their sport.  They share sight of their emerging talent and SportsAid provides the first bit of recognition and a helping hand.  It’s quite a proven, efficient and effective model and you can play your part.

Why not visit the SportsAid Week campaign page to see how you can get involved? There are sponsored bike rides, runs and swims, sports demonstrations, a Fitness Friday fancy dress day and bucket collections. You can always keep it nice and simple by texting to donate (TEXT “WEEK40 £5” or your chosen amount to 70070) or buying a SportsAid headband for £2.50

If you believe that sport really does matter and that sports people are at the heart of it, then we’d love you to support SportsAid Week. Your help could really make a lasting impact.