Sporting Future: Government's progress around mental health

Following publication of Sporting Future’s second annual report in January, the Alliance’s Policy Adviser, Ben Jessup reflects on government’s progress around mental health, and how we must press for more action at the grassroots level.

When government launched Sporting Future back in 2015, it formalised a new approach to sport and physical activity, establishing mental wellbeing as one of the five key outcomes at the heart of the strategy.

The launch of government’s action plan around elite sport and mental health this week is another positive step, with a range of activity designed to drive real impact across the elite and professional spheres of sport in the UK.

The action plan is undoubtedly a hugely positive step and one that should help create a more supportive environment for elite athletes.

However, it is equally important that the momentum the plan has generated is maintained and carried over into the grassroots, not least because it is at the grassroots where the potential for much wider and deeper impact lies: millions of people participate in grassroots sport and recreation every week, a large number of whom will suffer with mental health problems. The potential for sport and recreation to help these people tackle their mental health problems and to make conversations about mental health easier is enormous.

There have been some welcome developments in this regard.

Just last week it was announced that Sport England has awarded Mind £1.5m funding to extend their Get Set to Go programme and help make sport and physical activity across the country more mental health friendly.

And the EFL’s recent announcement of Mind as their new charity partner provides a great opportunity to use football to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst the millions of fans who follow their favourite clubs every week.

Next week marks the third anniversary of the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation. Over 300 organisations having pledged their support for the Charter and engagement continues to grow. All Charter signatories have committed to taking action to promote positive conversations about mental health and to tackle the stigma which surrounds the topic, marking a real step change.

After three years of building the Charter network, it is now time to go further. The sector, with support from government and others, must build on the positive momentum that has been created at elite level to deliver lasting, positive change at the grassroots.