Issues regarding the nation's long-term state of physical and social health were at the heart of the launch of the UK Equality Standard for Sport at the recent Equality and Sport conference in London.
Lord Carter, chair of Sport England, who announced the new programme highlighted the dire need of a metaphorical level playing field for all, a redressing of the imbalance historically and currently experienced by women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people in sport.
Over 200 delegates from sporting organisations, schools and local authorities heard him say that the Standards were a framework to deliver increased access to and participation in sport to sectors of the community who are marginalised and it was time for the industry to "move out of the comfort zone," he explained:
"It's time to innovate; with 77 per cent of 8 - 14 year olds having a TV in their bedroom, we have serious competition for their attention. Greater participation means widening the pool of talent and reducing barriers will raise not only quantity but also quality."
The Equality Standard for Sport is a collaboration of the four, home country Sports Councils and UK Sport and is supported by the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the English Federation of Disability Sport, Sporting Equals and the Women's Sports Foundation UK. The need to increase diversity and appeal to a wider audience was underlined by Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, herself a 5-a-side football player, who brought in the government perspective to the launch. She remarked that:
"By the age of 18, 40 per cent of girls have dropped out of sport altogether; there's no point in clinging to sentimental views of the past. We have to accept the world has changed and in the modern world people want quality and choice."
Although the success of the British Paralympic team in Athens this summer was inspirational - Great Britain came second in the medals table behind China, winning 94 medals including 35 gold - the General Household Survey 2002 revealed participation rates in sport by adults with a limiting, long-standing illness were worryingly low - all below ten percent.
Similar concerns were expressed regarding inclusion of ethnic minorities in sport; Pakistani and Bangladeshi, Indian and Black Caribbean groups revealed very low participation levels at only 18 per cent, 26 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
The cost to the nation's health was highlighted with the revelation that 22 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women are obese - numbers that have trebled since the 1980s - and the role that sport can play in minimising the damage to life and society.
Delivering the choice, the innovation, the quality will be up to sports teachers, coaches and local authorities but the Standards will provide the invaluable framework; as Lord Carter said:
"Sport can change lives. [The Standard] is worthwhile. It's not an option and if we want a just and fair society, it's something we have to do."
Information on the Standards can be found on www.sportengland.org
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