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24 Nov 2021 | 11:11

Tackling societal and health inequalities within deprived communities through collective action can help to accelerate sport for development’s contribution to environmental sustainability by reducing sedentary behaviour and associated carbon-rich lifestyles. 

Numerous contributors to the Coalition’s second ‘Town Hall’ session highlighted the socio-cultural and capacity issues, for example around cost and access to facilities, which create barriers to sport and activity within disadvantaged communities. Ensuing sedentary lifestyles lead to carbon-intensive behaviour, for example an over-reliance on motorised transport, and excessive energy consumption when indoors for long periods – not to mention the impact of inactivity on the health of individuals. 

However, through its local and place-based offers which encourage active travel and healthier lifestyles, sport for development is “ideally placed” to meet the challenge head on, according to Active Humber CEO David Gent. There is a key role that can be played through collective and community action by the thousands of community-level projects and programmes represented across the Coalition’s network. 

David is joint lead for Active Partnerships’ climate change steering group and he told the Town Hall, convened to coincide with United Nations’ 26th global climate summit taking place in Glasgow, that “climate action is ultimately about inequalities… those facing the greatest inequalities are those who are creating the least carbon and having the least effect on the environment.

“Where we in community sport can best focus is around sedentary lifestyles, as they are incredibly carbon intensive,” said David. “If we can get more physically active, walking or cycling, that will have a massive reduction – at a world level – on the amount of carbon we are producing. 

“What we have got in community sport – recognising our playing fields or green spaces, our wonderful countryside and our coast etc – is that being active values those places.” 


David believes there is a lack of acknowledgement and understanding across the sector about the role it can play in tackling climate change, which must be addressed if it is to respond effectively. Tackling inequality and environmental sustainability are two key outcomes mainstreamed across all of the Coalition’s individual key outcomes, such as reduced crime and anti-social behaviour, and stronger communities and social cohesion.

He explained: “We are weak in community sport because elite sport is taking all of the headlines. It’s dead easy to work out the carbon footprint of a stadium, (but) it’s nigh on impossible to work out what the effect of community sport is - so we need to get our house in order. 

“We are ideally placed to deal with the issues of inequality and health through community sport. I also think it’s about making it visible because we are invisible in the sports sector at the moment.” 

Making Trax

David pointed out that community sport can also help to bring some much-needed positive messaging around climate action, since when delivered well it is inclusive, fun and enjoyable, and individuals and communities can take immediate action and responsibility for their own contribution, or that of their community. Hear more from David in this recent webinar ‘How can the sport and physical activity sector contribute to addressing the climate emergency?’ organised by Yorkshire Sport Foundation. 

Andy James, National Network Manager for the Making Trax BMX and cycling programme at the sport for development charity Access Sport (pictured above), highlighted how tackling inequalities, and improving and increasing access to local offers had the added benefit of contributing to climate action. 

“Doing community sport in a climate friendly way means local offers that don’t require cars to drive to, making sport and physical activity exciting for people who lead sedentary lifestyles – not just the people who are already active and involved in sport,” he told the Town Hall.


“Much more should be targeted in areas of high deprivation, where the statistics bear out they are least active at the moment. The statistics are stark: 78% of disabled people never cycle, 76% of women don’t cycle, 75% of people at risk of deprivation don’t cycle, and only 3% of schoolchildren cycle to school. These inequalities, and the collective carbon footprint, are exacerbated when we build multi-million pound destination facilities which require cars to get there and then often the cost model requires high session fees which further exclude who can access them.” 

Andy highlighted how money spent on facilities could create a much greater social return on investment – and cost savings for policy-makers and funders – if they were built within easy access of, or within communities where inequalities are greatest. 

His colleague Sarah Toone, who is Delivery and Development Manager for the Making Trax programme, added: “At a local level, delivering in a more climate friendly way means empowering communities to take ownership of activity at the local site through creating volunteering opportunities, targeted delivery to those who don’t cycle, and providing access to equipment.” 


Sarah cited the example of one Making Trax participant, a single mother of three children who has begun attending Access Sport’s recently-opened site at Bexley, South-East London. When one of the mother’s sons mentioned that she didn’t cycle, Access Sport staff provided a bike for her so she could ride with her children.

“What attracted her to the session was that they don’t have their own bikes, it was within walking distance from their home, and she was really aware of the whole family’s inactivity levels. There was lots of sitting around and not getting active. She had recently become a lone parent and the pressures that would put on her financially, but also emotionally and mentally – so to get out was really important. She is now one of my volunteers, and we are training her to become an instructor.  

“She wants to actively travel, and she wants her children to as well.” 

Socio-cultural and capacity issues within communities require constant monitoring and attention, according to Sarah, who also advocated experimentation and collaboration with local partners embedded within the community to ensure maximum efficiency and innovation.


Claire Poole, the founder and CEO of the Sport Positive Summit which brings together sports stakeholders from all over the world to help accelerate positive climate action, addressed the importance of working towards a framework which stimulates and galvanises collection action. She was involved in the launch of the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework in 2018. More than 300 organisations have already signed up but Claire believes this is “a drop in the bucket” compared to what could be achieved, and said the aim is for more grassroots and community organisations to sign up.

She said: “It is more of the elite level sports organisations that have signed up for this but we are at pains to say that the whole point of the framework, and how it has been set up, is that any organisation that organises sport has the capacity to reduce impact and drive communication, education and advocacy can sign up to the Sports for Climate Action Framework. It’s open to all and, at grassroots level, we want more of those organisations to be involved. We need ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ action in the role that sport can play.” 

Claire urged Coalition member organisations to include climate action “in the education and training that you do”. She suggested “connecting with venues that you use and asking them to reduce single-use plastic, or ask if their venues are powered by renewable energy, and trying to encourage people to car-pool or active travel to games or meets.” She added: “It’s about connecting the dots; climate change isn’t far away – it’s happening now and it’s with us.” 

Active lifestyles 2

The next step for this discussion, as voted for by attendees of the Town Hall, was for the Coalition to establish a working group to co-ordinate joined-up action and sharing of learning on this issue.

Town Halls provide an opportunity for the organisations and networks who make up the Coalition to engage on important issues for sport for development, and drive its collective response to them. The online sessions take place once every two months and provide vital input to the Coalition’s collective action and policy advocacy, for example helping to inform its submission to the Government’s 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review

This session was the second Town Hall, with the first in September seeing Public Health England join more than 80 Coalition supporter organisations and guests online to discuss the implications of integrated care for the sector, and the opportunities and challenges of social prescribing. 

The next Town Hall will take place on Friday 25th February (1000-1130) with the registration process due to open soon.