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19 Jul 2023 | 12:12

The Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition has highlighted the “powerful evidence” provided by a new report on the Youth Justice Sport Fund, and called on policy-makers to explore how more early-intervention schemes across the Coalition’s growing UK-wide network could help to save public costs. 

The groundbreaking report has been published by StreetGames, which managed and distributed the £5million fund from the Ministry of Justice alongside its fellow Coalition partner, the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice. 

Launched in December 2022, the programme allocated funding across 220 trusted community organisations using sport to engage at-risk young people and divert them from becoming involved in crime and anti-social behaviour. The fund managed was the first of its kind delivered by the Ministry of Justice, and forms part of the Government’s wider £300million investment into youth justice services over the next three years.


Hitesh Patel, Executive Director of the Coalition, said: “The Sport for Development Coalition thanks the Ministry of Justice, StreetGames, the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, and of course the 220 community-based organisations who united to deliver the Youth Justice Sport Fund so effectively across England and Wales. 

“This report provides powerful evidence of the value of investing in proven sports-based early intervention schemes. This can achieve a significant impact across multiple policy priorities for the Government, which in turn can help to save public costs in the long term – as demonstrated by the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework


“Ahead of the publication of a new nationwide sports strategy, we encourage all arms of Government to collaborate with the Coalition and its partners to deliver effective early-intervention schemes that could help lighten the load on the public purse.” 

The evaluation report highlights that sport, when provided in a safe, supportive environment, gives young people a sense of belonging, and exposes them to a diverse array of positive role models. The programme successfully engaged over 7,800 young people, with 82% of them coming from 40% most deprived areas, providing them with structured sports activities and additional personal development opportunities.


Seventy-seven of the 220 participating organisations had an annual turnover of less than £100,000 and 63% of the hours delivered by participating organisations were dedicated to mentoring and other ‘sport plus’ activities that help delivery staff build a strong rapport with young people and accelerate their personal development. 

Alan Webster, Deputy Director for Youth Justice, Ministry of Justice explained: “Prevention is the principal aim of the youth justice system, and we know the impact that physical activity can have in helping people make more positive choices in their lives. 

“That’s why we created the Youth Justice Sport Fund, the first time Government has invested in sports as a diversionary route for children and young people at this scale and we are incredibly proud of the fund and its achievements.

 “Almost 8,000 children have accessed activities that may not have been available to them, learning new skills and gaining qualifications along the way. We will continue to explore innovative ways sports can be used to support children at risk of being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour.” 

The report makes a series of recommendations including on how future investment decisions should be based on principles of trust and collaboration with clear monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) data. It calls on stakeholders to maintain and leverage regional and national networks established through the programme to facilitate effective sharing of best practices and ongoing relationships.


Mark Lawrie, Chief Executive of StreetGames, noted: “The success of the programme was rooted in the collaborative efforts between national and local sport sector organisations and national and local criminal justice partners, emphasising the immense potential for future collaborations across sectors.” 

James Mapstone, CEO of the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, said: “We are delighted that this project has been able to strengthen the evidence base and advance the case for sport’s role in crime prevention.” 

Publication of the evaluation report followed the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System holding its annual general meeting (AGM), and reviewing the fund’s achievements. The AGM heard how the initiative was underpinned by a Theory of Change, developed by Loughborough University, which set out a framework for sport-based interventions aimed at reducing crime, violence and anti-social behaviour.


Charlotte Higgins, Head of Early Intervention, Prevention and Community Justice at the Ministry of Justice, told attendees: “Sport is increasingly recognised as having an important role in prevention and early intervention, partly as a simple diversionary principle but also as a vehicle that leads young people away from the justice system and towards activities that can help them build strengths and a pro-social identity. 

“Previously we have been involved in conversations around the value of sport taking place in custody. For us, this project was a slightly new exploration in the early intervention space and it has been really productive.” 

Read ‘Youth Justice Sport Fund - External Evaluation Report 2023’.