As Mo Farah won his third consecutive Great North Run this weekend I was considering what has made thousands and thousands of people run 13.1 miles. Even for Mo, I’m sure that his primary concern wasn’t the monetary gain or even the glory (though his will to win made this almost obligatory), it is my belief that almost everyone who ran through the beautiful scenery of the north east of England did so for reasons greater than their own personal gain. The amount of money raised for charity alone proves that sport can have an impact in other sectors of society.
Mo would have realised that his very presence at this event, coming off the back of another incredible double gold at the Rio Olympics, would do so much to raise the profile of his sport and get more people involved both at the race itself, as participants and spectators, but also across the country as more and more people join running clubs and attend organised runs. After all, he even managed to encourage his wife, Tania, to take part in this year’s renewal.
The growth of initiatives such as parkrun and Go-Ride are testament to the fact that at least some of the British public can be tempted back into physical activity and I admire the way that the sports industry, and yes even the Government through their “Sporting Future” document, are looking for more creative ways of attracting participants into sport and exercise. The question that I started this process with was, can I help? Can I get at least one person to join a club, attend a session, swing a club, anything to increase participation, especially in the north east of England.
21 of the Team GB athletes were born in the north east, but interestingly (as far as I can tell) none train in the region. 21 from a team of 366 represents 5.74% of the team, which is actually an improvement from our home Olympics of 2012 where only 18 north east born athletes made a team of 541 (3.33%). Looking at the population data from 2013, 2.61 million people live in the combined areas of Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, Co. Durham and Teesside (Cleveland), this represents around 4% of the UK population, so from that perspective it would appear as though the north east pulls its weight in terms of elite sport.
However, if you just happen to type “North East England” into Wikipedia it doesn’t take you very long to start reading about some of the problems besetting the region at the moment. It produces the 2nd least amount of value to the UK economy (behind only Wales), it has the highest unemployment rate (7.3% as of June 2016) and some of the most deprived council districts in the country. Indeed, only this week a survey was released which named Middlesbrough as the worst place in UK to be a young girl (may I say despite never actually speaking to anyone from Boro.) As a side note please see the excellent retort to this study in the Guardian and I personally would be delighted to bring up my daughter in this region.
Now, I would be an idiot if I said that the power of sport could magically remedy any of these issues for the region, but what I will say is that the Government and Sport England have recently released new long term plans within which they emphasise the importance of participation in sport as a benefit to society. David Cameron (can’t believe I have mentioned him in a blog) said in his introduction to the document “Sporting Future” :
First, we will be much bolder in harnessing the potential of sport for social good. In delivering this Strategy we will change sport funding so it is no longer merely about how many people take part, but rather how sport can have a meaningful and measurable impact on improving people’s lives (DCMS, 2015)
I can’t wait to actually start this challenge. I am in the process of getting my head around the logistics of it and putting a plan together. I am also going to try and get some of our Olympians involved via interview, or hopefully, fellow participants. If you have read this blog and enjoyed then please share it with other people and if you have any feedback then drop me a line. If you would like to get involved in some way, even better!
I will leave you with the opening paragraph of Jennie Price’s (Chief Executive of Sport England) statement in their new strategy “Towards an Active Nation”
Our vision is that everyone, regardless of their age, background or level of ability, feels able to engage in sport and physical activity. Some will be young, fit and talented, but most will not. We want everyone to feel welcome, to find something in sport and activity that meets their needs and for the sector to value them as customers. (Sport England, 2016)
I hope the thousands of Great North Run participants felt welcome and valued and I’m sure that the amount of money they raised for good causes will go so far to proving at least one aspect of sport improving our society in a tangible way.