Equity & Equality: Future Priorities for the Sport for Development Sector 

It has become clearer than ever before that sport and physical activity have a much bigger role to play in developing a fairer and healthier society. From the success of the Lionesses which put the role of sport in supporting gender equality into the public consciousness, to supporting a post-Covid recovery where sport and physical activity have often been quoted to support physical and mental wellbeing, the sport for development sector covers a huge range of issues. It is constantly evolving and being advocated for as a tool to support the growth of societies by a number of organisations, including - amongst others - the Sport for Development Coalition, an umbrella body for organisations in the sector.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but some potential priorities for the sector are as below.  

Mental Health

We can all agree that there were not many positives to come from the Covid 19 pandemic; the only one that springs to mind is that the topic of mental health came to the top of the table. The cost-of-living crisis has added to the mental health burden of our country, and with mainstream mental health services struggling to cope with the demand for their provision, it’s clear that alternative provision is needed. The sport for development sector is perfectly placed to be just that and School of Hard Knocks’ (SOHK) work has an extremely strong track record of supporting the mental health of participants as well its staff.

SOHK’s combination of sport, value-based development sessions, and mentoring with behavioural specialists is a meaningful solution to the mental health strain that come with the challenges and issues that the participants face. Working within the 5C’s psychology framework (with outcomes based around communication, control, cohesion, commitment, and confidence), participants on both the Schools Programmes and Adult Courses show improvements in mental health; 95% of participants report an improvement to their mental health and wellbeing.

Gender Equality

Gender equality has been a social issue going back decades, but has become an increasing priority for society in recent years. It is though, clearer than ever, that the inclusion and equality of all genders are not equal, as shown by the gender pay gap, rates of gender-based violence (also exacerbated by COVID 19) and the widespread discrimination faced by transgender and gender diverse communities. Sport can play a transformative role in tackling harmful gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality and SOHK is doing its part to help.

Over the past three years, School of Hard Knocks has made an active effort to make Adult Courses gender inclusive through various different ways, and as a result have seen an increase in the number of openly trans and non-binary participants that have come to the courses. The work done by Dr Sian Edwards from SOHK’s Wales team, along with sport & gender consultant Alison Carney, to promote inclusion for transgender participants is pioneering and we hope that it can provide the basis for better acceptance for this community (for more information on this, see the excellent earlier article written by SOHK’s Dr Sian Edwards)


Equity in accessing sport/physical activity opportunities

Regular physical activity is incredibly important to our physical and mental health, and unfortunately not everyone is able to do the recommended amount of activity. We know that physical activity levels (and overall health) are strongly linked to disposable levels of income, with the poorest and most disadvantaged in society often not having access to sporting or physical activity – with sporting/leisure/activity opportunities on offer being beyond their financial means.

Sport for development programmes by their very nature, target the most disadvantaged people from some of the most deprived areas, and School of Hard Knocks is no different. The work in schools and with adults is designed to support those who come from such backgrounds. Many of the people on SOHK programmes and courses lack the means to be able to take part in sport/activity, but have found the courses give them the means to start that journey. In addition, some participants have gone on to volunteer at local community rugby clubs, for example as coaches or referees, and this has provided a host of life skills and other soft skills.

There is a growing representation of the sector committed to solving challenges around the environment and climate change, and I’m sure in time, I could add that to these priorities. However, it’s still not wholly clear how best the sector can best be part of the solution to that issue - but watch this space!

Neel Sood is Comic Relief's Sport for Change Manage and an SOHK Trustee. Neel has significant experience of making and managing funding investments within the sport/sport for change sector and is passionate about supporting organisations in the sector to grow, develop and deliver stronger programmes.