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Prioritise sport’s role in reducing crime, parties told

Political parties must prioritise the contribution of sport and physical activity if they are genuinely committed to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour more effectively, according to new research published today.

The Sport for Development Coalition’s new report ‘Getting On Track’ – delivered in collaboration by colleagues from Loughborough University – says the Government could and should be trusting and utilising more specialist organisations embedded within local communities to maximise the return on its investment into reducing youth offending and re-offending.

Furthermore, at a national level, policy-makers must focus on helping to strengthen partnership working between the youth justice and sport sectors in order to address the inconsistencies in existing structures, and fully capitalise on the contribution that sport can make to society.

Getting On Track is based on learning and evaluation from the Youth Justice Sport Fund, a £5million fund from the Ministry of Justice which was managed and distributed to 218 local partners across England Wales throughout early 2023 by Coalition partners StreetGames and the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice.

Produced in collaboration by three Universities, it is the third report in a series underpinning the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework, and includes five key recommendations aimed at maximising the contribution of sport for development to policy priorities and helping to stem spiralling public costs.

Loughborough University’s lead researcher, Dr Carolynne Mason (Senior Lecturer in Sport and Social Justice) said:

“Last year saw the Ministry of Justice invest £5m in the Youth Justice Sport Fund to fund local sport organisations to support young people at risk of entering the criminal justice system. All of the 218 funded organisations used the same Theory of Change, developed by Loughborough University in collaboration with StreetGames and the Youth Endowment Fund, to design and deliver their projects.  

“This policy briefing draws on the evaluation of this groundbreaking programme which was conducted by academics at Loughborough University and colleagues from Bath and Royal Holloway. The policy brief is important in ensuring that the significant momentum built through the Youth Justice Sport Fund continues so that the potential of sport to contribute to crime reduction is fully harnessed.”

Hitesh Patel, Executive Director of the Sport for Development Coalition, said: “We’re pleased to publish this third report in the #OpenGoal series and, on behalf of the many Coalition partners focused on reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, look forward to working with DCMS, the Ministry of Justice and other arms of Government to maximise the contribution of sport and physical activity to reducing youth offending and re-offending, and the mounting public costs associated with it.”

Mark Lawrie, CEO of StreetGames, commented: “This report clearly demonstrates the positive impact on vulnerable young people of appropriately delivered sport and physical activity. Local interventions work. When designed with the evidence of what works by trusted adults in trusted community settings they develop pro-social behaviours and reduce anti-social and criminal behaviours. It is another piece in the jigsaw, creating the picture of how sport for development delivers individual and social impact.”

James Mapstone, CEO of the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, added: “As a Board member of the Coalition and a partner in this initiative, I'm proud to see our collective efforts leading to greater support for the sector and reinforcing the role of physical activity and sport as effective tools for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. Together we will continue advocating for these transformative approaches to be integral, not optional, in crime reduction strategies.”

Dr Haydn Morgan, speaking on behalf of the research team drawn from the University of Bath, Loughborough University and Royal Holloway University of London, said: “This report adds further weight to the significant evidence base that demonstrates the impactful role that sport and physical activity can have on crime and anti-social outcomes. It also demonstrates the clear benefits of connecting academics with policy-makers and practitioners to develop cost-effective solutions to addressing social challenges through sport and physical activity.”

The five recommendations in the report specifically call on policy-makers to:

  • Invest in the professional development and wellbeing of the workforce and prioritise staff retention
  • Utilise trusted specialist organisations to maximise the return on investment
  • Strengthen partnership working between the youth justice and sport sectors to address the inconsistency and fragmentation in existing structures
  • Support and empower organisations to commit to this work in the long term, to be agile and responsive to identified need, and exercise autonomy in their resource allocation
  • Facilitate the meaningful involvement of beneficiaries and experts by experience

The report also includes a series of practical and achievable next steps based on partnership working – for example through the Government’s recently-formed National Physical Activity Taskforce; workforce development; and the meaningful involvement of beneficiaries and experts by lived experience.

Hitesh added: “We invite policy-makers, funding bodies and practitioners to consider these recommendations, and welcome the opportunity to work together with partners on how best to implement them in a meaningful and impactful way.”

The report can be viewed in full by visiting: http://tinyurl.com/68p9y8u4

The Theory of Change is accessible at: www.streetgames.org/research-and-insights/theory-of-change-sport-youth-offending-and-serious-youth-violence/

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/09

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.
The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.


About the Coalition: The Sport for Development Coalition is a UK-wide movement of 400-plus charities and civil society organisations, leagues, clubs and networks over-arching thousands of programmes intentionally using targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions to address health and societal inequalities. It is supported by Sport England and Comic Relief. For more information, visit sportfordevelopmentcoalition.org. For media enquiries and interview opportunities, contact slansley@sportfordevelopmentcoalition.org 07736 162839.