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How can sport organisations survive the era of austerity?

No sport organisation, in the UK or beyond, can possibly have escaped the effects of the current economic crisis. 

The cutting of local and national spending on public services and the resultant reduced finances have had a hugely damaging impact on the delivery of community sport. 

Third-sector sport organisations (TSSOs) such as charities and not-for-profit social enterprises have faced huge funding cuts and have had to adapt to survive. Many have simply perished, becoming just some of the 23,000 UK charities (particularly micro-charities serving local communities) that have disappeared since 2008/09. 

Cath Walker, Senior Lecturer in Sport Development, and Dr John Hayton, from Liverpool John Moores University, have published a study on the state of TSSOs in the current era of ‘super austerity’. 

They interviewed directors and CEOs of 16 sporting charities of varying size and scope, and a picture of increasing reliance on stretched TSSOs to deliver what used to be core local authority sport services quickly emerged. 

Cath Walker-1“I already had first-hand experience of this as a former practitioner in community sport development,” says Walker (pictured right). “In the mid-90s, Liverpool City Council had a sport development team of 15. Now it’s one person, who has it as just one of many responsibilities. Merseyside alone has experienced £274m worth of local authority cuts that would normally have been spent on sport and physical activity. 

“Sport’s profile has fallen and our research shows that the onus is falling upon the third sector to deliver what would previously have been statutory provision – and they’re relying on organisations who are suffering big financial strains of their own.” 

Walker calls the current situation a “perfect storm”. Austerity has made access to sponsorship and grants much more difficult, with criteria for grant aid and funding trusts also becoming much more stringent. 

Many smaller organisations simply don’t have the capacity or residual funds to search and apply for new funding streams (which themselves are increasingly rare), so local authorities are overlooking many struggling local providers and asking the bigger charities to fulfil areas of need. 

“Bigger organisations are the only ones in a position to respond to, bid for, and successfully gain, money,” reveals Walker. “Smaller and medium-sized charities don’t have the capacity to be flexible and this has really impacted upon them.” 

This will be a familiar tale to many Alliance of Sport member organisations. But is it possible to adapt, survive and thrive in suffocating climate of austerity? 

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Walker’s research also showed more reliance on organisations like Sported, who can provide advice and guidance with funding bids, help to leverage supportive research and offer mentor support.

“That training and advice helps organisations with the best way to successfully apply for funding and gives examples of best practice, so they don’t have to do all that discovery work for themselves.”

To buy and read the study, An Analysis of third-sector sport organisations in an era of super austerity, click here.

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