I will plough on, but thank goodness for Stirling!
I want us to find different ways of doing things. I want to find the next parkrun or daily mile. I thank the fabulous parkrun family for all they are doing. Building strongly on the success of the This Girl Can campaign, we need to be smarter about how we use data and new technologies to get people moving and—more importantly —staying moving. I want us to make being active easy and fun for everyone and a habit for everyone.
December’s Sport England’s active lives children’s survey will help us to understand how children in particular engage with and think about sport and physical activity. This world-leading study represents a big step forward. We now have robust data that tells us which changes will make the biggest difference to our children’s lives. The first set of results were published late last year, and the evidence it set out was a wake-up call for the sector. Our children are simply not active enough. We all need to address that head on.
I will work with ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I am delighted that we will be publishing a new cross-Government plan to focus on getting kids active in and out of school. I particularly want to focus on after-school periods when children should have the opportunity to be active and safe in enjoyable environments. I want to make sure that all children have access to the right sporting offer and that they enjoy physical activity and therefore can reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. Sport needs to be fun, inclusive and engaging. There is a world of options out there, as we have heard, and I want us to work harder to make sport and physical activity appealing to everyone.
Why does this matter? Being active brings many benefits not just to children but to people of all ages. Working with the Department of Health and Social Care, I want us to embrace the use of sport and physical activity in improving health outcomes. Being active can reduce chronic diseases and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and it can ease pressures on our health and social care systems. Given our aging society, we must do everything we can to help people to enjoy healthy, independent and fulfilling lives for longer.
With my loneliness Minister hat on, I must add that getting people active, where that means people being connected, is also vital, and the enjoyment and sense of belonging that can come from taking part in sport and physical activity can be a huge part of that. Real change is already happening in that regard. As part of the NHS long-term plan, NHS England is hiring 1,000 new advisers to expand social prescribing and help patients to lead fitter, healthier and happier lives. About 50% of GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions, and pills are prescribed. Evidence shows that referrals to, for instance, exercise classes, sports groups or, indeed, ballroom dancing classes can greatly help people’s health and wellbeing.
However, I want to go further, and work with ministerial colleagues to use the power of sport to make lives better. Physical activity can help us in so many ways. Getting more people walking or cycling reduces congestion, improves air quality and can revitalise our high streets. Sport can bring people together and reduce social isolation, and the discipline and teamwork that it encourages can also be an important tool in cutting reoffending rates in the criminal justice system.
My second priority is protecting the culture and integrity of high-level sport. What matters is not just what we do to win medals and create sporting success, but how we go about it. It cannot be right for athletes such as Kelly Sotherton to receive their medals six years late and behind closed doors because the systems are not right. Since taking up my role, I have had discussions with UK Anti-Doping, UK Sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency and representatives of athletes in order to understand what has gone wrong in some quarters, and to make the UK’s position clear.
How can we inspire more people through sport by preserving and strengthening its integrity? People must have faith in sports that they know and love. Our athletes deserve to know that they are competing on a level playing field. We must continue to operate robust anti-doping and governance regimes, both domestically and internationally. We must continue to lead the way.