It is a “sport for all’ mentality that underpins grass roots sport: the focus on encouraging sporting participation on a broader scale within the community, and facilitating the channels up to elite levels of performance. Funded by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, the Football Foundation is the UK’s largest sports’ charity, directing £30m every year into grass roots sport. With the primary mission of improving facilities, creating opportunities and building communities throughout England, the Foundation is well aware of the key objectives and challenges surrounding grassroots sport in the UK at the moment.
From mass participation to elite sport
Football Foundation: “Every player starts at the grass roots, whether it is a youngster or veteran playing purely for the love of the game, a Premier League star, or an England international. David Beckham didn't instantly emerge as a footballing genius. He began on Hackney Marshes - the largest collection of football pitches in Europe, and synonymous with the grass roots - which, incidentally, is being significantly upgraded with the help of a £2m Football Foundation grant.”
“As a charity, we are actually about increasing access to our national game so more people, whatever their background, can enjoy the benefits of playing it, and have an improved experience of playing it so they are more likely to keep coming back. But it is certainly true that a very happy by-product of a healthy grass roots game is that it helps underpin the health of that sport at the elite level.”
Tackling health concerns
Grass roots sport is being increasingly recognised as a tool to encourage a more active and healthy lifestyle amongst the population, the importance of which is heightened in the midst of wide-spread health concerns throughout society.
Football Foundation: “The influence of grassroots sport is crucial. Sport is an obvious, enjoyable way of getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight. The bad news is we have a serious lack of decent community sports facilities in this country, compared to our neighbours on the continent, such as France, Germany and Holland. So grass roots sport is one important tool that can encourage a more healthy and active population that we are not able to fully utilise.”
“Since 2000 the Football Foundation has been seeking to redress this, and has invested £420m into building or refurbishing local sports facilities, with funding provided by the Premier League, The FA and Government (via Sport England). This has developed around 400 new 3rd-generation artificial grass pitches, 700 new changing pavilions and 2,400 real grass pitches, to name but a few examples.”
"However, this is still just a small fraction of the sites that need developing, so the scale of improving our grass roots sports infrastructure is a massive one. However given the alarming new research, which shows that if current trends continue, the cost of diabetes drugs alone will be £16.9bn by 2035 - potentially bankrupting the NHS budget - we cannot afford not to address it.”
London 2012 Legacy
Much recent discussion in the industry has revolved around how to maximise sporting legacy left behind post the London 2012 Games this summer.
Football Foundation: “In addition to the core Foundation funding scheme, the Foundation is delivering the community facility element of the Mayor of London's 2012 Olympic legacy. This is ensuring that every single London borough across the capital will benefit from new or upgraded sports facilities. The range of sports is huge, with cricket, rowing, rock-climbing, athletics, disability sports and a seemingly endless list of other sports benefiting from the programme.”
“We know how important building better facilities is because our most recent survey of sports sites that we invested in records an average increase in multi-sport participation of 10.1%, and an average increase in football participation of 8%.”