1/07/2024 Tom Rofe

On 22 May, the UK Prime Minister announced that a general election will take place on 4 July. The following week, Chief Executives of the ECB, the FA, the RFU, the LTA and RFL wrote an open letter to the UK’s political parties. The letter calls on the parties to outline their vision for the following two priorities:

  1. Quality and quantity of sport in the National Curriculum
  2. Commitment to continue investment in good quality facilities

In the following weeks, each of the political parties have published their election manifestos, setting out their vision for government should they be elected. The Sports Consultancy have analysed each of the parties’ manifestos to understand their vision for sport in the United Kingdom and therefore what this may mean for future of sport.

By the crude measure of the number of times the word ‘sport’ appears in each manifesto, the Conservative Party is leading with 21 uses of ‘sport’, followed by the Green Party (20), the Liberal Democrats (11), the Labour Party (4), and Reform UK (1). Beyond this measure, it is in the policy detail that we truly understand each parties’ priorities and vision for sport. For example, the Labour Party are the only party that reference major events in their manifesto. The European Super League project also gets referenced by both Labour and the Conservatives, pledging to create legal protections to prevent the formation of a closed league.

The remainder of this article provides a summary of all of the sport related policies references in the manifestos of the five political parties leading the national vote share according to current polling.

In the Labour Party manifesto, sport is limited to about page of content under the heading ‘Access to arts, music and sport’ in a chapter called ‘Break Down Barriers to Opportunity’. The policy detail is limited, but the following areas of commitment are referenced:

  • Youth sport
    • State “We will get more children active by protecting time for physical education, and supporting the role grassroots clubs play in expanding access to sport”. There is policy detail to outline what steps will be taken to address this aim.
  • Ticket Touting
    • The second policy focuses on the specific issue of ticket touting, stating “access to music, drama and sport has become difficult and expensive because of ticket touting. Labour will put fans back at the heart of events by introducing new consumer protections on ticket resales.”
  • Major Events
    • This is the only reference to major sporting events in any of the five party manifestos. They reference desire to use major events to deliver legacy benefits, but are non-committal on future event acquisition: “From the Men’s UEFA European Football Championship to the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup to the Invictus Games, Labour will deliver international events with pride and seek new opportunities where we can, creating a legacy to inspire the next generation of talent while promoting exercise and healthy living.”
  • Football Governance
    • Commit to a Football Governance Bill and to block a super league concept: “We will reform football governance to protect football clubs across our communities and to give fans a greater say in the way they are run. We will introduce a Football Governance Bill, which will establish an independent regulator to ensure financial sustainability of football clubs in England. We will never allow a closed league of select clubs to be siphoned off from the English football pyramid.”

An adjacent area of policy referenced is gambling, an area inextricably linked to sport. Labour reference in the section on the NHS a desire to reduce gambling related harm: “Labour will reform gambling regulation, strengthening protections. We will continue to work with the industry on how to ensure responsible gambling.” The Conservative Party do not make reference to gambling in their manifesto.

The focus of the Conservative Party’s sport related policy comes in a dedicated section for sport called “Our plan to support sport and the creative sector”. The three core areas of policy referenced are:

  • Infrastructure
    • Pledge to “maintain this pace of investment over the next Parliament through the continuation of the Multi-Sport Grassroots Facilities Programme”, which has seen £320 million invested in sport facilities development and renovation between 2021 and 2025 to “build, renovate and maintain grass pitches and, multi-sport facilities”.
  • Football Regulator
    • Commit to the creation of an Independent Football Regulator and creating legal protections against breakaway competitions: “We will introduce laws to ensure our fans never again face the threat of clubs in England joining breakaway closed-shop competitions and giving them more of a voice through the Independent Football Regulator”
  • Women and Girls
    • Pledge to prioritise equal access to sport for women and girls by continuing ongoing programmes such as “£30M Lionesses Future Fund” and “implementing recommendations from the Carney Review of Women’s Football

Sport is referenced in three other sections of the manifesto. The first reference comes in their ‘Bold actions to deliver a secure future for our country and for your family’, the first section of the manifesto. Under the subtitle ‘To strengthen our communities’ a sport reference is made in relation to gender identity: “Protect female-only spaces and competitiveness in sport by making clear that sex means biological sex in the Equality Act”.

The next reference comes in the education section titled ‘Our plan to give young people the opportunities and skills they need’ where they pledge to mandate two hours of Physical Education in schools (increasing their commitment on previously published School Sport and Activity Plan which only ‘encouraged’ two hours per week) and increase funding for school sports competitions.

A final mention is made in the section covering devolved governments (‘Our plan to strengthen the United Kingdom’) where they reference again the Multi-Sport Grassroots Facilities Programme, specifically the impact and benefit to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Reform UK manifesto is by far the most limited on sports policy, with just one mention of the word ‘sport’ in the whole document. There are 21 sections in the Reform manifesto, none of which are dedicated to sport and culture. The only reference to sport comes on the page titled ‘Agriculture’, where they say they will “Protect Country Sports”, stating “these increase investment and help conservation of our environment. They boost rural jobs, communities and local economies.”

The Liberal Democrat manifesto includes a dedicated section for sport: “Culture, Media and Sport”, where the party outlines the importance of the arts and sport to the economy and social cohesion. They make four pledges:

  • Participation and Facility Investment
    • The leading policy for sport is to boost participation: “Boost participation in sports and physical activity by investing in leisure centres, swimming pools and other grassroots facilities and supporting community sports clubs.” There is no commitment on the level of spending that would be associated with this investment.
  • Lottery Funding
    • Commit to “protect sport and arts funding via the National Lottery.
  • Free-To-Air Broadcast
    • Commit to “Expand the list of sporting fixtures which must have live free-to-air coverage to include more football matches as well as key international cricket, rugby, golf and tennis fixtures.”
  • Diversity and Inclusion
    • Commit to “Support and encourage campaigns to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in sport.

There is also an additional reference to sport in the education section, where they pledge to “Expand provision of extracurricular activities, such as sport, music, drama, debating and coding, starting with a new free entitlement for disadvantaged children.”

The Green Party manifesto includes a dedicated section for sport: “Access to Art, Sport and Culture for All”. The Greens have the largest spending pledge relating to sport, media and culture, stating they will “Invest £5 bn investment in community sports, arts and culture” and will “Support local grassroots sports clubs, music and art venues.” The sport related pledges that would presumably be included in this investment are:

  • Schools Facilities Access
    • Pledge to “Allow access to school sports facilities by local clubs and teams outside teaching hours to ensure maximum use of a valuable resource.”
  • Facilities Investment
    • Pledge to “Enable local authorities to maintain key sporting infrastructure including pools and playing fields
  • Professional Sport Public Investment Scheme
    • Propose the most unique and radical policy, pledging to allow local authorities to invest in local professional sports clubs: “Permit local authorities to invest in shares in professional sports clubs which operate in their area as a means of maintaining a connection between the club and its community. Any dividends paid to the authority must be reinvested into public sporting facilities or coaching programmes in the area.”
  • Diversity and Inclusion
    • Pledge to “Work cross party to support sports to be more diverse and representative, especially for women and girls and disabled people”

The one other reference to sport comes in contrast to Reform’s sole policy to promote ‘country sports’, with the Greens committing to push for “A ban on all blood sports, including trail hunting and strengthening and extending the 2004 Hunting Act.”