The time is now: 6 resolutions for London sport in 2023
arewell 2022. We’ve had far better years but at least our lionesses and men’s T20 cricket teams have shone bright.
Let’s face it, it’s not just a bad year. Britain has been under pressure since the London blaze went out in 2012. In my book All to Play For: How sport can reboot our future I call it the toxic alphabet of the last ten years: Austerity, Brexit, Covid, Debt and the Environment – then added in 2022 Struggles in Ukraine.
How is the shady decade affecting esports? I’ve spent 2022 discussing sports topics ranging from the International Olympic Committee to secondary schools, Formula 1 to volunteer coaches and Team GB to parents in taxi service for sporty kids. I think the future is exciting if we get it right. It’s time.
England’s players celebrate their triumph at Euro 2022 (James Manning/PA)
/ PA wire
Here are my six resolutions for exercise in 2022:
1) Listen or stay out of the way
Of all the groups I’ve spent time with this year, my favorite has been the younger end of the millennial group (born in the late 80’s to mid 90’s). When they started consuming sports, there were hundreds of channels, not just three, and mobile highlights, not just one vidiprinter. But the irony is that so many fail to grasp their broader horizons. This generation will barely be able to afford their mortgage payments next year, let alone a ski vacation.
So it’s no wonder they don’t really put up with us oldies (the ones with houses, cars, jobs, no student loans, and maybe even time to follow a five-day tryout match) telling them how to consume exercise. Millennials are the largest demographic in the UK workforce today. Their views carry both commercial and moral weight. They like the hundred even if you don’t.
Nobody owns cricket, golf or football. We need to make games that newer generations want to play because they don’t play by our rules. Listen or get out of the way. Change or be changed.
2) Help the athletes help us
Communications agency Edelman believes that in order to trust someone, we must believe they are both ethical and competent. The agency’s latest annual data suggests that Brits think NGOs are ethical but incompetent and corporations competent but likely unethical. But when it comes to media and government? None of the above. Britain today smells of distrust.
I see that my son is therefore looking for unconventional role models. When English footballer Marcus Rashford talks about food poverty, my son sees competence on the pitch and ethics based on lived experience.
The FA via Getty Images
But just because Rashford has an opinion on something, he shouldn’t feel pressured to have an opinion on everything. The role of the sports industry should be to help athletes speak up about the issues that matter to them while shielding them from the glare of political debate.
3) Tear down walls
When I started working in sports, it was an old boys’ club. Pale, stale, manly and very often full of beer. Guess what? Most attention has been given to men’s football, cricket and rugby.
Finally things are starting to improve. We start next year with Alison Brittain as Premier League Chairwoman. Britain’s sporting power corridors are just beginning to more closely represent the communities they serve, although there is much more work to be done.
It also took new organizations to break new ground. The brilliant Black Trail Runners – formed to help black runners access trail running – recently signed sportswear giant adidas as their lead partner.
But it’s still an uphill battle: Social unrest has seen racism rampant on the streets – and patios – of England. Supporters drunk and drug high burst into the men’s European Championship finals at Wembley last year. No signs of trouble in this year’s women’s final, mind you. Sport remains a mirror of Britain’s two-track system.
4) Reconsider London sport
When I moved to London in the late 1990s I chose Holloway Road – cheap, close to decent shops, a bus ride from my office and a great selection of pubs.
But my son sees no need for offices, shops online and shows little desire to spend his whole weekend in the pub. So what happens to a city in a post-retail, post office, post-alcohol environment?
An overview of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
/ Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Sport can play a huge role in keeping our urban environment alive. In a world where experience is increasingly paramount, London could offer the ultimate Instagrammable and doctor-friendly sports weekend.
As for the 9 to 5, give me a Copenhagen-style bike superhighway over the District Line, and you might see me in the office a little more, too.
5) Spend to reduce waiting lists
Redeveloping London also makes economic sense. We know that every £1 spent on physical activity saves the NHS £3.91. Our leisure centers should be a mandatory service for local authorities to try to ease the pressure on a financially strapped NHS.
Short bursts of vigorous activity can significantly reduce risk of early death, study finds (Andrew Matthews/PA)
/ PA wire
Sport England are doing a good job of researching social regulations as a means of reducing queues. People who haven’t exercised in 30 years don’t need a piece of paper telling them, “Start running or else,” they need an outstretched hand, a gentle walk, and a coffee break with a crowd of friendly people. No wonder parkrun was an early exponent.
6) Sport or society? Both
Do we solve sport by understanding society, or do we solve society by understanding sport? Both really.
As the Hundred’s cricket culture war, Rashford’s social advancement, Edelman’s equation of trust, London’s deserted streets and our GP waiting lists show, there are opportunities in both. This year I’ve spoken to thousands of people who are all desperate to get it right. There really is everything to play.
Matt Rogan has built award-winning businesses in sports, music and consulting. His second book All to Play For: How Sport Can Reboot Our Future (Ebury Press) was nominated for a Sunday Times Sports Book Award.