Jennie Price - CEO, Sport England Share PDF Print E-mail
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Jennie Price, a barrister by training, has been at Sport England since April 2007.

Since joining as Chief Executive, she has successfully implemented a new strategic approach to investing in community sport, and a restructuring of the organisation to better deliver the new strategy.

The sports bodies with which Sport England works now have a clear direction, linked to the outcomes of growing and sustaining regular participation, as well as nurturing talent.

By Tariq Saleh

You have been the CEO at Sport England since 2007, what changes have you implemented and how successful have they been?

I think the most important thing that I’ve done since starting here is try and focus the organisation on outcomes, and specifically the outcome of increased participation. We really emphasise the results of our Active People Survey, which is independently conducted and asks people how much sport and exercise they undertake, and we put that at the absolute heart of what we do.

We are about changing behaviour, we’re very clearly about measurable outcomes and we are also insight driven, so we have quite a large team of people here who specialise in really getting under the skin of why people play sport, why they don’t, what drives their behaviour in this area.

What progress have you seen of sport in this country under your leadership?

The role that Sport England plays in grassroots sport is very important and I think the profile of grassroots sport is quite high now. There’s real interest, both politically and in the media, in why people play sport and why they exercise. It’s obviously connected to a number of interesting policy agendas, such as health.

There’s lots of coverage at the moment about long term chronic diseases, cancer rates, obesity and increasingly people are recognising that the amount of physical activity they do has an impact on those things, so when the chief medical officer says that “if exercise was a drug, we’d be calling it a wonder drug” it gives you an idea of how important the impact of sport can be.

What challenges have you faced in this role?

I think the main challenge is the sheer scale at which we have to work. We’re trying to impact on the behaviour of 40 million people in England; that’s everybody over the age of 14.

Even with a substantial budget (we have approximately £300 million a year), you can’t touch every person whose behaviour you want to influence so you have to try and create an environment where people make the choice to be active and that is testing. It’s a big behavioural change challenge - but that’s why I enjoy the role.

How did the 2012 Olympics change the legacy of sport in England?

I think London 2012 did change the face of the sporting landscape in this country - probably forever. The way that sport was really at the centre of everybody’s thinking in 2012, from politicians to the general public, has made a big difference. We have a fantastic record in elite sport and we have a growing number of people who play sport regularly.

Even though it’s not as high as I might like it to be, it has gone up substantially since we won the bid to host the Games (by 1.6 million people), so the Olympics has definitely had an impact.

I think the way British people have embraced sports like cycling is very directly connected to what they saw during 2012 in the Velodrome on the Olympic park. I see a much greater sense of connectivity with that sport and I think that is down to London 2012, which was extremely well delivered by LOCOG and all of its partners.

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You recently announced funding plans for a further two years for three of your six one-year funded sports (LTA, Table Tennis England and British Fencing).What are your expectations through this investment?

What we started out saying to those sports was that they needed to improve their strategies and in some cases their leadership. By and large that has been done. Certainly those three sports have much stronger strategies now for increasing participation and they have leadership teams who are completely focused on that task.

The other three sports you haven’t mentioned have also made significant progress. We haven’t yet announced final decisions for swimming and basketball, but we will continue to fund squash on an annual basis because although the progress they have made has been rather slower than some of the other sports, it does now have new executive leadership that’s very focused on the challenges and in turning squash around. Squash has been in decline for a while, although it’s still quite a big sport, and it needs to think really creatively about what its modern offer is.

Sport England’s data for 2013/14 shows that 58% of adults still do not play sports, why do you think this is?

It’s important to recognise that the data we collect takes a snapshot of participation levels at any one time, so that 58% is people who haven’t played sport at least once in the 28 days before the survey.

Some of them will have played sport during that year, in fact quite a high proportion of them will have had some contact with sport, and what we describe as this level of “churn” is a really important feature of sports participation.

There’s a slightly old fashioned view that people are either sporty or they’re not. There is a hard core of people who will always play sport regardless of the weather or what else is going on in their lives, but actually for most us we drop in and out of sport and exercise depending on everything from the weather, to the state of our finances, to whether we’re in full time education, or just moved into a new job, or just had a family.

So the challenge that we  face is making sport and exercise a regular and realistic option at every stage in people’s lives and perhaps not always expecting them to be a footballer or always be a golfer, but helping them be active and exercise in whatever circumstances they find themselves. 

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