Sport has played a major part in the life of Jersey. The Island is rightly proud of being the home of the one of the greatest golfers of all time. Harry Vardon was born in Grouville in 1870. He won six Open Championships and one American Open between 1896 and 1914. This was a golden era for golf in Jersey. Ted Ray, also born in Grouville, won the Open Championship in 1912 and was runner-up twice.
For much of the 20th Century a thriving range of domestic sporting activities was accompanied by limited international involvement – mainly through keenly contested inter-insular competitions against Guernsey.
More recently, Jersey sports teams have competed successfully in England and internationally. Jersey competes as a nation in international men’s cricket, its team winning the international division 5 championship in 2019. The Jersey Reds rugby team has just completed a very successful season in the second tier of English rugby and can now boast to have furthered the careers of a number of internationals. The Jersey Bulls football team and Team Jets netball team also punch well above their weight in the English leagues. A number of Jersey men and women have been prominent in long-distance swimming, notably Sally Minty-Gravett who has swum the English Channel seven times. The Island also has a strong record in shooting.
Since 1958, Jersey has competed as a team in the Commonwealth Games and the Island was a founder member in 1997 and has since been an active participant in the International Island Games.
The full range of sports is played in the Island with active participation by thousands of performers, significant support by volunteers and more passive, but important, participation by spectators.
Why sport is important
People are involved in sport, as participants, spectators or volunteers, primary because they enjoy it. For this reason alone sport should be encouraged as anything that brings enjoyment to people is beneficial.
But there are other reasons for encouraging sport and which justify significant government support.
The most important is that participation in sport contributes to good physical and mental health. The position has been well summarised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) –
Regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and treat non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. It also helps prevent hypertension, overweight, and obesity and improve mental health, quality of life, and wellbeing.
More than 80% of children and over half of adults in Jersey do not meet the WHO’s guidelines for physical activity.
Jersey Sport has commented –
For anyone who exercises regularly, the impact it has on our mental wellbeing is evident. In Jersey it has been shown that people who are physically active are more likely to be happy and to exhibit high levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem. Not only that, islanders who exercise regularly are less likely to experience high levels of anxiety and less likely to be lonely. In England, it has been estimated that sport and physical activity is worth £1,274 to individuals who participate and £2,663 to sport volunteers.
A second important reason is that sport can be a major factor in helping to reduce inequality, in particular by facilitating access to sport for children from low-income families. The range of sporting activities for children in Jersey is huge for parents willing and able to pay. But for families on low incomes paying for sport can be difficult and therefore opportunities to participate are reduced. There is an abundance of data to show a correlation between participation in sport and income levels. Improving access to sport for children in low-income families is not only a benefit in terms of enjoyment but also contributes to improvements in physical and mental health for a group of people for whom this is particularly important.
There can also an important economic benefit to Jersey from sporting activities in the Island which attract visitors. For example, the Jersey Reds rugby team competes in the English Championship and has home matches against well-established clubs. A visiting rugby team may comprise just 30 players and officials but will bring with it a minimum of 100 and in some cases over 1,000 supporters. The supporters do not come to Jersey just for the game but typically spend a few days in the Island. Assuming an average of 200 supporters spending £500 each, that is an additional £100,000. With 10 matches a year there could be additional expenditure of £1,000,000 a year with perhaps an additional £200,000 in tax revenue. And people who come to the Island for one purpose – whether a business meeting or to watch a rugby match – may be attracted to return for a holiday.
Finally, participation in sport helps to strengthen people’s feeling of belonging, whether it is to a school or club or parish or to the Island. When Jersey sports teams or individuals from Jersey perform well at the international level this contributes to the general impression that the Island punches above its weight and helps strengthen the Jersey identity.
Given the importance of sport its status needs to be enhanced and it should be prioritised. In fact, significant steps have already been taken in this direction with the Inspiring an Active Jersey Strategy and the work of Sport Jersey and many other sporting organisations. There is now a strategy but as yet this is largely a strategy on paper. What is needed now is an energetic implementation plan.
Objectives of government support
Government resources in practice mean resources provided by the taxpayer, are inevitably limited and there are many competing demands on them. It is therefore important that there are clear objectives of government support, which need to be aligned with policies in other areas. There are five inter-related objectives –
To achieve these objectives a programme is needed embracing –
Such a programme cannot be achieved by a narrow approach, treating sport as an isolated subject. Rather, policies on tourism, education, planning and employment need to take account of the objectives in respect of sport. This requires joined-up government with the necessary accountability, but not a bureaucratic approach requiring multiple meetings and consultations in order to get things done. It also requires developing strong partnerships with relevant bodies outside Jersey – English county associations, national organisations and in some cases global organisations.
There also needs to be an agile approach, including the ability to take decisions quickly to take advantage of opportunities that can arise at short notice. Attracting the British Lions and England rugby teams for training camps in Jersey in 2021 is a good example of this being done, with a substantial benefit to the Island in both economic and reputational terms. The training camp held by the British Lions led to publicity for Jersey with a value of over £6 million.
The Inspiring Active Places Strategy sets out the Government’s ambition to redevelop and replace its existing sports facilities with a network of public sport and wellbeing hubs. This is a 10-year plan to invest over £100m in new state-of-the-art sport and wellbeing hubs for islanders. The network would comprise –
This programme needs to be implemented with urgency.
There is also a specific need to build appropriate facilities for tennis. Jersey used to host excellent tournaments with world-class players, but currently there are few suitable facilities.
Other immediate steps that need to be taken include –
The programme set out in this paper will require significant funding. The funding should come from a variety of sources –
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