Leading third sector consultancy firm, Oaks Consultancy, has joined forces with three top authorities in the Sport for Development sector, to release a cutting-edge report about what the future holds. The findings reveal that the pandemic has left more than a fifth of those in the Sport for Development sector fearing for their future, as both a lack of funding and ongoing lockdown legislations continue to weigh heavily on the industry’s future.

The latest study by Oaks Consultancy – whose headquarters are in Birmingham, the city that will play host to next year’s Commonwealth Games – has been completed in partnership with Laureus Sport for Good, The International Platform on Sport and Development, and streetfootballworld. The Midlands-based firm surveyed over 100 organisations worldwide – from grassroots community projects to large and established names – to inform its full State of the Sector report.

Diving headfirst into the effect that the global pandemic had had on the industry, the research focuses primarily on the impact on income, fundraising, and contingency planning across the sector. The collated findings from September to November last year show that regardless of size, sport, outcome, themes or fundraising mix, the trend is the same across the board; income levels are falling at a precipitous rate for the Sport for Development sector.

Luke Southall, Managing Director at Oaks Consultancy, commented on the outcomes, saying:

“This has unquestionably been one of the most testing, uncertain and turbulent periods in the history of the Sport for Development sector. Alongside the rest of the third sector, the pandemic has presented profound challenges to Sport for Development organisations across the world, with both the reduction in funding streams access and coronavirus restrictions causing play to stop. There is no doubt that the last 12 months have had an unprecedented effect which will be long felt by the sector; but what is most worrying for us is that these challenges show no imminent sign of abating.”

Stand-out statistics show that 60% of those surveyed were forecasting a reduction in income for the financial year, with 46% of these predicting this drop continuing for the next year too. This is in part due to almost half of the organisations surveyed being unable to secure grants to help them deal with the impact of COVID-19; a third of whom now report that they have low – or no – confidence that they will recover from the pandemic.

Paul Hunt from The International Platform on Sport and Development said:

“Over the last 20 years, the Sport for Development sector has made a lot of progress, with the number of organisations using sport for social, economic or environmental goals increasing dramatically. However, the findings in this report show that the outlook for Sport for Development organisations is

now very challenging and there is a real risk that gains made since the turn of the century will be lost. This highlights an urgent need to demonstrate and advocate for the importance of Sport for Development in the pandemic recovery, which is not only in the interests of organisations but also of society.”

While Oaks Consultancy’s report presents a difficult reality now, there are also positives for the sector to build on. The findings show that 75% of the organisations were either relatively or very confident that they would recover financially from COVID-19, with a key take-away being that innovation and finding new sources of funding would prove key to survival.

“The financial pressures call on almost every organisation to think differently about their business model. In the coming months, it will be imperative to look at reducing reliance on small numbers of funders and diversify the income mix as much as possible, but I am certain that if there is a sector that has the relentlessness determination to do that, it’s this one.

“In conducting this report, we have seen first-hand that the Sport for Development industry has amazing, inspiring, and uplifting examples of charities, who have been doing vital, life-saving work in the communities they serve during the pandemic. A perfect example of this is the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust: despite all circumstances and external factors conspiring against them, the organisation diversified its funding streams, while seeing demand for its services increase triple-fold. It is this spirit, ingenuity and resilience that gives all of us at Oaks Consultancy the confidence that the sector can – and will – come through this pandemic,” concluded Luke.