Sport and the Arts: wellbeing, social capital and cultural citizenship’

By Jonathan Long, Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure, Leeds Beckett University (UK)

The third in our AHRC series[1] was held at the Headingley Cricket Pavilion in Leeds in January.  During breaks in the proceedings we could look down on the pitch where this dance production was staged during a recent Test Match.


Sport and the arts may be two vital components of our national culture, but are often treated as though they are separate worlds, despite both coming under the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  Nonetheless, the Fields of Vision project has been examining the benefits that can be derived from working together in terms of aesthetics, participation, health and the economy. The presentations by both Peter Taylor and Jonathan Long / Franco Bianchini examined the gulf between policy and provision for sport and the arts despite them advancing similar narratives about what they are capable of delivering for society, and even how to go about doing that.

Peter Taylor (emeritus, Sheffield Hallam University) wanted to claim a leisure studies first in quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger in his own right rather than in a film role: ‘The aggregate impact of these health and social benefits makes parks and recreation one of the most cost-effective public services available to decision-makers’.  Peter was considering evidence of social benefits accruing from sport and the arts (separately) by drawing on the analysis the Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) did for the CASE (Culture and Sport Evidence) programme commissioned by DCMS.  His contention was that the two worlds talked a similar game, but that the evidence for the contribution of sport is now more robust than it is for the arts.  The shortage of evidence regarding the arts left SIRC unable to assess the Social Return on Investment, but when this was done for sport, for every £1 spent £1.91 was produced in benefits.  He argued that the intensity and frequency of sport projects make them more likely to deliver health and social benefits, but the systematic review had also revealed the positive contribution of the arts to the criminal justice system and to building social capital.

Jonathan Long (Leeds Beckett University) and Franco Bianchini (University of Hull) considered the most recent strategies for sport and the arts emanating from government and the respective agencies in England.  Despite the supposed arms-length principle the Westminster government clearly expects Sport England and Arts Council England to address the strategies established in Sporting Future and the Culture White Paper respectively.  However, elsewhere in the UK the picture is less straightforward as sport and the arts are responsibilities devolved to the separate administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.  From the point of view of this project it is worrying that sport is not considered to be part of ‘culture’.  Moreover, it is striking how few mentions sport gets in the arts strategies and vice versa; in policy terms there are two quite separate worlds.  It is therefore not surprising that integration of sport and the arts just does not get on the agenda.  It seems that other agencies like those responsible for youth work, health or social work may be more likely to combine sport and the arts.  Where there is evidence of the benefits of such integration it tends to occur at the local level, so having so many local authorities fragmenting previously unified leisure services departments is cause for concern.

In between Kitrina Douglas and David Carless (both Leeds Beckett University) presented material from research they have been doing with military personnel who have experienced physical and/or psychological trauma.  For a number of years the Leeds Beckett team has been evaluating the British Legion’s Battle Back programme at Lilleshall, which gives personnel a 5-day engagement with inclusive sport and adventure activities.  This offers something new within a familiar (though more comfortable) context.  The combination of bringing participants back to themselves and offering new areas to explore proved very rewarding, especially if it managed to create a feeling of being valued.  The research then extended to Bravo 22, a performance project based on personal experiences that toured the country.  Kitrina and David used narratives in a powerful storytelling approach to convey the significance that these sport and arts initiatives had for those involved, both in terms of the original trauma experienced and the benefits felt.  Delegates subsequently questioned how important the expertise/competence of participants is for the success of such programmes.

In a programme designed to give delegates plenty of time to make their own contributions, assorted other benefits were identified.  The language used in different fields (e.g. justice, health and education) was identified as a barrier to arts/sport being taken seriously across different fields of professional practice, hence the significance of members in the network communicating such messages to their professional colleagues.  We were also reminded that the ways in which sport and the arts are currently constructed result from the exercise of power and in turn contribute to the exercising of social control.  So once again the general discussion addressed the type of research that would offer the best insights and best measurements, amid a concern that those experiences hardest to research and measure run the risk of dropping off the policy agenda.

Next Steps

There is a call out for papers to be considered for a special issue of Sport in Society and beyond that our goal for the research network is to produce a manifesto for building the relationship between sport and the arts.  We spent some time discussing this at the seminar, but if you have ideas about what might usefully be included, whether mundane or inspirational, please contact  The manifesto will be launched at an event in the Carnegie Conversations series hosted by Leeds Beckett University on April 25th.  Richard Williams (leading sports journalist and cultural commentator, most recently with the Guardian) will be in conversation with Anthony Clavane (Mirror Group sport journalist, author and playwright), Karen Watson (East Street Arts, project partner of L’Entorse) and Doug Sandle (instigator of Fields of Vision) about how to optimise interrelationships between the arts and sport.  The Panel will be discussing their own work and casting an eye to the future in light of the Fields of Vision manifesto that will be available on the night.

There is a Fields of Vision web site: (, which, amongst other things, contains some of the presentations at all three seminars in the series.  If you would like to join an email group to correspond with people interested in such interrelationships between sport and the arts, please subscribe (free) by going to:

[1] For earlier reports of the series in LSA postings, see:;;

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