Report suggests English sport has 'defied recession'

Image caption,
Construction work continues on the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London

Sport now plays a bigger part in England's economy than at any time for the last 25 years, according to a report for Sport England.

The study by Sheffield Hallam university said sport now accounted for 2.3% of all consumer spending and 1.8% of employment.

It said football was the largest contributor, but that all sports were helping to boost the wider economy.

Sports goods and TV subscriptions have fuelled the boom, the report found.

Researchers found consumer spending on sport was up by 138% in real terms between 1985 and 2008 to £17.3bn.

It also revealed that the number of people with sport-related jobs had grown during that time to 441,000 - 1.8% of all employment in England.

All this suggested that over the last 25 years sport has been transformed from a past-time to big business, said BBC sports editor David Bond.

Now the government's challenge was to try to use sport's economic power to make the nation more active, our correspondent added.

Massive effect

Mihir Warty, director of strategy and research at Sport England, said it was apt that the report had been released on the first day of the new Premier League season.

"Football is a huge part of it, and it is fantastic to see that sport in general has been growing so much faster than the overall economy," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"A large part of the growth has been driven by the explosion of media rights, and certainly the Premier League has had a massive effect."

He said the Premier League had helped drive a five-fold increase in sportswear sales.

"But even beyond football, people are more and more seeing sport as part of their everyday lives, it really has moved from the back to the front pages of newspapers, and that has had a major effect on the economy."

Mr Warty added that sports' boost to the wider economy had also been helped by a big rise in investment from the public sector, from Sport England itself, to local authorities, and the spending on the London Olympics.

'Bad business'

However, while the report says football has been the main driving force behind the increased contribution sport makes to the economy, the former chairman of the Football League, Lord Mawhinney, warned that all was not well with the finances of many professional clubs.

"Although the money in the game has never been greater, debts are rising all over the place because clubs are spending more than they are getting in, and that is a bad business recipe," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"You have to ask the question, is the FA capable of imposing or working with the leagues to impose a framework that seriously gets to grips with the problem? In my opinion, it sadly isn't.

"At least you have to explore the possibility of a regulatory framework."

He added that while fans wanted their clubs to be successful, they also wanted them to be sustainable.

"Fans want the prospect of being able to cheer their team next year and the year after," said Lord Mawhinney.

"If you don't get the balance right between success and sustainable then eventually it is tears."

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