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The Development of Sports Between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka

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    “Sports development is a process whereby effective opportunities, processes, systems and structures are set up to enable and encourage people” (Collins 1995, p.21) in different areas and groups to participate in sport and recreation, or to raise their performance level. Sports development also included the creation of interest to take part in sports among those indifferent to sports activities. According to Houlihan and Green (2011), the shaping of sports development in several developing and developed countries takes into account the historical context of sports in the formulation of policy.

Every element of modern sports in the developed country of the United Kingdom is founded on the sports development system, which has both political and ideological aspects; it is built on central government policy and local governments’ implementation of it (Houlihan & Green 2011). The government of Sri Lanka, a developing nation, sees sports promotion as a significant duty and a key path to the population’s physical, mental, and social development. The government wants to change Sri Lanka’s sport and physical activity culture “to promote involvement across all social groups, improve personal and community health, and generate economic advantages for society,” according to the government (UN 2008, p.148).

     Thesis Statement: The purpose of this paper is to compare the development of sports between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka: a developed and a developing country respectively.

The Development of Sports Between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka

Sports Development in the United Kingdom

According to Elias, the word “sport” has two meanings (1971). In a broad sense, it refers to non-work-related types of physical exercise that may or may not have a competitive aspect. Sport is a socio-cultural global term in its abstract form. However, the word is more specifically used to a set of competitive physical sports that are especially contemporary in key features. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they appeared in the ‘Atlantic Isles,’ which included England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

According to Elias (1971), the contemporary definition of the term “sport” was first gained in 18th century England, which was the dominating member of the “Atlantic Isles.” According to Dunning, Malcolm, and Waddington, sports growth started with changes in English society as a whole (2004). Members of the nobility and gentry established sports clubs in the first wave, while members of the bourgeoisie and industrial middle classes formed sports organizations and unions in the second wave. Thus, the major hobbies of boxing, cricket, foxhunting, and horseracing were transformed into contemporary sports during the first eighteenth century wave, while the second nineteenth century wave modernized soccer, rugby, hockey, tennis, athletics, and water sports such as rowing and swimming (Dunning 1999).

     There has been an increased interest in sports development over the last 30 years across the United Kingdom, with the responsibility for policy delivery devolving to the four home countries. Thus, Sport England, Sport Scotland, the Sports Council for Wales, and Sport Northern Ireland have separate roles within their individual countries; making it difficult to refer to a sports policy for the entire United Kingdom. Further, despite important commonalities in policy in the four countries, the differences have increased since devolution making it necessary for each country to be considered as a separate policy domain. Hence, the features specific to England would not reflect sport policy in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (Houlihan & Green 2011).

     Contemporary sports development began in the 1960s when Conservative and Labour governments started taking an interest in the running of sports, as an aspect of the maturing welfare state. The development of sports evolved through the history of the Sports Council and its successor organizations, and was supported by a “funding and policy network involving central government, local government, quangos, sports governing bodies and clubs” (Houlihan & Green 2011, p.9). The political and ideological characteristics of sports development in contemporary British sports are evident in the government’s purposes and objectives in developing the sports system. Governments target social, economic and cultural problems using the system as a channel. Sports help to promote social cohesion especially in multicultural communities; it helps to disperse excess energy specifically for young males who might otherwise be directed towards anti-social or criminal activities; sports development improves health conditions, thereby reducing costs that sickness causes to the economy; sports development also generates economic activity through creating jobs in hosting events, building infrastructure, and sports tourism.

    Coalter (2007) states that sports and sports clubs have a potential role in enabling forms of social capital to be formed, and these can have significant impacts on the possible outcomes of policies implemented. Similarly, the social capital policy context is emphasized by Bradbury and Kay (2008) who believe that promoting volunteering in sport for young people helped them to achieve active citizenship and civic participation towards which they were positively inclined. It also created an avenue through which they felt more socially connected. Thus, this perspective of social capital makes sports development a channel through which various dimensions of social and community development can be integrated into specific political projects.

    At local, regional and national levels, the formulation of policy and funding have been increasingly influenced by the growing importance of the relationship between sport and strategic planning, and “the economic and social benefits of hosting major sporting events  and developing sporting infrastructure” (Coaffee & Shaw 2005, p.1). In addition, there is a growing focus in the United Kingdom on creating a strategic agenda for sport and its potential advantages in the creation of sustainable communities, livable locations, and healthy people. In the United Kingdom, sports policy has shifted from focusing on the two factors of increasing participation and improving performance levels to considering the potential benefits and impacts of sport in a more holistic manner, incorporating other agendas such as rural and urban renaissance, neighborhood renewal, health promotion, crime prevention, and quality of life.

     Further, it also seen in policy statements such as A Sporting Future for All, 2000 and later Game Plan, 2002, a strategy for delivering government’s sports and physical activity objectives, 2002, the Social Exclusion Unit’s Policy Action Team Report on Arts and Sport, 2001, as well as several Planning Policy Guidance notes and the new Planning Policy Statement 11 on Regional Spatial Strategies in England. All these policies specifically aim to develop the untapped potential of sport and recreation to support emerging planning policy. Further, the Public Health White Paper, 2004, clearly notes that the British population is more obese and less active than previous generations, necessitating the implementation of increased opportunities and access to sports facilities. The revised Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG) 17 promotes the auditing of existing sport and recreational facilities by local authorities, and sets these out in a strategic manner. The New Deal for Communities, DCMS, 2004 aims to create positive social outcomes, and has also “led to sport being given a greater influence as a cross-cutting theme within central government” (Coaffee & Shaw 2005, p.2).

Sports Development in Sri Lanka

    Before the Portuguese, Dutch and British invasions of Sri Lanka or Ceylon, in the 16th century, horse racing was already established as a popular sport. In ancient Ceylon, chariot racing, fighting on elephant-back, and hunting as a royal sport were popular activities, while the Malays were the pioneers of football in the island. This ancient, mythologically significant island had thus endured several colonizations. In Sri Lanka, “golf is the newest of all games, and its popularity dates from the English rather than the Scotch invasion of the island” states Wright (1907, p.255). 

Sports for development and peace are a relatively recent idea in Sri Lanka. “While the government has not yet made particular efforts in this area, it recognizes the possibility for future programs” (UN 2008, p.147). In Sri Lanka, current programs promote the growth of sports for the benefit of under-represented groups such as people with disabilities, women, and children. Cultural traditions, including traditional sports like as folk dance, are considered essential by the Ministry of Finance and Planning. The Ministry of Sport and Public Recreation, in collaboration with the International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peace, is holding talks within the government “on the development of Sport for Development and Peace projects in Sri Lanka” (UN 2008, p.147). The Ministry is also in contact with non-governmental and community development groups that may be prospective partners.

     The government of Sri Lanka promotes the inclusion of Sport for Development as an aspect of the National Sports Policy. Sport related policy currently focuses on children and persons with disabilities, and will include the issue of gender in the future. The Ministry of Sport and Public Recreation is the primary regulating body for sport, and the Sports Act of 1973 governs all Ministry departments and organizations, including the Ministry of Sport and Public Recreation “Department of Sports Development, National Sports Council, the National Institute of Sports Science, the Sugathadasa National Sports Complex Authority, the School of Sports, and the National Sports Association” (UN 2008, p.148).

     The main priorities of the Ministry of Sports and Public Recreation include the implementation of plans, policies, and programmes to promote sports and public recreation; encouragement of sport development; expansion of sports education at all educational levels; the widespread development of recreational facilities particularly in rural areas; and the development of tourism around sport and adventure sports in Sri Lanka to improve economic growth. The government of the country ensures the implementation of island-wide sports programmes and activities through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sport and Public Recreation. These programmes including those of the Ministry of Youth Services’ annual sports competitions in alliance with regional governmental bodies help to promote “child and youth development, education, health promotion, poverty reduction, and social cohesion” (UN 2008, p.148).

     The Ministry of Sport of the Sri Lankan government emphasizes the contribution that sport makes to the Millennium Development Goals such as improving academic attendance and performance, and gender equality and empowerment of women. “The increasingly high profile of female athletes and role models is a positive example for young women” (UN 2008, p.148). Sport for Development and Peace is not explicitly included in Sri Lanka’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, but it is regarded an useful instrument for attaining development objectives. According to Sri Lanka’s Ten-Year Horizon Development Framework, 2006 to 2016, the country aims to be one of the world’s strongest sports countries by 2016, attaining national and international athletic excellence as well as social development via sport. Greater engagement in sport and physical activity, better access to sport, improved health and well-being, and the development of safer and stronger communities are all envisaged as ways to achieve different social objectives.

General revenues provide a budget for sporting activities of LKR 500 million (USD 4.5 million) each year. “The Ministry of Sport receives assistance from donor countries for specific competitions such as the South Asian Federation Games and other international events conducted in Sri Lanka” (UN 2008, p.150). Frequently, this assistance takes the shape of supplies and sports items. Sponsors who support sport activities via the Ministry of Sport get tax breaks on imported sports equipment, while sponsors who fund sport activities through the Ministry of Sport receive tax breaks.


     Examining contemporary history with causation and context; the formulation of policy based on political, economic and social needs reveal the benefit of sports to resolve problems of the times. It is clear that although the historical backgrounds of the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka differ widely, their governments’ are similar in their formulation of sports policies to resolve societal problems of unemployment, need for physical activity and good health, promotion of social integration and cohesion among the population, and the economic development of individuals as well as the nation.

     The influence of different ideologies on sports development, the deep impacts of history, and the effects of long-term precedents reveal the significance of different forces on sports development. Houlihan and Green (2011) support this view and add that the promotion of sports through financial support and cultural approval, and the links between ideology and action show that there are common features between earlier sports promotion systems and contemporary sports development. It is evident that for sports to function as a vehicle for greater social inclusion and healthier living, it needs to be increasingly incorporated into regional planning and development agendas. The association between “forward thinking at the regional level and action-oriented development at district and community levels needs to be firmly established” assert Coaffee and Shaw (2005, p.5) if resources are to be used effectively to fulfill national, regional and local priorities by making sports a sustained part of policymaking.

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