Written evidence submitted by British Fencing
Response from British Fencing to DCMS Call for Evidence
Sport in our Communities
British Fencing (BF) is the National Governing Body (NGB) for the Olympic sport of Fencing representing a (pre-Covid) membership of >10K fencers, >400 affiliated clubs and >650 registered coaches. In the UK over 30K people a year participate in traditional fencing with a further >250K people participating in fencing activity/have a go experiences delivered outside of traditional club structures, many through our network of licensed partners.
BF is currently compliant with Tier 3 of the Sports Governance Code. We strongly agree that the code is relevant and needed to ensure organisations in receipt of public funding are fit for purpose. It should be noted that the ongoing Tier 3 compliance work for small NGBs such as BF can be extremely time consuming for senior leadership and voluntary board members, and this can in turn significantly impact the time/resources available to support and grow the sport.
We are passionate about diversity and committed to increasing diversity across the sport including at leadership level. At Board level 45% of Directors are women (5 of 11) and 55% are men. 36% of Directors are ethnically diverse (1 Bangladeshi British and 3 Black).
We have strongly welcomed the support available through Sport England and UK Sport to improve governance. Supported by Sport England, BF is currently engaged in a project to improve governance at a Regional level to ensure there is a fit for purpose, consistent approach across England.
We would welcome additional public funding to able to support any and all levels of fencing, from grassroots and community fencing all the way to elite/Olympic representation. We recognise the importance of ensuring that this money is directed and managed appropriately and the critical role that National Governing Bodies play in this.
Should public funding be directly targeted at grassroots clubs and community sports clubs, we support the view that there should be a minimum standard of governance in place reflecting the size of the club and the amount of funding.
Recognising that there are many organisations working in sport that are significantly bigger/better resourced than the smaller National Governing Bodies, we also support the view that there should be a correlation between the amount of public money received and the minimum level of governance required.
In respect to improving governance in our voluntary run fencing clubs we would question the current applicability of using Tier 1 and Tier 2 (as currently defined) for all grassroots and community sports clubs.
Previously significant efforts were made by volunteers in clubs to meet the Club Mark certification which included aspects of governance. As this has been discontinued there is a risk that any new set of governance standards imposed will be seen as a temporary tick box exercise. Any initiative in this area has to have the funding, support, education and backing to create a credible long term framework across sport.
The work and associated responsibilities to meet governance standards cannot be underestimated. At club and regional level in fencing the burden falls on volunteers who often will not have signed up to have a part time job in governance - their passion is in delivering opportunities to members of their communities to take part in sport. If we are serious about improving governance standards across grassroots sport there needs to be additional support made available to those club volunteers implementing these standards.
The Sport England Club Matters resources do offer a relevant and appropriate starting point for clubs wishing to improve governance. However the investment in time and skill levels required to read, understand, implement and file these documents by volunteer club members is significant. We have therefore found it necessary to provide additional NGB staff to support clubs as they work through these.
Should more funding be made available directly to clubs (rather than via the NGB) alongside the expectation of governance requirements, our concern would be that those clubs would then need/expect our help to understand and implement those standards and we may not have the resources to support that. Therefore any funded club programme would also need to recognise the additional associated impact and cost to the NGB of supporting implementation.
Risk - Access to Facilities
The biggest risk we face as a sport is access to affordable facilities, both at school level and local authority. Areas of concern include availability, available capacity and hire cost.
Recent polls (Sep-Oct 2020), showed that access to facilities is the biggest barrier facing clubs as they try to restarting.
Challenges identified by grassroots clubs included:
Risk – Workforce – The Future of Volunteering
Pre-Covid one area of significant risk was around the volunteer workforce without which grassroots sport would not happen. Participants in fencing, and sport in general are being active for longer and therefore fewer people are moving into activities previously associated with ‘retiring’ from active sport. The responsibilities that are placed on volunteers at all levels (eg governance, safeguarding) are ever increasing and thus certain roles which are critical to running grassroots clubs are becoming a less attractive way to spend free time. In addition the training required to act as volunteers typically costs those individuals money (BF does subsidise this where it can). Investment in online training is one area where cost can be reduced and accessibility increased.
Risk – Workforce – Coaching
Many paid coaches have found themselves unable to access the same levels of government support for a number of reasons. Fencing coaches are typically not employed and many were unable to meet the requirements to access other existing support (eg to demonstrate income for a period of time). Coaches are being lost to sport as they seek as they seek income and employment elsewhere, potentially creating a long term gap in our workforce. One area of particular concern is the risk of losing the new coaches we had trained up as part of our programmes to create a more diverse coaching workforce.
Risk - Equipment
A new risk out of the Covid-19 crisis is around access to equipment. Pre-Covid, fencing clubs would provide participants with clothing/equipment (shared in and between sessions) to provide a low cost entry point to grassroots participation. Recent hygiene restrictions have reduced sharing options and as a result fewer people have been able to participate. This inevitably has a greater impact on those clubs providing opportunities for participants with less disposable income.
Risk – Cost of Delivery/Accessibility
Also cited in the poll (mentioned above) are concerns over cost effectiveness. We anticipate that as we move out of lockdown 2 back into the Tier system and beyond, that clubs will not be able to afford to operate. We know that those clubs able to restart were typically running at a loss (due to the cost of implementing Covid-19 compliance/restricting participation). With reduced numbers, and facility costs potentially increasing, long term viability of grassroots clubs will be at risk, unless clubs pass on those increased costs to participants.
Taking all these risks together, we are extremely concerned that accessibility to sport will fall and where sport is available the cost will significantly rise. This will have a huge impact on community/grassroots sport and in turn the health of the nation.
We are an indoor sport that has a proven ability to attract people into activity who are not normally active and do not see themselves as ‘sporty’. Our programmes with London Youth and Maslaha (Muslim Girls Fence) have brought new communities into fencing and without a grassroots sport structure in place their future (either as participants or as potential performance athletes) will be limited.
1. A sports recovery fund, similar to the Culture Recovery Fund, with targeted investment to assist:
Community sport to build back better from Covid-19; further allocation of funds for Return to Play including harder to reach audiences.
Facilities: Capital investment into facilities, Encouraging (grants) new developments/repurposing of unused space to create affordable community multi sport spaces. Funding and measures to support re-opening facilities (school – state & private, local authority or leisure trust) for use by community clubs at an affordable cost.
Encouraging multi sport and community group usage: making more funding available to non sport specific facilities that have a diverse activity offering to all members of their communities (rather than a focus on limited sports in a limited age range).
Coaches: Access to financial support for those working in sport who have been unable to access the existing government schemes. Further measures/funding to support BFs work in re-establishing, protecting and growing a diverse coaching workforce – both in participation and performance - would be welcomed.
Clubs: Access to one-off grants to clubs to offset their losses in restarting. Further funding to support clubs to continue offering affordable sporting experiences to their communities.
Equipment: We would like a better understanding of the risks posed by the sharing of sport equipment and if this is insurmountable longer term our clubs and social impact projects will need additional funding to invest in equipment to ensure that our sport remains accessible to all.
2. Return to Play Guidance to support sporting and physical activity
To continue to recognise the importance of playing sport to physical and mental health and the low risk of transmission.
Supporting/Recognising safe environments - we would ask that the government recognises the hard work that is done by NGB affiliated clubs to create controlled Covid-secure indoor environments to participate in sport (both team and individual sport). The previous tiered lockdown arrangements for sport did not recognise the work that has been done which could have provided opportunities for those age 18 and over to participate in indoor activity/fencing at very low risk. Specifically if we are returning to the pre-lockdown Tier structure we would ask in Tier 2 for the rule of six to be extended to adult fencing delivered by affiliated clubs under BF Return to Fencing guidelines. We are currently not aware of a single case of onward transmission of Covid-19 within the fencing club environment, which we believe is in part due to the nature of the sport itself, but also due to all the additional measures in place in our club environments, overseen by our club Covid Officers.
Financially, this is not possible in fencing as it is not a professional sport. The more successful an athlete is at fencing, the more costly it is to participate – for example the Olympic qualification process involves a series of events taking place all over the world where travel/accommodation/entry costs alone would be min £10Kpa. We are extremely grateful for the support we do get from the National Lottery (via Sport England, UK Sport) to help subsidise GBR athletes on a pathway to the Olympics.
Often financial support will go in the reverse direction – where grassroots clubs will fundraise and provide subsidised opportunities to train to help their top club athletes as they struggle to afford to compete on the international circuit. All our top athletes are in part (and in some cases full) time work or education.
As part of the UK Sport Aspiration Fund, GBR fencers that have benefitted from funding are expected by BF to ‘support’ their wider communities in other ways, by engaging in a variety of social impact projects and acting as role models and mentors to other fencers lower down the pathway. This has been very successful and many of the athletes have fed-back positively on having a more meaningful community engagement (in and out of sport) outside of the typical elite performance sphere.
If professional sports/athletes are benefitting from public funding there should be a similar expectation to engage with supporting social impact initiatives and act as community role models.