Written evidence submitted by Zamma Fit and RimJhim Consulting


Response to DCMS Select Committee Call for Evidence: Sport in our Communities

On behalf of both Zeeshan Akhtar of Zamma Fit and Rimla Akhtar MBE of RimJhim Consulting


We all know that grassroots sport[1] is a massive part of people’s lives, keeping people active, developing their life skills and confidence, and impacting positively on their mental and physical wellbeing.  It also plays a significant role in building communities, creating cohesion and developing new social capital.  It is where our elite athletes, coaches and referees begin their journey to the top.  The current DCMS Sporting Future strategy outlines how sport impacts positively upon the work of almost every other government department and every area of life, from job creation and revenue for sports retailers to better mental and physical health outcomes and reduced anti-social behaviourThese social benefits of sport will contribute to the rebuilding of British society.  So, ensuring the right rebuild to follow from the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be of paramount importance.

Covid-19 Impact

With the effects and aftershocks continuing to flow into the sports ecosystem, we will not know the true impact and legacy of Covid-19 for many years.  However, the loss of grassroots sports organisations will potentially leave us with generations of inactive people who are unable to find a pathway into sport.

Despite the resilience and innovation shown in response to the pandemic and lockdown conditions, according to Sport England, women, older people, people on low incomes, people living alone, people without children in the household, people with a long-term health condition, people without access to private outdoor space and people self-isolating because they're at increased risk, are all finding it harder to be active.

According to Sport England’s latest Active Lives Adult Survey, activity levels in England were on course to reach record highs before the pandemic hit.  The survey showed that “the gains made in the first 10 months of the year were cancelled out by drops in activity levels” during the pandemic.  In addition, the negative impact was greater for those from lower socioeconomic groups (LSEG), with a larger fall in activity amongst LSEG, resulting in an even greater activity gap between LSEG and higher socioeconomic groups than prior to the pandemic.

It is also clear from Sport England’s research that those from ethnically diverse backgrounds have struggled to find opportunities to stay or get active, with a 14% drop in activity levels for those of Asian background.

The survey also shows that happiness is down and anxiety is up.

Data from Public Health England has proven that people from Black and Asian backgrounds are at greater risk of catching the virus and then have a 10-50% greater risk of death from Covid-19.

Existing health inequalities have been exposed by this pandemic, reflecting the wider inequalities that these communities face.  These inequalities have extended to the physical activity and sport sector, with opportunities and motivations for being active reducing more amongst these very communities.  Government and the sports sector therefore needs to be more focused on solutions that will support those most affected by the pandemic.

Whilst this crisis has clearly been challenging, it has also created an opportunity to pause to consider our values, what we stand for as a nation and the various communities that make up our nation, what is working and what is not, and where we may be missing out on opportunities to thrive.  It presents a unique opportunity to adapt, innovate and transform.

Zamma Fit and RimJhim Consulting: What We’re Delivering

It is with this in mind, that we began Zamma Fit at the height of our first national lockdown.  We aim to keep people active and contribute to physical and mental wellbeing by making exercise accessible, relevant, achievable and free.  As individuals working as volunteers within community sport for over 15 years, we are deeply embedded in our communities and are excellent at engaging with people from different backgrounds, especially those from inactive communities.  With our position within our communities, we chose to play our role in stimulating innovation in keeping people moving and, ultimately, encouraging a healthy active lifestyle for life across the population.  Some of our work during lockdown can be viewed in summary here - https://youtu.be/MI35WvE4kAU.

RimJhim Consulting is a social business focused on the intersection of sports, business and inclusion.  Get on Board was a mentoring programme run by RimJhim Consulting and supported by Sport England and global recruitment agency, Perrett Laver, to prepare women for board-level positions. The initiative, aimed at high achieving ethnically diverse women lasted ten months and offered assistance from a high-level mentor, targeted seminars, a range of professional training, and access to insider knowledge on how to navigate the sports industry.  This programme resulted in two thirds of participants joining sports boards within a year, with others’ applications on hold due to the pandemic.  A summary of the programme can be found here - http://rimjhimconsulting.com/get-on-board-highlights-2020/.

Sports Sector Focus: Funding and Financial Sustainability


Currently, most grassroots sports organisations will obtain funding from their Sports Council, their sport National Governing Body (NGB), grants from foundations/charities, revenue from membership or retail revenues, and sponsorship.  Every single source of revenue has been affected by the pandemic, with local sport creaking under financial pressure and the health of the pubic at serious risk if it collapses.

However, funding and financial sustainability was always a concern, even prior to the pandemic, as was the decline in volunteers who are the foundation of the grassroots sport scene.  Grassroots sports organisations, being not-for-profit with limited-to-no reserves, and relying on the sheer passion and dedication of volunteers, those who were struggling financially before pandemic, are the ones who are doing the most impactful work in LSEG areas and now those communities will not be able to access these organisations and opportunities, especially if they shut down.  As with all inequalities, we have seen the issues exacerbated as a result of the pandemic, and funding pressure is becoming a greater barrier to participation, particularly amongst those who were already inactive.

The reality facing us is that many sports clubs will not survive the aftermath of this pandemic and the benefits that they bring to their communities will be lost as they lose all income streams, continue to pay fixed overheads and therefore make even greater losses.  The impact of lockdown and the suspension of grassroots sport cannot be underestimated.


However, there is a certain opportunity to reset the financial ecosystem for sport to one that is more resilient and focused on greater opportunity, diversity and long-term sustainability.  The sports sector, the people who benefit from it and the public who fund our work deserve a system that encourages mutual partnership rather than competition for resources.

During this pandemic, we have seen some funders demonstrate flexibility in approach and an acknowledgement of these unprecedented times.  In particular, the approach of Sport England with respect to their Covid-19 package has resulted in some alleviation of pressure on the sports ecosystem, and it has also shown a way of working for the longer term, where we can work to solve issues better with a more flexible approach.

The £220m that has gone into supporting the sports sector is clearly positive overall and funding was rightly needed first and foremost for the survival of the grassroots sports community.  However, when all the evidence is pointing to the pandemic causing even greater inequalities in society and in sport, only £20m of that has been spent specifically on tackling inequalities amongst communities that have been the most impacted by the pandemic, whilst only £1m was spent specifically on encouraging innovation at a time when innovation was needed at the core of the sector’s response.

Many of the funds made available were smaller in amount (up to £10k), which lends itself to already established programmes, initiatives and organisations.  For newer initiatives, like Zamma Fit, greater levels of funding are needed in order to create a longer-term solution with sustainability embedded from the beginning.

There is a case of successful organisations being victims of their own success, as it then becomes difficult to go back to the same funders for further support.  Organisations distributing public funds should continue to support organisations that have proven to contribute to the objectives of those public funds.  At the same time, they should support organisations to develop plans for long-term sustainability so that they become less reliant on public funds.

Furthermore, the process of securing funding, especially now when time is of the essence, is still drawn out.  For example, Zamma Fit ended its pilot campaign at the end of Ramadan in May 2020.  We immediately sought to secure funding for a six-month project, after this seed funding for one month had proven so successful.  Almost six months later, we are still waiting to hear back on our applications to fund what was a clearly successful pilot programme.  It is in these moments, when working with inactive communities, those most affected by Covid-19, that momentum is lost and it will take much effort to re-engage once we, hopefully, are able to secure funding for a longer-term project.  Government needs to work with its funding partners to ensure a speedier process from application to outcome in order to keep the sector thriving.

We would also encourage Government to ensure that the portfolio of ways in which public funds are spent are more focused on innovation and new solutions that embed long-term sustainability plans, whether they come from old relationships or new initiatives, and are ensuring that funds are going to places where they are most needed at this time and for the future rebuilding process.

Attached to this would be the need to embed core values and purpose into the initiatives designed in response to Covid-19 and what lies beyond.  Public funds should only be distributed on the agreement that there will be inclusive access and no structural (or other) discrimination.

From a governance perspective, it would be important to ensure that there is transparency of where funding is distributed and relationships between those making decisions and the organisations/individuals receiving the funds.  It would also make sense to use positive learning from other sectors, such as recruitment, where anonymised applications are used to ensure biases do not affect the recruitment process.

Finally, funding for a physical activity comeback plan for when we come out of major pandemic-induced holds on our freedom of movement and interaction is needed.  All public funding should apply Title IX-type requirements going forward, whether that’s in relation to direct funding, concessions or other support for the stimulation of the sports sector.  We should be planning for this now with the sort of future thinking we at Zamma Fit are undertaking.

Sports Governance

Those organisations with strong governance are more likely to survive this crisis, but the sports sector contains such a mixed group of organisations with respect to governance journeys, that support will certainly be needed to not rebuild what was already there, but to fundamentally build back better, with strong and proportionate governance at the core of every sports organisation.

As community-driven organisations and individuals, we believe the sports sector should be driven by social purpose, so that it positively impacts on our world and all within it.  Therefore, sports governance and leadership should reflect that purpose – sustainable growth is possible whilst doing the right thing if the goals are right, including working towards equity and equality of opportunity.  Government must support the sector to move away from the excuses of not achieving this model.

In many ways, the Code for Governance for Sport released in 2017 was a gamechanger, pushing the standard of governance to a higher and more consistent level across the varying shapes and sizes of sports organisations.  Whilst it set the expectations of the sports sector, certainly those receiving funds from Government’s arms-length bodies, we are unclear whether all organisations have achieved the levels of governance expected of them in the Code.

However, in addition to greater professionalisation, it has appeared to bring about greater gender parity, with 40% of board members now women.

Despite the 2015 triennial review of Sport England and UK Sport, of which Rimla Akhtar MBE was a part through the check and challenge group, noting that “UK Sport and Sport England should set stretching targets for BAME representation on NGB boards for the next funding cycle by spring 2016”, no such targets were set in the Code.

Additionally, the Executive pathway is still very white and male, with no plans for diversifying in this crucial area.  Furthermore, private sports businesses do not fall within the remit of the Code and therefore are not subject to such high standards of governance.  We would encourage Government to urgently seek a solution to the critical issue of the closed Executive pathways, and how to use policy and other levers to ensure that private sports businesses demonstrate the best governance standards.

In response to the lack of targets for “BAME representation”, RimJhim Consulting worked with UK Sport and Sport England to bring forward women from these ethnically diverse communities and support them onto sports boards – the Get on Board programme mentioned previously.

Yet, despite the success, the feedback from all participants stating clearly that the programme was still needed, and many more individuals contacting us for the opportunity to be part of the programme going forward, there is no support currently to deliver this programme any more.  Long-term impactful change does not happen with a one-off programme.

As noted above, the inequalities are being highlighted more than ever and have become greater as a result of the pandemic.  So, we have established a powerful network of ethnically diverse Leaders in Sport, which is acting to create greater positive change and benefits for the sector and society through greater diversity in sports decision making and challenging overt and institutional discrimination.  The network members are all Executive and Non-Executive Directors of organisations within the sports sector.  We have already engaged with DCMS and are open to continuing dialogue that leads to positive action in dealing with the concerns highlighted above and changing the status quo.

In Conclusion

Above is a summary of thoughts across the areas you have outlined for this inquiry and we would be happy to discuss these further with you.

[1] When we speak of sport, we also refer to physical activity in general