A Department of Sports: Centralize Sports Policy to Reach our Goals (8/8)

Jeff Prudhomme
May 30, 2018 · 5 min read

Policy Seven from the Future of Sports & Society Discussion Project

CC BY-SA 3.0 Nick Youngson

The Basic Idea: Create a National Sports Policy Framework

How can we hope to reach our societal goals for sports if there’s no mechanism to coordinate our efforts? This policy approach responds by setting up that mechanism for teamwork. No team would expect to win if they never coordinated their actions. The best way to reach our goals and establish some coherence in our sports policy is to centralize and coordinate the governance of sports under a national sports policy-making framework. This means that national sports policy would be centralized in a governmental body, such as a “department” or “agency” of sports (just as most nations have a “ministry of sport”) and that this could be coordinated through similar bodies at the state and local levels.

This policy option focuses on the mechanisms for governing sports, essentially saying that whatever societal goals we might have for sports, we are more likely to reach them if we pool and centralize our efforts on a national level. It doesn’t necessarily tell us what goals we should have, though a policy making body might help us clarify what our societal goals for sports might be.

The US pours tens of billions of public dollars into sports, from tax dollars going into public school sports programs, especially in high school and college, to tax expenditures and public subsidies to support professional sports facilities. What goals should guide these public expenditures? What do we as a society want to get from our investment in sports? And how can our spending be brought into line with our goals?

Given the importance of sports in our society, the most obvious choice might be to establish a policy making body with independent standing, rather than subordinating it to another department or agency. Alternatively it could also be placed under the direction of another department, such as Health and Human Services (HHS), since the focus of “health” might provide the most comprehensive focus for our public policy goals for sports. For example, what if we shifted some of our current public expenditure on disease treatment into disease prevention, and health and wellness promotion through sports participation?

There might be two separate but intertwined focal points for such a governmental policy-making body: 1) community sports: fostering broad participation in sports across the population, and 2) elite sports: developing high-performance athletes. The overall intention of this policy idea is not to push for any particular policy direction, but to provide a framework for public policy on sports.

If one of our goals is to have success on the world stage of sports competitions, then we’d be well advised to coordinate our efforts as other nations do. While the US ranks high in our number of Olympic medals, when you adjust for population size, we actually rank outside the top ten, with Australia at the top. We’re likely to fall short as long as we refuse to coordinate our public efforts.

This centralization of policy making could be replicated at all levels of government within a federal system, with state and local departments of sport to connect with the national level. This doesn’t mean that there has to be a one-size-fits-all top-down approach. The centralization can help to coordinate democratic discussions about the goals for sports and different ways to meet those goals.

Some Possible Features

  • Create a governance structure (like a “department of sports” or a “sports ministry”) to support the development and deployment of national sports policy and to coordinate with similar governance structures at the state and local levels
  • A centralized and coordinated sports policy-making system should foster discussion of sports and physical literacy goals for each level of governance (local, state, national) and set public priorities for sports
  • One possible focal point could be community sports, with the goal of improving public health and physical fitness through sustained sports participation for all sectors of the population. Community sports programs could be evaluated through various measures of public health and wellbeing.
  • Community focused sports policy might focus on establishing equitable access to sports participation for all sectors of the population in regard to gender, race, age, ability status, socio-economic status, and region.
  • Another possible focal point could be elite sports (where a great deal of current public spending goes), with the goal of developing high performing athletes (which could connect to community sports by motivating participation for others). Such programs could be evaluated for their return on investment by the number of champions or by the international rankings of the nation’s elite athletes.
  • A focus on developing elite athletes could intertwine with a focus on community sports since providing equitable opportunities for community sports participation would expand the pool for possible elite athletes. Standards for equitable opportunity for gender, race, socio-economic status, etc. could govern both focal points.
  • This public body or “department of sports” could fund relevant research on sports and health to support policy decisions that have a basis in research-attested knowledge. Dedicated public spending on sports-health research would help create a knowledge-base buffered from the interests of commercial funders.

Exploring Possible Impacts

  • What impacts might this policy approach have on sports participation or on the overall landscape for sports?
  • What other changes might be necessary to make this policy work successfully?
  • What other goals might shape our public policy for sports? For example, what if our goal is economic development or entertainment? How might different goals impact the framework we use for making policy decisions to reach these goals?
  • What other broader social or cultural implications might this policy have? What tradeoffs might we face?

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade