Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

An Observatory for Sport in Scotland – Charlie Raeburn

An Observatory for Sport in Scotland * – “supporting the Scottish sport stakeholders and networks – through robust research, indexing of participation, and resultant opportunities”


The answers to the questions about the state of community sport in Scotland will be varied. What is community sport? Who is trying to answer the questions?

Sport can be a force for improvement of all aspects of life, with potential benefits impacting upon health and well-being, gender and race relations, education and social welfare, civic pride, law enforcement, business and tourism.

We believe that the best way achieve this is through an extensive programme of community sport.

To realise this, to develop and implement policy, needs the collection and analysis of a comprehensive level of information, which currently does not exist.

That is the case for An Observatory of Sport in Scotland.

The questions may not be obvious, but they surely exist.  Where is the detailed information about sports participation in Scotland? What are the effects of austerity measures on community sport? Is community sport development in the contracts of the 23 newish Scottish Sports and Culture Trusts?  Who is planning the facilties provision and access for sport on a community basis? With almost non-existant statutory requirements for Sport provision by local authorities, what is really happening to sport with all the cuts to local authority spending? What hard information is given to local and national politicians about community sport?

We hear of excellent practices around the country, how widespread are these examples?

Then of course there is the balance of performance/elite sport and on the other hand community and school sport. Can we trace how public monies is being spent? Is sports participation being affected by costs and accessablity? How do we compare Scottish participation figures with other northern European countries?

The idea of establishing an Observatory for Sport in Scotland is based on a number of Observatories already up and running in Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Switzerland, countries that are well respected for their high levels of sports participation.  A number of colleagues in Scotland have also combined their ideas.

Our vision is to build an evidence-based platform that recognises the potential for improvement across the range of sports activities and levels, including school sport, but with a particular focus on community sport, which we see as the primary underpinning infrastructure.

The platform would be built on the development of a set of criteria, recognising, but significantly enhancing existing models, collecting data and measuring community sport participation, and facilitate benchmarking with other countries, such as Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands, with high levels of sport participation and good governance.

The Observatory will fill a gap in the Scottish sports landscape by creating a body which, based on objective, independently-gathered information, will drive open, ongoing and transparent debate and decision-making aimed at taking sport forward.


  • To develop an evidence base regarding the impact of sports policy initiatives in Scotland and internationally, in particular related to community sport participation, which is a fundemantal human right
  • To inform, initiate and analyse public debate on key issues impacting upon sports in Scotland
  • To establish a pool of knowledge and general overview of academic and other forms of sports research, both nationally and internationally, based on existing and original research

The SCDI kindly hosted a seminar in Glasgow on 2 October to consider an  Observatory for Scotland. We were very pleased to welcome and hear from two of the most respected European Observatories: Henrik Brandt, Danish Institute for Sport Studies and Prof. Koen Breedveld, Mulier Institiute, Centre for Sports in Society, Netherlands.

Henrik Brandt wrote after the Seminar:

 “The meeting clearly demonstrated the large and increasing number of stakeholders in Scottish (community) sport and the wide range of sectors that can actually be engaged/is involved in the delivery of sport.

 “A succesful Observatory could be the catalyst for new partnerships and new successful programmes.

 “The seminar meeting was in itself a proof for the need of an independent overview of the sector that can assist all stakeholders in developing their strategies and filling their role in community sport. Information should not be restricted to membership figures of organized sport, information should be accessible for all – it is not enough for figures to rest on the shelves of a ministry or a sports organization…

“The efforts of municipalities, ministries, leisure trusts, social entrepreneurs, the commercial sector etc. are important as well and theirs is much to be gained by collecting and disseminating data and knowledge from them as well.

 “In times of cutbacks in the public sector maybe an observatory could also be instrumental in showing new ways to develop sport by engaging new stakeholders and empowering governing bodies, sports clubs, local facilities and communities, or innovative individuals in developing new ‘mindsets’, new initiatives and programmes. One should not forgot that the biggest ‘economy’ in community sport is probably still the voluntary work – but voluntary leaders also need access to knowledge and inspiration to deliver a better product.”

It is now hoped to set up a short-life working group, to attract funding, and to appoint an interim Chair.


Charlie Raeburn is a former PE teacher and  former Chair of Local Authorities PE Network.