NEW FACES, NEW TACTICS FOR The Observatory for Sport in Scotland’

Shelley Kerr and Geoff Aberdein join campaign for change in Scottish sport 

ShelleyKerr

New post for former Scotland women’s football manager, Shelley Kerr.

By Lucy Ashton

FORMER Scotland women’s football manager, Shelley Kerr, and political and finance expert, Geoff Aberdein, have joined the Observatory for Sport in Scotland’s drive to use sport to improve the nation’s health.

Aberdein, the former chief of staff to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and global head of Public Affairs at Aberdeen Standard Investments, has taken over as OSS chair from founder, Charlie Raeburn.

Kerr (pictured), who stood down as Scotland women’s team manager last month, after leading Scotland to their first World Cup finals in 2019 and just missing out on the Euro Championships, has joined the OSS board.

The OSS was formed in 2016 modelled on research think-tanks across the world that have used evidence to shape new policy and show their governments how to invest in community sport as a tool to improve the population’s physical and mental health and well being.

Aberdein said: “I am excited to be joining the OSS and it is a huge privilege to be asked to chair the organisation at what I think is a crucial time for sport in Scotland.

“Community sport activity used to be an important part of our way of life in Scotland but research tells us that around 50 per cent of people in Scotland – and more and more people from deprived backgrounds – are no longer engaged in any kind of sport activity.

“We have a huge drop-out from the age of 11 and with more and more barriers put in people’s way, despite some terrific work by many people and organisations, and that has had a direct impact on Scotland’s health, our education and economy. The signs are that post-Covid sport and recreation activity will become even harder to access, and more people will be deprived of opportunities to participate, so we have to do something now.

“We are not talking about elite sport but sport in its simplest sense, just activity that everyone can take part in close to their home, and that suits their needs, but crucially helps all ages get out and socialise with people, and have a bit of fun. That is what is being lost to more and more people.

“The idea of a sports think tank seems an obvious thing for Scotland, but I applaud Charlie Raeburn for making it happen because to effect change you need credible, independent scientific evidence. I have been very impressed by the work of the OSS and its researchers to open eyes to the value of community sport as a tool to effect change.

“And I have learned a lot about how sport is now being used cleverly across Europe to effect lasting improvement in health and communities, and all ages and abilities, so I am keen to roll up my sleeves, bring my experience to it and work with stakeholders across Scotland to bring that same change here.”

The OSS analysis shows that while sport participation had grown in the past 20 years among people from more affluent backgrounds, notably in gym activity, it has been sliding among people from less affluent backgrounds, and across traditional sports, with particular barriers to girls and women, and people with disabilities.

An OSS paper produced by Professor Tess Kay of University of Stirling revealed poverty to now be a key barrier to participation in Scotland.

Kerr is similarly keen to get involved and help sport widen access again.

She said: “I have always been passionate about sport at all levels. But the simple fact is that if we keep going the way we are in losing people – particularly teenage girls and boys – we may not have sport worth talking about in Scotland. As Geoff says, the negative impact of that on our communities, our health and well-being, from children to older people, and on health budgets, will continue to grow.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the SFA and women’s football, and I want to see more girls and women coming through in the coming years, and getting the same life benefits. So, I’m delighted to join the OSS board and play my part in helping us to drive change. I would urge everyone who shares our passion for local sport activity to join us.”

Executive director, David Ferguson, added: “We are growing our network of supporters, researchers and influencers across Scotland, and having people with the sport, political and financial experience of Geoff and Shelley – and, crucially, their enthusiasm – is extremely helpful to shaping our ability to support government and stakeholders in using sport more effectively for the benefit of all in Scotland.”

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