August 26, 2022

Making the Case for Sports Philanthropy in the UK

Author Natalie Pinon, Senior Director of Development

The fantastic win by England’s women’s football team, the Lionesses, in the European Championships has sparked discussion about funding in sport. The UK government has announced that grassroots facilities will be named after each of the 23 England players in and around their hometowns. There have also been calls to widen opportunities for all girls to play football in school, with only 63% of UK schools making provisions for girls to play football in PE lessons.

Women’s football has certainly suffered from a lack of funding to date, especially compared to the men’s game—and this is not an isolated example across the full spectrum of sports. Many of the athletes competing in the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham overcame their own funding challenges to make it to the pinnacle of their sport. But this is not just about the funding funnel for elite sports. It is vital to invest in sport, across all communities, ethnicities and backgrounds at the grassroots level.

Thankfully the situation has improved over previous decades. The National Lottery has invested more than £5.7 billion into community sport since 1994. Furthermore, charities play an important role, notably SportsAid, which supports over 1,000 young athletes each year funding their training and competition costs. While Comic Relief has provided 524 sports projects with over £81.5 million in grant funding since 2002, in the UK and around the world.

It is clear there are opportunities for philanthropists to support grassroots sports, and there are three compelling reasons for doing so.

Mental health and wellbeing

Sports has a salutary impact on mental health. It brings people together and builds relationships, giving people a sense of belonging and helping to reduce isolation and loneliness. Exercise is often described as the panacea in preventing and managing mental health. A recent survey from revealed that that nine in ten people said that exercise has improved their mental health, increased feelings of calm, made them feel more energized and connected them to communities and friends.

Social development

The power of participating in sport develops people’s social skills, and offers opportunities regardless of gender, ethnicity or ability. It can give young people an outlet to express themselves and offer a sense of confidence, which may compensate for struggles in the classroom for instance. Social development is about improving the well-being of everyone in our society so they can reach their full potential. Clearly sport can motivate and galvanise some young people more than anything else.


Community development

Sport holds the power to engage, inspire and bind communities. It offers targeted support to younger generations and communities who are in the greatest need of help. Schemes like the Places and Spaces Fund, backed by a pot of £7m of National Lottery Funding, provide grants to help community sport and improve local facilities. Sport also helps people to develop awareness of cultural and ethnic differences and thereby grow intercultural understanding. For minority groups in particular, it is a powerful instrument of social integration and inclusion.

When we think about philanthropy, sport is an important area which can affect compelling social change. Developing top athletes is important, but so is funding sport at the grassroots and local level. It can provide immediate support to local communities across the UK, and also help shape the next generation of future leaders and influencers, inside sport and out. The victory of the Lionesses and the interest in the Commonwealth Games is an opportunity to direct more investment into sport from not only government and business but philanthropists, too.

For more information and support about your charitable giving, please contact us.

About the Author

Natalie Pinon is Director of Development at NPT UK. She has over 15 years of experience working with philanthropists and impact investors to manage their giving.