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Why the UK is ready to build on a magnificent summer of sport

Why the UK is ready to build on a magnificent summer of sport

UK Sport

6 min read Partner content

Sport is a part of the national psyche. It provides those big moments where the nation comes together in an act of celebration. These are the moments that inspire the next generation and bring enormous social and economic benefits to the UK as a whole. The House Live sat down with Esther Britten, Head of Major Events at UK Sport, to hear about a memorable summer of sport and learn more about what the future holds.

Where were you watching when Chloe Kelly scored the extra time goal that brought English football its first major trophy since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street?

Maybe you were watching with friends, in a pub or bar, or with family at home. The chances are that you will have seen it. 17 million Britons were watching live, amongst an astonishing worldwide audience of 365 million.

Most of us will have felt excitement and pride as the ball hit the back of the net. But for Britten it was more than that. As Head of Major Events for UK Sport, the UK Government agency for major sporting events at the UK level, Britten was part of the team responsible for bringing the competition to the UK.

“When you see elite success at home, it really is like nothing else,” she tells us, reflecting on that memorable evening. “We're living in crazy times, but sporting events bring joy. They drive togetherness and bring a sense of unity to communities. “

What is noticeable, is that when Britten speaks about her memories of the tournament, her pride and passion are not confined to her memories of the set piece final at Wembley and Chloe Kelly’s headline grabbing goal.

She is most animated when she is describing how Rotherham embraced live games or how the people of Leigh responded when they saw their town taken over by a colourful and enthusiastic army of Netherlands fans. Similarly, when reflecting on the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Britten speaks most passionately about how the now famous bull from the opening ceremony became a symbol of the way in which people from across the West Midlands came together throughout those two weeks of competition.

“Major sporting events can act as the spotlight to make change in communities,” she explains. “They are not just about finances. They are more about the social impacts that they can generate.”

This sense of sport as a unifying force that generates local and national pride is a theme Britten returns to throughout our conversation. She is unwavering in her belief that major sporting events change both how individuals think about themselves and the way they view the places where they live.

The Women’s Football Euros was part of a busy and impressive schedule of major sporting events that came to our shores in 2022. We also saw those Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and are soon to witness the Rugby League World Cup taking place in towns and cities that stretch the length and breadth of the country playing a key role in the post Covid-19 economic recovery of those communities in doing so. Late October will also witness the start of the World Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool.

This hugely impressive roster shows that, when it comes to hosting world class international events, the UK is punching well above its weight.

Britten partly attributes the UK’s success to the long-term strategy that politicians, sports bodies, and administrators have put in place. This, she explains, provides the UK with a strong foundation to maintain its global leadership position when it comes to hosting world-beating major sporting events.

But, when asked to name the single, “magical ingredient” that makes major sporting events such a success in the UK, Britten doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s the British people,” she tells The House Live. “British people embrace these events like no other nation. That is the most important ingredient.”

This insatiable public appetite for sport is something which constantly surprises the world class athletes who visit these shores, with full stadiums across the whole range of events.

This is why Britten is so passionate about attracting events that can be accessed by communities across the UK, both in terms of format, location, and ticket price.

However, with growing pressure on both government and household finances, she also recognises that there is a real risk that sport will slip down the list of priorities when it comes to investment decisions.

Britten is realistic about the challenges that a period of constrained finances will bring.

“There's got to be a risk,” she says. “I don't think we can live in the times that we live in without thinking that.”

However, she is also confident that the UK sports sector is ready for the challenge of innovating to design and deliver events in different ways that reduce the costs of hosting whilst maximising the benefits to communities.

“I think as a nation, we do have a role to do things differently,” she says. “Innovation is key, and it is something that the UK can do. Thanks to our strong reputation and expertise, if we stand up and say, ‘we might do it a different way’ then we have real credibility.”

This commitment to innovation, and an ability to adapt to reflect change, have been key in keeping the UK at the forefront of major sports events. And with ambitious plans for the future, Britten and the team at UK Sport are determined to keep it there.

The signs are positive. The country has just secured the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2025, and there is an ambitious UK and Ireland bid due in November to try and secure the 2028 Men's European Football Championships. Britten also hints at early discussions to bring stages of the Tour de France back to the UK at some point in the future.

For Britten, the success of these future events will not be defined by the performance of elite athletes from the host nation. Instead, it will be found in the lives of people up and down the UK whose lives will be shaped by sharing the experience of their local community, and the nation as a whole, coming together in a collective experience.

“It’s hard to break down barriers, but sport has the ability to do just that,” Britten explains. “It can reach different parts of the community that haven’t been touched before.”

Creating shared moments that matter and connect communities together. That is what sport can deliver.

With a long term plan in place and unrivalled expertise and experience, it is clear the UK is set to build on 2022’s magnificent summer of sport to create a set of memories for the next generation.

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