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Sport Development Planning: Compulsory or freestyle?

By Prof. Dr. Lutz Thieme (RheinAhrCampus Remagen)

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Does Community X still need the sports hall at a school which is to be closed due to a drop in numbers of students? Is construction of a fifth artificial turf pitch in Community Y really a good investment? Should the roof of the gym hall be renovated before the sports field drainage system? Is the gym in Z really used to its full capacity or are some users just not releasing unrequired dates? Which effects will the new building areas have on demand for sport in our communities? And demographic development? Do you have the feeling that questions like this are more difficult to answer than they were 10 or 15 years ago?

This could be due to the facts that an increasing number of user groups are actively representing their interests; that the sports offers available have become further differentiated and financial leeway within communities has become smaller. A decision to invest in sports facility A is often a simultaneous decision against investment in another, just as meaningful project for sports facilities B, C and D. Resistance from citizens is inevitable if sports facilities need to be closed because consumer demand has changed, the population has declined or the financial situation of a community makes further operation impossible. Given the close link between locally organised sports and members of political authorities which can often be observed, decisions may be taken which do not immediately appear meaningful from a sporting point of view or which may temporarily resolve a dispute but which lead, if not in hindrance then at least to a delay in the creation of future-oriented structures for community sport.

Can sport development planning prevent this trend? Perhaps not always prevent it, but it can make decisions objective and transparent.

Apart from a few forerunners in the 1920s, sport development planning between 1960 and the end of the 1980s was carried out according to the “Golden Plan” with the objective of creating a core number of sports facilities. To do this, a guideline number, initially for sports fields, halls and indoor swimming pools but later also for specialised facilities for specific sports, was determined according to the community structure and number of inhabitants. With increasing expansion of the sport-related infrastructure, planning concepts based on these guideline numbers were subject to increased criticism as they could not take into account sport-specific aspects or differentiation between sports in multiple-use exercise and sport offers.

Since the mid-1980s, new planning methods have been researched to give better consideration to actual sporting behaviour and the resulting requirements on the infrastructure. This has resulted in the idea of behaviour-oriented sports facilities development planning which, after several modifications, was recommended to communities by the German Federal Institute for Sport Science (Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaft) in 2000. In this approach, existing sports facilities are first catalogued and evaluated together with the current sporting activities and behaviour of the population with community-political objectives in the background. At the same time, it is attempted to forecast future demand. From this information, the current and future requirement for sports infrastructure and offers is derived. Parallel to this behaviour-oriented sports facility development planning, participatory planning concepts for individual sport projects were also implemented in a test programme. From this the cooperative planning approach was developed which is characterised above all, by integration of different interest groups (citizens, clubs, politicians, scientists and professionals) into the planning process. In a series of steps including collection of ideas, analysis, summary and prioritisation of the requirements and drawing up of draft plans, a land-use plan is be drawn up as basis for an overall layout plan. So-called "integrative sport development planning" includes elements based on guide-value and behaviour-oriented planning as well as the cooperative approach. At the centre of this system is a planning team made up of citizens, representatives of clubs, political decision-makers, scientists and basis experts. In the meantime, sport development plans have been developed for a series of communities. Minimum standards for sport development planning are given in the "Memo on community sport development planning" issued by the German Society of Sport Science (Deutschen Vereinigung für Sportwissenschaft).

Admittedly, no amount of sport development planning can actually create an accurate forecast of actual sporting developments. Even with the intention of gaining well-founded statements about future demand on sport infrastructure and required sporting offers from sport-facility development planning, considerable methodical difficulties can be encountered. Along with the question of quality of the information collected, these mainly involve the aspect of how to determine future requirements.

Despite this, the advantages of a process leading to community sport development planning should not be underestimated. Comprehensive sport development planning processes provide an overview of the sporting requirements within a community. It can be seen that non-organised sporting activities are often under-represented according to their awareness in the community. In addition, steps in the planning process are also recommended which determine the actual levels of use of sports facilities and are not only based on time allocation plans. Findings suggest that actual levels of use deviate significantly from time allocation plans, facility operator's records or additional requirements given by users. Tools apart from market mechanisms for the improvement of capacity utilisation have been developed but no pilot applications have yet been found.

Future requirements with regard to the number of sports facilities can be estimated using a combination of probabilistic population forecasting, development of the share of active sportspeople and the frequency of sporting activities in individual sport segments or sports. Naturally, this must be coordinated with the medium-term community financial and other planning systems in order to avoid creation of unrealistic "wish lists". Even with this kind of approach however, it will never be possible to achieve a statement such as the future requirements of Town Z will be exactly 10 sports fields, 18 sports halls, one outdoor swimming pool and a combined pool complex.

Along with detailed sport development planning, other tools are required which can help to decide conflicts between objectives. These can refer to investment decisions, closures or capacity utilisation and may range from decisions regarding two conflicting claims for use to intra sports facility priority lists for investments in community facilities. Initial experience and new models are already available.

A prophet has no honour in his own county: Even in cases where at the end of a sport development process no other information has been gained than was already available to the expert commissions beforehand (although this is seldom the case), the communication processes involved in creating the sport development plan are important for the following decision-making processes – and in many cases existing arguments gain importance when they are repeated by an external expert.

Further information about sport development can be found (in German) in the recommended "Handbuch Sportentwicklungsplanung" by Rütten, Nagel and Kähler, published by the Hofmann-Verlag.

 

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