Take the Lead to make the UK the most active nation in Europe

Leading bodies for health, sport, recreation, fitness and leisure urge party leaders to commit to making UK most active nation in Europe.

A coalition of more than 200 bodies, athletes, businesses and charities across health, sport, recreation, and physical activity has written an open letter to party leaders calling on them to use the General Election to #TakeTheLead and commit to making the UK the most active nation in Europe.

As the main parties announce their manifestos and the men’s Euros comes into focus this week, a survey* of British adults asked where they think the UK ranks in Europe’s league table for physical activity. Three-quarters (75%) guessed it would feature in the top 10, but the reality is the UK is a miserable joint-11th among 15 comparable nations.

The call for change is driven by the Active Partnerships network, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the Sport for Development Coalition, ukactive and the Youth Sport Trust, which together represent thousands of organisations, gyms, swimming pools, leisure centres, sports governing bodies, and professionals across the UK.

The letter kickstarts a new campaign launched by the organisations today (13 June) called #TakeTheLead, which will showcase the importance of creating a more active nation and, crucially, highlight the need for leadership by our national politicians to create the conditions for change.

The 226 signatories to the letter range from major health bodies to sport’s national governing bodies, education providers and the nation’s biggest fitness and leisure groups, while stars such as Rebecca Adlington, Ugo Monye, Adam Olaore and Darcey Bussell have also added their support.

The letter outlines the urgent need as well as the “unique opportunity” for any new Government to unlock the full potential of the sport, recreation and physical activity sector, in a move that would be “transformative for communities across the UK”.

It says: “To overcome our national health crisis and deliver economic growth, we believe you must commit to the ambition of making the UK the most active nation in Europe and work with the industry to deliver this vision.”

Collectively, the sector already saves the NHS £9.5bn every year by preventing illness and in total generates £85bn annually in economic and social value. However, the value generated by the sector could be far greater if the UK reaches and exceeds the activity levels of its European peers, according to research by the Sport and Recreation Alliance.

If the UK became the most active nation in Europe, the research projects:

  • Economic growth – by increasing GDP by £3.6bn every year
  • Reduced burden on the NHS – by cutting spending on preventable disease by £1bn every year
  • An improvement in people’s life satisfaction – by increasing wellbeing benefits to the value of £71bn every year.

The letter highlights priorities for the party leaders to focus on to reduce growing inequalities across the UK and drive significant change in activity levels, such as ensuring every child is active for at least 60 minutes every day, cutting red tape holding back growth, and embedding physical activity pathways into health and care systems.

Sport, recreation, and physical activity bind communities together across all ages, abilities and backgrounds and make the population healthier, happier, more productive and more prosperous.

Making the UK the most active nation would help to reduce pressure off the NHS, boost productivity and economic growth by helping more people to stay in work, improve physical and mental health from childhood, support the drive to net zero, and create more connected, inclusive communities.

Olympic swimming champion, Rebecca Adlington OBE said:

“It’s time for our political leaders to take the lead and be much bolder in their ambitions for sport and physical activity in the UK.

“It’s going to be a great summer for sport but it’s about more than inspiring the next generation of athletes, it’s about how physical activity can help fix our health crisis and improve so many lives.

“I want us to be top of podium as the most active nation in Europe and that starts with the next Government having a full plan to help us reach millions more people of all ages and backgrounds.”


Youth Sport Trust CEO, Ali Oliver MBE said:

“The upcoming General Election and the exciting summer of sport ahead gives the opportunity for all parties to set out how they would create a more active country. Currently fewer than half of children are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ recommended guideline of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, so it is imperative children and young people sit at the heart of this ambition to make UK the most active nation in Europe.

“Increasing physical activity will not only lead to happier and healthier children and young people, but will help us get upstream of challenges in education including absence, attendance and behaviour and in time reduce the burden on the NHS. I am proud to stand with other leaders from across the physical activity sector, united in our desire to work with whoever forms the next government to achieve this compelling ambition.”

National Sector Partners Group:

  • Active Partnerships
  • The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA)
  • The Sport for Development Coalition
  • The Sport and Recreation Alliance
  • ukactive
  • The Youth Sport Trust

You can read the full letter here, including the full list of signatories.

*The consumer poll was carried out by Savanta in June 2024 and polled 2,732 people.

Published on 13 June 2024