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(h) the advancement of public participation in sport

Published: 20/08/2015
Updated: 20/08/2015


This purpose focuses on advancing public participation in a sport that involves physical skill and physical exertion. It is not enough just to promote sport. The 2005 Act says that to be charitable, public participation in sport must be promoted and that the sport must involve physical skill and physical exertion. An organisation with this purpose must be able to demonstrate that it provides opportunities for a wide range of participants.

What do we mean by sport?

To be charitable, sport means an activity that must involve both physical skill and physical exertion.

 Where there is doubt as to whether an activity is a sport, we may consider the following:

  • is the activity governed or regulated by a set of rules or customs?
  • is there a governing body?
  • is the activity structured and organised?
  • is there an element of competition and of increasing the health and fitness of the participants?
  • has the activity been recognised as a sport by a national body? 

It is not essential to have answers to all of these questions and each case will be looked at individually. However, if the activity does not fit any of the above, then it is less likely that we would regard the activity as a sport.

We will look to bodies such as Sportscotland and Sport England to see if they recognise activities as sports. However, not everything recognised by these bodies will be recognised under the 2005 Act.

Does it provide opportunities for public participation?

Organisations applying to become a charity with this purpose must be able to demonstrate that they provide sufficient opportunity for the public to take part. We will look at whether the organisation caters for a range of participants in terms of skill or ability, physical condition, age and sex. We recognise that many sports charities will have to limit the number of participants at any given time. We focus on how they encourage public participation.

We accept that competition is an inherent and motivating factor in many sports and that sports charities will strive to be successful. Where charities have activities aimed at elite or professional athletes, they must be able to show that these help to further public participation in sport and are part of a range of activities for people of all levels of ability, as explained above.  Organisations that limit participation only to people with a certain level of ability are unlikely to be able to further this purpose.

For example:

  • a youth football charity, which is open to all, identifies that a number of its players show potential. The charity would be allowed to give those players advanced training.
  • a gymnastics club that provides coaching to a wide range of participants may have some who perform at elite level. If the club only accepted those with the potential to perform at elite level, this would not be charitable.

What activities might provide public benefit when advancing this purpose?

In general, public benefit is the way that a charity makes a positive difference to the public. Ways in which sports organisations can encourage people to take part include:

  • giving access to the organisation’s own specialist sports equipment
  • the loan or affordable hire of sports equipment
  • holding introductory ‘taster’ sessions with no commitment to join.

Activities which don’t involve physical skill and exertion can still be charitable but under another purpose, for example ‘the provision of recreational facilities purpose.

How people join or participate in a sports organisation is an important factor when we consider the organisation’s public benefit, and whether access to its activities is unduly restricted. Membership should be open and transparent. If people have to be recommended or take part in trials before they can join in, it is unlikely that there is opportunity for public participation.

Case 1: an organisation’s activities did not promote public participation in sport

An organisation linked to a professional football club applied to become a charity with the ‘advancement of public participation in sport’ as its purpose.  Two broad areas of activity were proposed:

  • to work within the community through football coaching in schools and in coaching camps, and
  • youth development work in under-13 and under-19 year old youth teams.

The participation in the youth teams was based on ability, subject to a contract with the professional football club, and only available to male players.

We decided that participation was not available to the public at large and we refused the application to become a charity.

Other examples of organisations which have applied for charitable status under this purpose but which have not satisfied the public participation requirement include:

  • an organisation established solely to support alpine ski racers to represent Scotland or Great Britain
  • an organisation established to provide funding for a Karate squad to attend international Karate competitions within the UK and abroad
  • an organisation for a synchronised skating team where the minimum skill level required for participants was a high standard, requiring months or in some cases years of coaching.

Case 2: an organisation provided evidence that Yoga is a sport as defined by the 2005 Act  

An organisation that promotes yoga applied to become a charity under this purpose.

Yoga is not universally accepted as a sport. However, the applicant submitted independent evidence that participation involves physical skill and exertion. They also advised us that Sport England recognises yoga as a sport, with the British Wheel of Yoga as the governing body. 

We decided that the evidence supplied showed that yoga comes under the description of a sport in the 2005 Act. The application to become a charity was successful with the advancement of public participation in sport as one of the charitable purposes.

Case 3: an organisation demonstrated how its activities encouraged public participation

An organisation, which delivers a ‘Try Rugby’ community programme to all school children in a local area, applied to become a charity.

We had to decide if the organisation encouraged participation on an equal and inclusive basis. They told us that they organise ‘taster sessions’ for primary school children, interschool rugby festivals and weekly activities during the curriculum for all secondary pupils. For those wishing to participate more often, the organisation provides additional supervised sessions, mentoring and personal skills development.

The application to become a charity was successful.