Table Tennis England is among more than 200 organisations across the physical activity sector to have signed 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 this month 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 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 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 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.

Andrew Wilesmith, Head of Table Tennis Development at Table Tennis England said: “Sport and physical activity is one of the most powerful tools available for building communities, providing preventative health solutions and helping tackle crime and disorder, particularly amongst young people.

“The evidence is also clear that regular sport and physical activity in our schools aids educational attainment and creates a strong learning environment. The evidence is there – sport and physical activity creates active communities and helps reduce pressure on local and national services.

“Table tennis is one of the most inclusive and accessible sports and we are working closely with partners to unite the movement and help people get active.

“We call on all parties standing in this General Election to commit to working with the sector and helping us realise the true potential and value that physical activity has in supporting the UK economy, health system, education system, crime and justice system and rebuilding town and city centres.

“We have to work as a whole system if we are to make meaningful change, and this starts at a governmental and policy level. Help us to #TakeTheLead and let’s be brave.”

Lisa Wainwright MBE, CEO, Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: “By asking our political leaders to commit to making the UK the most active nation in Europe, we aren’t just asking them to commit to the power of physical activity, we are imploring them to reimagine the role of sport and recreation in society and, crucially, to put it at the heart of their policy making.”