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    Enacting community sport policy in rugby union through Whole Sport Plans: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of the Rugby Football Union

    Hughes, Amanda Louise (2023) Enacting community sport policy in rugby union through Whole Sport Plans: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of the Rugby Football Union. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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    Abstract

    Previously confined to the margins of government deliberation, sport in England has witnessed increased levels of government intervention and investment, embedding both dichotomous strands of elite and community sport well within the machinery of government. Yet, with Sport England aiming to increase community sport participation levels, rates remained relatively stagnant according to trends in Active People Survey (APS) data from 2005 – 2016. A trend which has continued in more recent Active Lives Survey (ALS) data from 2017 – 2022, emphasising the failure of New Public Management (NPM) approaches within community sport for well over a decade. With policy objectives being delivered through a National Governing Body (NGB) led system, supported by an investment of almost £906 million through three quadrennial cycles of Whole Sport Plans (WSPs), criticism has typically been directed towards the perceived ineffectiveness of NGBs to connect policy outcomes with policy ambitions. An assertion this thesis looks to unpick by offering a more nuanced understanding of the policy process through micro level interpretivist experiences. Since our understanding of NGB WSP performance is limited to endgame evaluating through APS data for sport participation. Such overreliance on quantifiable data to measure policy success, marginalises the social complexities embedded within the policy process. Consequently, this limits any ability to provide deeper, more profound levels of understanding regarding the political practices of those individuals entrenched within policy delivery. Therefore, with a view to explore the social construct of practice, this thesis looks to ‘bring people back in’ to policy and considers an interpretive approach to policy analysis. It utilises Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as the methodological approach and policy enactment as a theoretical lens to explore the negotiations, translations, struggles and contestations entwined within WSP delivery. Using a research sample of seven individuals from the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the NGB case study for this thesis, seven themes emerged from the data for consideration; (i) ‘We just cannot get round to everything’: The geographical constraints of policy enactment; (ii) ‘It is difficult because we are being pulled in different directions’: Misalignment of policy objectives; (iii) ‘Do I measure it against that? No, I do not… it could be anything’: Recontextualising the policy objective; (iv) ‘Do we know what is in the whole sport plan…I have not got a clue being honest’: Disconnect from policy; (v) ‘The coaching teams are all shattered because they have had a weekend of rugby’: The limitations of structure; (vi) ‘The frustration is because it has to be on numbers and it has to be on outcomes’: Questioning measures of performance; (vii) and ‘Once you get into the rugby family, it is a really good family to be in’: The rugby family as a personal and professional culture. Collectively, these findings not only provide significant insight into the enactment of policy within community sport which is notably absent but can potentially influence future community sport policy development towards the attainment of future policy objectives.

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