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Roger Mosey | 10:20 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010

It understandably wasn't front-page news, but it was a significant week for the Cultural Olympiad last week.

As I've written here before, there's pretty much universal agreement that the Cultural Olympiad hasn't been cutting through. Most of the population are blithely unaware of its existence, and those who are, fear it could be Dome Mark 2.

But at a meeting of Tony Hall's Cultural Olympiad board - which the BBC sits on - there was the appointment of a director for the whole project along with an expert team. Ruth Mackenzie and her colleagues now take on the job of shaping and curating the Cultural Olympiad.

rm_pa595.jpgRuth Mackenzie has been appointed director of the Cultural Olympiad

It's not a bed of roses: the politics remain complex, and the timescales are pressing.

In theory the Cultural Olympiad has already begun - it became ours after Beijing though there's a Winter version too - but if you take the current consensus that 2012 is the year that matters for the arts as well as for sport, that leaves just 23 months to devise great events that get the nation talking.

Some foundations are in place, of course, but we must hope they're not the finished product; and Britain should be able to do much better since creativity in the arts and entertainment remains one of our national strengths. So expect a new Cultural Olympiad vision from Tony, Ruth & Co in the next couple of months.

The flurry around culture also made me think about another area where more work is needed. That's sport participation.

I was over at Locog on Friday afternoon with my colleague Barbara Slater from BBC Sport talking to our partners there about the ways in which we're aiming to meet the national target of two million more people being involved in physical activity by 2012 - of whom one million more would be taking part in sport.

winter_ap595.jpgThe Streb Lab for Action Mechanics will take part in Vancouver's winter version of the Cultural Olympiad

As with culture, there's some valuable work being done at the grass-roots; but for such a stretching target we still don't in my view have the big idea or the masterplan that will guarantee delivery.

There's academic backing for that line of thought and previous host nations have similarly struggled to increase participation levels.

But the prize was really well articulated by a post on this blog by "nedafo" last September: "We will only turn the UK into a sporting nation if we can encourage the population to take up and participate in sport for most of their adult lives" - to which I replied "I don't think the Sport Legacy programme is anything like as well-developed as it needs to be now", and that remains true. It has to move up the agenda in 2010, and we're on the case.

A simple couple of questions, though. Do you know anyone who has already been inspired to take part in more physical activity because of the Olympics coming to London? And what would make you, your family or friends do more?


  • Comment number 1.


  • Comment number 2.

    It's pretty simple. People (a) don't have time, as they're earning money to live, and (b) don't have the money to pay for over-priced sporting facilities.

  • Comment number 3.

    Whenever a large sporting event takes place interest is bound to soar, I just hope London get their legacy plans in place well in advance to turn interest into participation. Many of my local sports clubs can't take anymore individuals on as volunteer levels are too low, and clubs with a better infrastructure cost far more join. The inspiration is there, its just harder than it should be to act on

  • Comment number 4.

    Doug in #1 wins a prize for conciseness.

    Rich Barber in #2: I don't completely accept the argument about time - it is, after all, about improving our health which should be a priority for all of us. (And I certainly need to do more myself...) But it's true some facilities are very expensive for families.

    Aswardy in #3: again, a very good point and that's what I was meaning about the national plans not being in place. If people are motivated, there needs to be the follow-through: there's no point in turning up somewhere and finding inadequate facilities and poor support.

  • Comment number 5.

    Part of the problem with people taking up sport anew is that there are becoming more and more regulations that need to be complied with on the grounds of protecting youngsters from the supposed ubiquitous threat of molestation.

    Adult helpers have to jump through so many more hoops now than 20 years ago as a result of the nanny state, and this both discourages them from taking part in sport, but particularly from becoming volunteers or getting engaged with their children's sporting activities.

    The balance has swung to far towards protection, and this is dissuading those who might otherwise get involved, even when they are aware of or inspired by events like the Olympics.

    Facilities in many places are far better than 20 years ago, but there are also areas that are significantly deprived in this regard: not just inner-cities, but more rural areas where people rely on outdated or worn equipment because there is no impetus to invest in facilities at a local level. Playing fields have been sold off, community facilities inadequately managed, and parents and children alike scared off using the facilities that are there.

    Until and unless all these problems are resolved the London Olympics will have only a short-term impact.

  • Comment number 6.

    Roger - first, can i say well done to whoever decided not to break the bank getting the Paralympics.

    The absolute number one reason in Kent, where i live, for a lot of kids not playing/getting involved in sport is facilities, the lack of, and the use of.

    Tennis courts are dominated by older club players, courts for indoor sports (basketball) are expensive, and sports like golf are sometimes active in discouraging younger players.

    BBC can't build facilities, i know, but it's my take.

    Also, no-one i know has taken up sport due to the 2012 games.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've been meeting people about sport participation this week in London and (today) in Birmingham, and I've raised a number of these points - so again, many thanks.

  • Comment number 8.


    I have to answer your question with a no - so far, I do not know anyone who has started to participate in sport as a result of the 2012 Games. That said, living in the North-east of Scotland, there is a remoteness issue. Despite the official line that the impact of the Games would be felt throughout the UK, it is not happening here and, frankly, this is what I expected would be the case. It is bit like the whole Millenium dome thing again - it is all happening too far away to have any real impact.

    I have made the point before that, in my view, access to sport is the most important issue. The Olympics may inspire but am I not convinced how long the inspiration will last without the facilities being available. It reminds me of my experience of the Wimbledon effect when I was a child in the 70s and early 80s. For a week or to during and after Wimbledon, I would go down to the local council run tennis courts with my siblings to hit tennis balls around. The problem was that there was no one there to coach us the technical skills, the courts were always mobbed and were also in a pretty poor state of repair. You can see why my interest did not last all year. Now, if there had been decent facilities and a coach available to teach me the basics, then it might have been different...

    The sports I played as a child were mainly football, rugby and golf with some cricket and rowing. Why did I chose those sports? It was not about being inspired by top sports people - if that was the case, all of my generation would have been decathletes or cricketing all-rounders after Daley Thompson and Iain Botham. It was more to do with the fact that the sports (other than rowing) were sports which my father played and encouraged me to play and also that they were accessible to me. (You amy find it odd that I say that golf was accessible but you will find that in this part of the world, golf is not an elitist sport and there are many council owned gold courses with relatively inexpensive green fees). Rowing was slightly different. I got involved in it partly because my siblings did it and partly because of the coach who was unconventional but inspirational - this was all before Redgrave and Pinsent (more the time of Redgrave and Holmes!).

    What does all this prove? I think that shows that in my case any way, it was access and opportunity which was most important - and I mean access in the sense not just of facilities but also in teh sense that there was encouragement from my father or an inspirational coach. Without these factors being in place, I fear the Olympic effect will not be captured in the sense of converting interest into long term participation. Now, the Olympics may result in some new facilities being built but I fear that they will be designed for the elite athletes and will not be geographically widespread enough. Look at the velodrome in Manchester. Where else can you participate in track cycling in the UK? I've previously mentioned that the nearest 50m swimming pool to where I live in north-east of Scotland is 120 miles away in Stirling. And the problems with access are being compounded by the economic problems. Where I live, I am hearing anecdotally that a number of schools which historically have made their games halls and gyms available in the evenings for football teams etc to train or play are closing to save money on heating and lighting. I find this all hard to reconcile with the amount of money being spent on the Olympics and our elite Olympic athletes.

    Anyway, to finish by contradicting my earlier comments(!), the only sport/exercise that I take part in now in middle age is cycling. Why cycling? Well, the only sports person who has managed to inspire me to take up a sport was Robert Millar. When I'm cycling up any hill, I still pretend that I'm that I'm climbing a Pyrennean top and about to drop Pedro Delgado and Bernard Hinault as I go over the top. I've even got the replica Peugeot top and cap!

  • Comment number 9.


    One other comment to throw in to the point on the issue of access. My local council operates an access to leisure/sport scheme designed to encourage youngsters into sport. My kids used to come home from school with leaflets and flyers from the council informing us of various sporting opportunities mainly at council run facilities. It included football, tennis, swimming etc. The council still run the scheme but now the communications bno longer come by leaflets and flyers but my email. Things is, those kids who have least opportunity to access sport are most likely to have parents without email access. It is completely brainless! You just need to look at all of the statistics showing a correlation between poverty and poor health - these are the kids who we should be encouraging into sport.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nedafo2 - persuasive arguments again. If it's any consolation, I don't think it's only in North East Scotland that it's not happening.

    That said, there IS some very good work going on in parts of the country. I came across the guys from the Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership when I was in Birmingham this week, and if you look at their website then you can see how it can all be brought together:

  • Comment number 11.

    I think arguments about facilities being too costly are excuses: you find something within your price ticket if it's important. I walked Scottish mountains on a pittance as a young man: I hitched lifts, went with the Uni club and only bought what I had to as I went along. I got seriously fit in 2 years of 6hr+ days going up 3000ft plus. Sure I was reasonably fit to start with but with a Final Year at Uni making me off the pace, the fitness change was still clear to see......

    Running costs the price of running shoes, shorts and a t-shirt. The Africans dispense with the shoes. It's not good for the portly though - a bike or swimming's better to start with there. But if I were a Minister I'd seriously think of supporting poor folks to buy running kit if you could be sure they were actually training properly and sensibly.......

    What I think is critical is for people to experience that you feel better just from taking some exercise. Telling them won't work. They need that endorphin fix in their brain somehow. They'll sleep better but many will need support in pacing properly - far too easy to do too much too soon and get injured or exhausted - the old paradigm of 'what seems slow actually leads to the most rapid progress'. When I started running training aged 24 I used a 3 month regimen to get up to 10k which started with 10 minutes gentle jogging with walking if necessary. I did the 10k in 42 mins and went on up to marathons within 4 years. It can be done.

    Many won't be uplifted by performances they can't aspire to. Youngsters should be targeted by Olympic performers, adults maybe less so. They need more suitable examples of changing life through exercise shifts. Doesn't need to be Olympic-style feats - it might be how much better they get on with their kids as a result! Probably the most important inducement for most parents, I would hope? If it were true.....realistic goals and outcomes is what matters.....Seb Coe brings the Olympics to London, but maybe mum-to-be whose gentle cycling through pregnancy prepares her body for the big effort will help others to reduce personal pain and NHS costs at childbirth on THEIR big day of days......?

    Maybe meeting new friends through exercise would be top priority for some lonely folks? Don't know, but that would help, wouldn't it? Exercising a dog together, cycling to a sunday lunch together, that sort of thing? Taking it in turns to lay on lunch once each 3 months for 12?? It could be done......

    How about seeing if business performance went up with gentle, regular exercise? Any studies done at work to see if sales go up if certain folks cycle to work?? No idea if it's true, but employers would enjoy that, wouldn't they?? Maintaining the exercise intensity plateau from 35 - 50 is a key performance indicator for a healthy society, I'd say...

    What about being paid 25% of cost reductions in healthcare due to more healthy existence? Not easy for those who are humbly healthy already I guess....but if it were tapered off as exercise became ingrained? It might work.....

    How about linking gentle exercise with cessation of smoking? Biggest problem there is usually weight the two and you might make people richer (no money spent on fags) and starting to be fitter too...been tried already??

    What about cookery classes linked to exercise? The more you exercise, the more you tend to focus on diet. Top sportsfolk's diets can be boring - but for amateurs, a healthy wholesome diet is just what is needed. Any folks in a downward spiral of not knowing how to cook/organise a weekly diet leading to loss of exercise??

    Sounds to me what is needed is an intention to really understand what will speak to different folks in the community and what budgets are really around to initiate change........and that's down to the age-old wisdom of talking a bit, listening a lot and being non-judgemental about a lot and pragmatic about solutions........


    Happy New Year Mr Mosey, says he fresh from a week of transformational ski-ing, apart from a dose of Swiss-Delhi-Belly the night before MY race which saw me call off for safety need to crash on a slick racecourse and break a few bones due to 24hrs of solids being ejected in 3 hours of liquid ker-splatting, is there??

  • Comment number 12.


    Interesting article, In answer to your questions- firstly I do not no anyone who has been inspired by the olympics to take part in sport, I think generally people find it hard to be inspired by something 2 years away.I also do not think there is a lack of facillities on offer it is more about a lack of awareness of what opportunities there are available in our local areas.

    I think it is too easy for people to use money and time as excuses to not get involved, but I think that it is a reflection of a society that expects things to be dropped on their laps.

    What I do agree with is the comment about increasing regulations, it is becoming really tough to give something back to your community through any kind of organisaed activity. I think people are generally scared of all the potential backlash of health and safety regulations, child protection, public liability etc etc. Common sense alone is not good enough and I feel that puts alot of people off, I completely understand the need for safeguarding but more needs to be done to make the process easier and understandable and also to protect individuals who want to organise groups or activities.

  • Comment number 13.

    Rjaggar - I think your missing the point. I agree that sport doesn't have to be expensive. I agree that you can run for the cost of a half decent pair of trainers. My point is about whether or not the Olmpics will inspire people to take up sport. I assume that if the Olympics are to inspire people to take up sports, it will be the sports that form part of the Olympics. Many of these sports require specialist equipment and facilities which are not readily available in many parts of the country. Think of sailing, rowing, track cycling (ironically, the sports which we seem to be good at as a nation). That is why I question whether the Olympics will encorage participation and why I question the spend on specialist training facilities and elite athletes.

  • Comment number 14.

    When I went to school I was forced to play football in the winter months and cricket during the summer term which I hated. A lot of us told our teachers that what we looked forward to on leaving school was never having to kick or hit a ball again. In my case I haven't. I and a lot of my friends do not watch any sports programmes on TV so the whole of the Olympics are a complete non event.


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