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Securing Olympic legacy proves tricky task

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David Bond | 18:17 UK time, Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The government has announced its new strategy to try to ensure a lasting sports participation legacy from the 2012 Games.

At first glance a five-year plan worth £1bn aimed at young people looks impressive.

But, as ever, things are not what they seem.

Sport England, who are in charge of the new programme, was always going to receive this money as the reduction in the number of National Lottery good causes - from five to four - had guaranteed them an extra £180m over the next five-year funding cycle.

The £450m allocated to sports governing bodies from 2013-17 is exactly the same amount as that given to them between 2009-13.

There is an extra £160m for improving and building new sports facilities. And there is more money for the School Games programme backed up by a £10m sponsorship from Sainsbury's.

But apart from the Sainsbury's money, all of this was budgeted for.

With so much pressure on the public finances it is hardly surprising that there is no new money being thrown at sport. In some ways, it is remarkable that sport has been able to hold on to what it has.

General view of The Olympic Stadium

Will the London Olympics inspire young people to take up sport? Photo - PA

What is different, according to the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, is the refocusing of the available resources - away from adults (a group which has seen an increase in participation since London won the right to stage the Games in 2005) towards teenagers and young people.

Here the statistics have been appalling. Since 2005 there has been a 2% drop among 16-19 year-olds, with a 100,000 decline in the last year alone.

To arrest that slide, Hunt wants Sport England and the governing bodies to focus their efforts and cash on getting youngsters who play sport at school and college to keep the habit after they leave formal education.

More money aimed at opening up school and college facilities to local clubs will help if the new programme can be made to work.

Withholding money from sports governing bodies unless they deliver on targets for getting young people to particpate in those sports will also help concentrate minds.

But so much of this is about changing cultural and social behaviour among young people. That is a far wider social issue and it starts in schools.

The problem, critics argue, is that last year's controversial decision to slash funding for school sports co-ordinators could do even greater damage to the legacy vision than the problem in youth sport which the government is now trying to address.

Then there is the difficulty of measuring the country's sporting habits.

The exisiting Active People survey is deeply flawed. Data is collected by researchers who call people on their home landlines.

I don't know about you but every time my home phone rings I ignore it, fearing it will be someone trying to sell me something.

How accurate is the information being gathered and should ministers be basing such critical spending decisions on it?

And even if the information is reliable, how do you measure if someone is sporty? Does playing football once a week compare with three half-hour sessions at the gym? Is walking a sport?

London 2012 chairman Seb Coe - the man who made the participation promises - is deeply cynical about the survey's findings, pointing to anecdotal evidence that we are getting more active.

That is only partly because every time the participation story comes up, he is reminded of the promises he made to the International Olympic Committee in Singapore in 2005.

After all, he is pretty much powerless to do anything about it as he has an Olympic Games to put on.

The government's new strategy is an acknowledgment that something had to be done and for that Hunt and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson deserve credit.

But the deeper social and cultural shift away from sport among young people may need far more drastic action.


  • Comment number 1.

    I can't work out what the Government aim to get out - is it a bigger, brighter future in 2016, a fitter, more active under-21 population, a fitter active over-40 population, a showcase of the UK, after all it is indeed London 2012 but we have a "Team GB"?

    Unless Team GB go on getting better and better in the next, lets say, 20 years, this Government and anyone associated with it, could be tainted, especially if the economics of the event fail to meet expectations and legacy - do you trust a Government estimated legacy on HS2 if they can't meet their legacy expectations on London 2012.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting blog David especially considering the Sport and Recreation Alliance's own sports club survey showed that youth involvement has increased over the last 3 years.

  • Comment number 3.

    The trend across Europe as a whole is for a considerable decrease in numbers taking part in competitive sport at all age levels. Likelihood is the UK will also continue to reflect that trend, however initiatives such as these may do something to minimise the decline. The test may be to compare changes in numbers over next 5 years (e.g. if decline in UK is 5% and across Europe as a whole is 10% then you could claim that these initiatives have had a positive benefit in reducing the decline by 5%).

  • Comment number 4.

    great blog and spot on in everything.

    uk school games is a great event and about time it was announced that it was going to happen again this year!

    participation is down, many governing bodies have had some funding reduced (tennis) and rightfully so.

    i am of the opinion less focus has to be on elite level ( that will happen itself) and concentrate on keeping people active. there needs to be a new strategy in place or something where areas can adapt to suit those areas. the percentages of teenagers dropping and falling away from sport is frightening. when people hit teenage years if they arent good enough the options close to them. that has to end.

  • Comment number 5.

    So 6 1/2 years after we were awarded the games and 8 months before the facilities become "available to the public", we still don't have an operational legacy plan.........

  • Comment number 6.

    Everyone can visit the inevitable legacy - its called Crystal Palace, and what O2 became before it was allowed to become commercial.

    The same will happen with the Olympic facilities, underused, overfunded, a grandiose millstone round the necks of the tax payers while the politicans file their grand speeches and honours list letters under 'job done'.

    Meanwhile the sell off of school playing fields to developers, and the insistence all outside sport be self funding will sink the youth further into their couches and console chairs.

  • Comment number 7.

    Further vto the above comments, notice the cash is going to the traditional big sports.This new generation dont seem to want these sports.It may very well be that like my son who plays Sup air and his friends who skateboard and play street soccer.They do not wish to be told by "olds" what to do and play by their rules.This generation may play sport ,just not on the establishments terms.I

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm a governor of a primary school right next to a large sports centre. The 12 five a side pitches are unused all day, the running track, athletics field and gymnasium likewise. As, like most small schools with very limited facilities, we have talked to the council about being allowed to use the outdoor or indoor facilities. The answer - only if we pay the going commercial rate, which as a small school we simply can't afford to do.

    Please explain to me why on earth we have to live with such a ridiculous situation that the council employs staff, heats and lights a gymnasium, mows the outdoor pitches that are never used during the day, but won't let primary schools use them? What would they have to do extra? Nothing.

    Olympic legacy there will not be unless the facilities we have are enabled/forced to be made available to schools, and young people.

    So different to when we lived and worked in France. There, the local councils are under an obligation to ensure facilities are used. If there are vacant sessions the council is duty bound to offer it to schools to see if they can take up the slack. Therefore publicly financed sports facilities are in constant use. Here, entire gymnasiums and sports pitches are left unused and unavailable to hundreds of children in case one adult wants a game of badminton.

    So please Lord Coe, if you are going to leave a legacy, please leave a change of mindset, and require all public owned sports facilities to demonstrate to how they are trying to ensure their facilities are used to the maximum, with children and schools a priority.

  • Comment number 9.

    It is worth adding that this also makes financial sense. Supermarkets sell us cheap bread and milk, often at a loss, to get us in there because they know that once inside we will spend other things.

    Similarly, if children have spent ten years of their school lives trying out indoor and outdoor sports, playing inter-school competitions or enjoying the social side of playing a game and then watching your friends play, they are likely to want to continue this with the same friends long after they leave school, and if they do move away, will look for something similar.

    However, if they have not gone in to a place at all, not had the opportunity to try some of the sports and activities, how likely are they going to suddenly turn up as adults to do something they have never done before?

    It's a no-brainer. Get them in as youngsters, expose them to the wonders of what they can join in with, create habits that will be life forming, and it will make economic sense too.

  • Comment number 10.

    The government ripped up the Schools Sports Partnership that was in place taking away the funding for volunteers and this removing the links to local sports and sports clubs. The school games is more elitist and a show piece.

    Schools are so busy keeping up with educational targets that they could never provide an appropriate grounding in sport. Sport develops life skills for the adults and business leaders of tomorrow. Even if a child doesn't like sport they can learn to be part of a team or find their voice if coached.

    Sport in the country has always been about grass roots this needs young adults working with experienced adults but modern life styles leave little time to enjoy sport. Then the government, health and safety and every other sporting body has to add layers of bureacracy and accreditation just to allow a kick around for kids - no wonder clubs struggle. My hat goes off to every volunteer fighting to keep sport alive!

    Finally they could do worse than to bring back the day of rest on a Sunday to enhance family time. People are paid no more to work 7 days rather than 6 and we now have online shopping to boot. But that will never happen......

  • Comment number 11.

    Like it or not they're fighting a losing battle. There are so many other entertainment choices now, that it is obviously going to impact sports participation.

    A decade or two ago, a group of lads may have got a football out and had a kick around. Nowadays they're just as likely to meet up and have a game of FIFA on the PlayStation.

    I believe that the best way of keeping youngsters active is competitive sports and local and national leagues. It encourages commitment, social networks and makes it far less likely they will drop out when the weather gets cold!

    I also agree with the comment above about better utilisation of existing facilities, which would cost very little implement and yet have a big effect.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good work David,
    I have felt compelled to comment as I have read your blogs for a few months now as you have informed criticisms of taken-for-granted assumptions regarding the positive nature of sport. I am an assistant lecturer of a Sport Development degree programme at a UK University and much of what you mention is being taught to students. There are very few legacies, if any, that have been posed by previous Olympic Games that have come to fruition. There is a wealth of academic research on this and I find it stunning that this is not publicised more by the media. Most of the arguments by the media and the general public over the last 6yrs, and will occur for many years after the inevitable legacy failings of the London Games, have been researched and taught but have yet to impact upon general conscious. However, your informed critique is a breath of fresh air to this stagnated situation.

  • Comment number 13.

    It is like everything else - make sports and games easy to do, easy to get to, provide decent facilities and a range of options - and then keep the price down.

    We are good at commercially run 'premium' facilities - but seem to be keen on closing everything else down.

  • Comment number 14.

    Everyone seems to agree that popular participation in sport is a good thing in general but we shouldn't forget that sports-related injuries are extremely common and require resources from the NHS and lead to lost working days. A study sponsored by Barclays in 2005 estimated 22 million sporting injuries per year and that a person regularly participating in sport will, on average, pick up 1.65 injuries every year and will take up to five days off work or college due to incapacity and/or treatment. Some injuries can be very serious. About 12% of serious spinal injury leading to paralysis is sport-related, with rugby, diving and horse-riding contributing most cases (see With an estimated total of over 1200 cases per year treated in spinal cord injury centres, this means 140 sport-related cases per year. An increase in sport participation will inevitably increase these figures.

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm 38 years old are partake in a team support weekly. In my experience the people running facilities either haven't a clue about encouraging adults to participate regularly, or, more likely, they simply don't care. Kids participate until they reach 18 and become more interested in nightclubs etc. Venues are set up to cater to kids cause that's the majority of the customers, they can afford to lose business from the adults. People in their 20s and 30s are often only interested in sport if they can compete successfully at a pretty high level. I think you have to decide whether having people win championships is more important than ordinary people regularly participating in a sport. I think the two things are in conflict as on average ordinary people aren't going to be that good at a sport. From a health point of few it's pointless having more 20 year olds doing sport if they all drop out in their 30s, which is how it is now.

  • Comment number 16.

    14 could-do-better - sound like you are a fully signed-up member to the Health & Safety brigade do you step outside the door without a crash helmet?

    On the serious side adopting a sedatary life style from a young age is a guaranteed fast track to obesity and heart disease. Sensible sport or physical activity and a healthy lifestyle improves productivity and in terms of the economy no doubt will increase tax revenue to pay for the NHS.

    After a game recently I was in the bar discussing an injury to a 16 year old with team mates aged between 50 and a 70. None of us could recall having a sporting injury before we were 40 yet here was a teenager limping off.

    Sport breads leaders and strong personalities we need them more than ever in this country!

  • Comment number 17.

    @ 14 could_do_better - Blimey, that is positive! Surely, the health benefits of regular activity far outweighs the stress on the NHS from injuries? the ever-increasing obesity un the UK is as a direct result of lack of exercise and that contributes more stress and money to the NHS than any injuries ever could.

    On the subject of the blog, part of the issue is the health and safety brigades out there stopiing all forms of school sport unless the weather is perfect. Both my children are at junior school and have had their sports days cancelled as a result of rain/snow/mud etc. If they are not encouraged to get out when conditions are slightly inclement or worse, they will never get out at all. Children need to be allowed to be children and let them play football/cricket/running or whatever in the park or school fields whenever they want to. Being told to stop for fear of injury and litigation against the council will inevitably stop them and they will never grow to love any game.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think number 8 and number 17 say it all.

    My mum is head of PE at a school in Glasgow. She has full access to an 11 a side pitch and 3 5 a side pitches everyday from 0900-1530, the problem is once the kids are changed and out very little sport takes place due to time contraints of a 1hr lesson. So they used to run after school sports clubs (everything for badminton, shinty, football, dance, gymnastic's, tennis, hockey) but now the money grabbing council will charge them for anytime after 1500 even if the pitch is not booked.

    In terms of the Olympic legacy, I think sports like cycling will benefit more, as up untill now there has been 1 velodrome in the UK in Manchester but now there will be 2 (3 after the Glasgow Commenwealth games). I for one can't wait for the Olympics, its almost once in a life time event, and I hope the legacy and the herigtage will live up to the promises.

  • Comment number 19.

    I agree with the point about calling people to find out if they participate in sport, if your active and playing sport your far less likely to be in to answer the phone in the first place! This will alter the stats straight away. Are goverments really relying on such spurious evidence. I really hope not, but it wouldn't surprise me to much.

    Could_do_better please please please. The NHS is there to serve people it's what they do. You sound like an accountant for the health and safety executive. The world is full of risk, if we all stayed in all the time stats would show that most injuries are caused in the home. Surely your better off staying fit and risking injury than sitting rotting in an armchair.

    First ever comment on here, feel more chuffed than I should about that!
    C'mon the Wolves!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    It is great to see the focus of effort at addressing the decline in youth sports participation. More can be done though to ensure that those charities who are delivering growth are supported to develop long term plans rather than short term initiatives. At London Youth Games, we have tripled participation of young people in our competitions bucking the national trend - this is by ensuring we make competition a great experience for all of our competitors and volunteers.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ could_do_better

    I wonder how your stats would compare to the cost of treating the obese nation that we have become. Treating spirialing heart disease cases, smokers etc that could be potentially cut with an increase in sport.

    I really hope your comment is a joke, Its that sort of attitude that see's us perform poorly in sporting league tables, and top all the wrong ones.


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