Jun 16 2013

A lasting legacy from the Games

The latest figures produced by the Active Sport survey show that the number of people playing sport has dropped, when compared with levels before the London Olympics. The naysayers who delight in scorning the Games as a vast waste of money  will jump on these figures in delight, and claim the legacy commitments have failed. The defenders are insisting the cold weather has been the contributing factor and that rise in participation that started before the Games will be recovered after this temporary blip (from 14.5 million people playing sport at least once a week in October 2012 to 15.3 million in April 2013).

Our work on behaviour change indicates it’s too early for either side to claim a victory. Encouraging people to adopt a sporting habit for life is no easy feat. As with other desirable life-improving habits such as stopping smoking or healthy eating, the biggest test is in maintaining the behaviour over the long-term. So it’s vital that everyone involved with promoting sports participation is able to, and committed, to measuring levels for the next 10 years, in order to genuinely determine if the Games have succeeded in touching the lives of ordinary Britons by transforming their commitment to sport. Short-term fluctuations such as this six-month drop tell us nothing about the overall trend.

For me, the Games will have succeeded if inspires and motivates those who have previously been uninterested in sport. To do this, people need to be provided with opportunities to try the broadest range of sports that are out there. I believe there is a sport out there for everyone, but they have to be given the chance and means to find it. I love swimming, as do £2.8million other Britons who regularly swim. But I’m aware, and often reminded by friends, that it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Just like team sports fail to interest me because I don’t want my sport participation to be subject to the changing availability and commitment of others. So it’s essential that all sports advocates, from national governing bodies, sports facility providers and local youth groups all look to broaden access and appeal.

Last week I heard of a scheme that seemed to be an excellent example of this. Zoggs, the swimwear company have provided free open access events for children at swimming pools around the country at which they can try not just swimming and diving, but also water polo and synchronised swimming. In turn this was followed-up with a free invitation for parents to go and swim locally. Brand promotion aside, I really hope that more companies will get involved in helping to provide taster sessions, targeted at particular community/social groups. Only then, once we have people starting sport, can we truly turn our attention to long-term maintenance.