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Olympic Legacy

MIke collins, former Head of Research, Planning and Strategy at Sport England, offers his opinions on the state of british sports policy, legacy and research

Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 1
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Britain's Olympic legacy / PIC: ©www.shutterstock.com
Britain's Olympic legacy/ PIC: ©www.shutterstock.com

In the short term, the ‘warned-off’ effect that occurs in every summer Olympic Games host city seemed very noticeable in central London, with The Financial Times remarking how empty hotel beds, theatre seats and West End shops created a ‘ghost town.’

It suggested the 100,000 Games visitors were not spending what the normal 300,000 tourists do, and British Retail Consortium figures suggested that they were down 0.4 per cent on 2011.

This effect occurs during every Olympics, but it was perhaps more noticeable in London – the world’s largest retail and theatre concentration. It’s important for future Games planning to drill into the data and to see whether (and how much) visitors spend before they go home.

Impact on participation
No summer Games has produced an increase in sports participation. Indeed, five years after the Athens 2004 Games, participation in Greece had fallen below the pre-Games level. Research into the ‘soft legacy’ of the 2004 Athens Olympics by Dr Sakis Pappous, of the University of Kent’s Centre for Sport Studies, shows that the Athens Olympics failed to spark a sustained increase in people taking part in a sport or other exercise activity. (For more information and data on the impact of the Olympic Games on participation, see Coalter, 2004; McCartney et al, 2010).

Sport England’s huge Active People survey showed a small increase in participation three months before the London event after two years of decline, which can be attributed to the recession.

The final data on the sixth Active People survey – covering 2011-12 – suggests that there has been a modest increase in participation in the last year, notably by women, people in the upper social groups and those with a disability. The sports that have the most impressive increases in participation levels were cycling, athletics, swimming and tennis.

Given the recession’s length and severity, it seems unlikely that this increase will be any better sustained than the small annual surge of demand for tennis courts immediately after Wimbledon.

London’s Legacy
London 2012 delivered a great spectacle and enthralling festival of sport, as many of us in the business knew it would. What follows for legacy?

1. Budgets
Usually governments cut sports budgets after the Olympics, on the dubious argument that ‘you’ve had your turn now it’s somebody else’s.’ I agree with Lord Moynihan that if the coalition wants a sporting and anti-obesity legacy, it should not do so this time.

2. Schools
Schools need better support, such as proper training for primary teachers of PE, instead of relying on schools taking up voluntary and self-funded training offered by the Youth Sport Trust.

They also need the manpower and co-ordination that Michael Gove cut when he abolished the Youth Sport Strategy in 2009 – one of the worst decisions of the coalition. He also needs to support girls better. Many of them dislike competition which is at the core of his rather outdated, public-school policy for school sport. Also, disabled pupils still get a poor choice of activities and inadequate trained support. Moreover, the Sport and Recreation Alliance criticised the new English Baccalaureat for sidelining PE, like the arts, as a non-core subject.

3. For those with learning difficulties
Many people with learning difficulties are excellent athletes, as the Special Olympics show. HMG should consider pressing the International Paralympic Committee to take in this large group who are under-recognised and under provided for across the world.

4. For those with disabilities
After an even more successful Paralympics than expected, with 120 medals and 2.7m ticket sales covering the £45m running costs and such
enthusiasm that in closing the Games, Lord Coe said it had changed how we see disability, will the legacy be sustained?

Despite a modest £2m contribution from the Legacy Fund, we are now left with the coalition’s proposed cuts in Disability Allowances, the banning of disabled people by some commercial fitness centres and the ignorance of sports clubs which declare no discrimination, but whose physical resources, knowledge and attitudes have never been tested by a disabled person’s application.

5. Doctors and medics
Many GPs do not know about the latest physical activity guidelines, so the medical profession needs to improve initial and in-service training for GPs.

6. The proposed National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine
This is to be established in the Olympic Park, but only the initial capital has been found, and the research councils are saying it will have to compete with long-established biomedical centres for revenue; this is giving a legacy with one hand and taking it with the other.

The centre needs an initial endowment of staff and equipment from government and the research councils if it is to help elite athletes before the Rio Games and the general population in the foreseeable future.

7. Joined up government
First, the recent Select Committee on Science and Technology commented dryly “we find it quite remarkable that DCMS is not concerned with the health benefits of sport”: Minister Hugh Robertson had said DCMS is “not concerned with the bigger drive on the nation’s health”.

This is purblind so far as the 2012 legacy is concerned, and ignores the experience of Finland, the country his predecessors chose as a model, where government departments and agencies for exercise, health and nutrition have worked hand-in-hand for 30 years, to turn round that nation’s health.

Second, it would cost government nothing to give English and Welsh local authorities a duty to provide sport and recreation like that of their Scottish counterparts, but it would signal the importance of this work, help them work with health agencies and help the hard-pressed professionals to make the best of their budgets and programmes. At present, sport and leisure are taking above-average cuts, with which Mr Robertson has concurred and not fought. Some local legacy!

Third, the government should work with the new National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine to produce a national sports medicine strategy.

Fourth, it should implement its 2002 intention (DCMS/Strategy Unit) to institute a well-funded and sustained social marketing strategy – more robust than the cuddly Change4Life programme.

The need is to find an incentive that will get sedentary people active.

Conclusions
The enthusiasm of eight thousand torch carriers, 8.8 million ticket buyers and the thousands who lined cycle and running routes and went into Hyde Park, local parks and pubs to celebrate medal winning could fade in the cold light of recession. Legacy, as Seb Coe said, is as much hard work as the initial planning, and without vigorous leadership, it could soon be forgotten.

Participation in forest recreation

Forest recreation has often been neglected in the total span of countryside visiting. When the Countryside Commission oversaw rural recreation, visits to forests were distinguished in its surveys, but now Natural England has the job, its annual Monitoring Engagement with the Natural Environment survey doesn’t distinguish forest visitors to either public or private sites, but loses them among countryside visitors in general. This leaves smaller, sporadic surveys by Forest Research in England, Wales and Scotland separately and this is unhelpful in the light of government u-turns and accepting that the public forest estate should not be sold, but retained and better managed. This change followed 40,000 public replies and opposition from the National Trust and the Ramblers’ Association.

Forest recreation has been often neglected
Forest recreation has been often neglected

State of sports research

The DCMS has been conducting a survey of sport, arts and heritage called Taking Part, which looked at 14,000 adults and 2,700 children aged 5-15 and there’s a consultation about combining this with Active People. The preferred DCMS/Sport England option would provide the data offered by both of them combined, through a mixture of face-to-face and telephone interviews with an experimental element of mobile phone and internet questioning, which could reduce the costs further.

For 20 years I’ve argued that a large combined survey, were it to happen, could accommodate numerous longitudinal panels to identify the dynamics of change that managers and marketing officers in local and health authorities, as well as governing bodies of sport, need to know about for large demographic elements of the sample and also – say – the top 16 most popular sports.

At the moment, such changes can only be analysed via the patterns that emerge from the current series of cross-sectional samples, however large. It’s crucial to know more about the people entering and leaving the sporting scene, and this could then be followed up by a smaller number of face-to-face interviews to identity satisfactions and dislikes and changing circumstances, as is done in other industries. But DCMS and Sport England have not offered this option in their consultation.

School Sport
Moreover, now the Secretary of State for Education has cancelled the Sport Strategy for Young People and its annual survey of provision in and out of schools, there will be no regular monitor of what happens and we won’t be able to assess the results of his Edwardian-style policy which is focussed around competitive sport with its bias towards team games and provision for boys over the needs of girls.

The Guardian recently suggested that Gove wants a new school sports programme linked to healthy activity which is elective, while The Secretary of State for Health, not surprisingly, wants a national policy, since obesity and inactivity do not respect local authority boundaries.

More info...

Mike Collins is a Companion of CIMSPA and visiting professor at the University of Gloucestershire. References can be obtained from him [email protected]

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