Inspiring a Generation to Keep Calm and Carry On?… with Failures of Ambition and Strategy, #What2012Legacy for Sport?

Sport participation has undoubtedly been the most discussed legacy ambition for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, largely due to the promise to ‘Inspire a Generation’ and the previous government’s high profile legacy target to get one million more people playing more sport by 2012/13. Although this target was dropped by the Coalition government, the ‘more meaningful national measure’ that the government claimed would replace it has never materialised. Furthermore, in Beyond 2012: The London 2012 Legacy Story, the government’s somewhat premature celebration of legacy published four months before the Games began, the two participation focused priorities – address falling participation rates in sport’ and ‘tackle high numbers of young people turning away from sport’ – hardly sound like measures of an ambition to Inspire a Generation.

A Failure of Ambition? 

Is it really the case that the Coalition government’s ‘more meaningful national measure’ for a sport participation legacy from the London 2012 Games is to make sure that there are not fewer people playing sport after 2012 than were doing so before the Games?  Is the ambition to Inspire a Generation to Keep Calm and Carry On? This is certainly what Beyond 2012 suggests, and this is justified by the Sport Minister’s claim that ‘When we embarked on this challenge, the backdrop could hardly have been tougher.  Sports participation rates in the UK had been stagnant for many years’. Yet this is simply not true.  Active People, the government’s own survey of sports participation, which provides official national statistics, shows that the average per annum increases in regular sports participation in the two years before the four-year London Olympiad (2006/7 and 2007/8) were 4% per year, with participation rates subsequently remaining relatively stable over the course of the London Olympiad.  Given that figures beyond October 2011 were not available when Beyond 2012 was published, the available data hardly justifies a claim of many years of stagnation in participation, and the data certainly does not indicate that there are ‘falling participation rates in sport’ to be addressed.
Nevertheless, the ‘legacy story’ now being told is that maintaining rather than increasing sport participation is the success indicator for a London 2012 sport participation legacy.  But how will this standstill in participation be achieved?  What strategies have been put in place to leverage the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to make a difference in terms of new funding for programmes, or to make new or existing programmes distinctive as a result of an association with the Games. In short, what sport participation programmes could not or would not have taken place in the absence of the Games (see #What2012Legacy? How can we assess the success of London 2012 legacy strategy?).

A Failure of Strategy?

While there has been a tendency to claim all aspects of sport policy as ‘delivering’ or ‘securing’ an Olympic legacy, Beyond 2012 presented, as indicators of a sport participation legacy, the investment of an additional ‘£500million in sport through government lottery reforms’, of ‘£1billion in youth sport over the next five years through the new youth sport strategy’, and a ‘£135million Places People Play programme to improve the nation’s sports facilities’.  Of course, these are not indicators of legacy at all, rather they are inputs and investments. The measures of success of legacy strategy for sport should be: (a) whether these are investments that would have or could have taken place without the Games (ie, should they be considered to be part of legacy strategy in the first place), and; (b) whether actual increases in participation can be attributed to inputs and investments.
Some examples of the ‘achievements’ that have been presented are that 6,000 community sports clubs will be created by local schools and that the School Games have been established, to which 12,000 schools across England have signed up.  However, no evidence has been presented to show whether the quantity and/or quality of children’s and young people’s participation has improved, nor how the School Games performs in comparison to the previous School Sport Partnership programme, from which funding of £162million was cut by the Coalition government in December 2010
However, the question of whether actual increases in participation can be attributed to inputs and investments is secondary to whether those investments and inputs should be considered part of legacy strategy in the first place.  In total, Beyond 2012 claims over £1.6billion investment in sport as part of legacy strategy.  However, the vast majority of this (the £500million from lottery reforms, and the £1billion for youth sport) is not additional money, simply the detail of how sport funding will be allocated, and as such there is little evidence that the Games is making a difference to sport programmes through additional financial resources.  Furthermore, the youth sport strategy into which £1billion will be invested over the next five years contains no elements that are thematically distinctive as a result of an association with the Games, nor is there any evidence that the £500million of lottery funding will create such distinctive programmes.  As such, it seems that this £1.5billion investment would have taken place, and that the programmes could have taken place, in the absence of the Games.  Consequently the vast majority of the investment in sport participation claimed as part of a London 2012 sport participation legacy strategy is neither additional nor distinctive as a result of the Games, and therefore should not be considered part of legacy strategy at all.
It therefore matters not what current or future data shows, because there has been no distinctive London 2012 sport participation legacy strategy developed to achieve the ambition to Inspire a Generation to Keep Calm and Carry On!
This blog is the second in a series exploring what legacies have been leveraged from the London 2012 Games.  Follow #What2012Legacy for previous blogs, and those coming up in the next few days and weeks.
The content of this blog is derived from “London 2012 Legacy Strategy: Did it deliver?” by @ProfMikeWeed, chapter 20 in volume two of the Handbook of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
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#What2012Legacy? How can we assess the success of London 2012 legacy strategy?

There is no legacy!  This is what the weight of evidence from two worldwide systematic reviews suggests about the socio-economic legacies most often sought from major multisport events such as the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Or, to be more precise, there is no inherent legacy.  Rather, ‘advanced planning and long-term legacy goals are required’ to secure legacy benefits, ‘merely hosting the 2012 Games is not enough to develop a sustained legacy.  Legacies must be leveraged’.  This tells us that, contrary to much political belief, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are not in and of themselves an intervention to secure legacy outcomes.  Rather, it is the strategies employed to harness the Games to seek to deliver legacy outcomes that are the intervention.  So, social and economic legacies are potential benefits NOT inherent effects.

No addition to the Games funding package for legacy.

The potential legacy of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in London was articulated to the International Olympic Committee from the outset as the raison detre of the London 2012 bid.  No previous potential host had been so ambitious or explicit about seeking to use the Olympic and Paralympic Games as a catalyst for economic and social good, not only in the host city, but across the host country and beyond. However, in 2008, the UK government set out a strategy which stated: ‘Many of the benefits will come from enhancing existing programmes, and within existing Departmental budgets. There is therefore no addition to the total Games funding package of £9.3 billion’.

How ‘additionality’ works – Distinctiveness and Difference.

While it is possible to criticise the above approach on the basis that it does not provide additionality because it is reliant on financial resources already committed to existing programmes, it is not just additional financial resources that signify the additionality of programmes.  The additionality of programmes is also derived from the additional political and practitioner support and enthusiasm generated by the Games and, most significantly, from additional specific thematic emphases that would not have been possible in the absence of the Games.  In short, additionality is related to the distinctiveness and difference of programmes. This means that genuine legacy strategy will either add value to existing programmes, making them distinctive as a result of their association with the Games, or will create new programmes that will be distinctive as a result of their association with the Games.

Attributing additionality to legacy programmes.

Distinctiveness should be clearly articulated in the objectives for legacy programmes, which should outline how programme inputs (financial resources, themes and support) will be deployed in a way that makes distinctive use of the Games to generate legacy outputs and outcomes. If the Games have led to additional financial resources being made available for a programme, or to additional specific thematic emphases being made possible for a programme, or to additional practitioner or political support and enthusiasm that materially affects programme outputs, then that programme might legitimately be attributed to legacy strategy.  Any investments or programmes for which additionality cannot be demonstrated should not be attributed to legacy strategy, rather they should be regarded as parallel programmes that would have taken place anyway, but that just happen to be taking place in and around a time at which an Olympic and Paralympic Games is being hosted.

Two legacy strategy questions.

In seeking to establish what might legitimately be claimed as legacy strategy there are two questions that might be asked, one of attribution, and one of additionality.  The attribution question is ‘would this programme have taken place in the absence of the Games?’  If the answer to this question is yes, then it is a parallel programme that SHOULD NOT be attributed to legacy strategy.  The additionality question is ‘could this programme have taken place in largely the same format without the Games?’  If the answer to this question is yes, then SERIOUS QUESTIONS MUST BE ASKED about how far the Games are making the programme distinctive, and thus how far the programme should be attributed to legacy strategy.  Of course, some programmes that could have taken place in the absence of the Games would not have done so because funding would not have been available for them, and in such cases the Games has made a difference to programmes in terms of making financial resources available for them, but has NOT made programmes distinctive as a result of their association with the Games.

How can we learn from London’s legacy experience?

The distinction between distinctiveness and difference is an important one, because a programme to which the Games has made a difference in terms of financial resources should be replicable given the same level of financial resource in the absence of the Games, whereas a programme which has been made distinctive as a result of an association with the Games is unlikely to be replicable in the absence of an Olympic and Paralympic Games.  This obviously has important implications for those seeking to learn from London’s legacy experiences.
This blog is the first in a series that will explore what legacies have been leveraged from the London 2012 Games.  These blogs will show that, on the basis of the above approach to assessing London 2012 legacy strategy, much of what is being claimed as London 2012 legacy success by politicians is not actually legacy at all.  Follow #What2012Legacy for this series of blogs, coming up in the next few days and weeks.
The content of this blog is derived from “London 2012 Legacy Strategy: Did it deliver?” by @ProfMikeWeed, chapter 20 in volume two of the Handbook of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
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Why Physical Activity Promotion Policy Isn’t Helping the Fight Against Cancer… Or Why I’m Joining Cancer Research UK’s Dryathlon

Think of research into cancer and the image that comes to mind is of laboratory based research into the biological processes that cause or that might cure cancer, but the work of Cancer Research UK is about protection and possible prevention as well as causes and cures. While Cancer Research UK themselves are realistic that their goal of developing cures for all cancers won’t be achieved in our lifetime (although important advances in cancer care can and have been made), they are also clear that immediate benefits can be achieved through both research into what lifestyle choices might protect against cancer, and by understanding how information about healthy lifestyles can be communicated.

Physical Activity Policy Failure – Don’t Recommend What You Can’t Sell

One of the key components of a healthy lifestyle that has been shown to offer some protection against cancers is physical activity. Elsewhere I have argued that depending solely on physiological research into the health benefits of exercise to establish physical activity recommendations without considering how such recommendations might be communicated and received is a recipe for policy failure. And the failure of such policy is reflected in the fact that around two-thirds of men and three-quarters of women do less than the recommended levels of physical activity, with a significant proportion of those being entirely sedentary. In short, recommending what you can’t sell is pure folly.

Cancer Research UK and Physical Activity

As well as funding research into the protective possibilities of physical activity, Cancer Research UK also seeks to communicate such benefits, and to lobby for improved policy for physical activity promotion. In addition to seeking an increase in safe and accessible places for physical activity and lobbying for a greater focus on promoting the benefits of activity among older people, Cancer Research UK’s policy on physical activity is to encourage government to take a more connected and co-ordinated approach to physical activity promotion, and to increase the priority of physical activity in the school curriculum through increasing the range of opportunities for children to become more active. Unfortunately, current government policy isn’t helping on either count.

Why Government Physical Activity Promotion Policy Isn’t Helping

A lack of joined up thinking across government doesn’t make the connections (or recognise the contradictions) between policies to promote competitive sport, wider physical activities, and incidental lifestyle activity such as active travel. Disparate policies fail to recognise: (i) that competitive sport messages put off the least active; (ii) the futility of developing a product (150 minutes of exercise per week as the minimum required for health benefits) that can’t be sold to the least active; (iii) that ‘finger-wagging” at the least active for being unhealthy is counter-productive.  And the Olympics hasn’t helped: government policy needs to understand that chunky Boris Johnson careering along in a suit is a far better role model to inspire the least active to get on their bikes than a lycra-clad Sir Chris Hoy setting records in the Olympic velodrome.
Nowhere, though, is this lack of joined up thinking more evident than in policy for physical education in schools. The Olympic Games has led a misguided government, driven by sport policy imperatives, to suggest compulsory competitive sport in primary schools. Unfortunately, this outdated ideology that competitive sport universally inspires and teaches lessons for life is less likely to invoke a modern day Chariots of Fire than it is to be a throwback to Kes. And with the abolition in the year before London 2012 of School Sport Partnerships, a network of education-led professionals that understood that it takes more than competitive sport to physically educate children and young people, there is now little to offer a counterbalance to the idea of compulsory competitive team games for five year olds.

Two Reasons Why I am Joining Cancer Research UK’s January Dryathlon

This is hardly the joined up thinking or wide range of opportunities for young people to get active that Cancer Research UK are lobbying for. And it is the first reason why I am supporting Cancer Research UK in January 2013 by joining their Dryathlon, in which I won’t touch a drop of alcohol from 9am on 1st January 2013 to 9am on 1st February 2013.
The second reason?  In 2011, the year that my daughter was born, a newborn child had (and still has) a ONE IN THREE chance of being diagnosed with some form of cancer during its lifetime. Supporting an organisation that, firstly, seeks to reduce the likelihood that my daughter will develop cancer by funding research into the lifestyle choices that might protect against it, and, secondly, that supports research to increase the chances that my daughter will survive cancer if she is the unlucky one in three, is the second reason why I am going a month without alcohol, one of my favourite things. And I am not asking anyone to sponsor me, rather to NOT buy me a drink – find out how my Cancer Research UK Dryathlon will work HERE.
I’ll be micro-blogging daily 280 character updates on my Dryathlon progress on my JUST GIVING site, and will re-tweet some of these via @ProfMikeWeed on Twitter. If you would like to support my Cancer Research UK Dryathlon, you might like to know that my usual tipple is a pint or two of Coors, which can probably be bought for around £2.50 in the cheaper parts of the UK. So if you would like to support the work of Cancer Research UK by NOT buying me a couple of drinks in January, please text “COOR52 £5″ to 70070.
Cures for all cancers are some way off, but the work of Cancer Research UK demonstrates that more effective physical activity promotion policy might help individuals make lifestyle choices that might protect against cancer. Please support my Dryathlon and support Cancer Research UK.
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Blame the Data and Remove the Goalposts – How to Mask National Olympic Legacy Policy Failings!

In Singapore in 2005, Lord Coe, the Chair of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, secured the 2012 Games for London with a bid presentation including a promise to inspire a new generation to choose sport.  Yet, as the popular press is fond of reminding us, no previous Games has raised national participation in sport and physical activity. Furthermore, a systematic review in the BMJ in 2010 concluded that “the available evidence is not sufficient to confirm or refute expectations about the health or socio-economic benefits for the host population of previous major multi-sport events”.

No Evidence for INHERENT legacies

However, this is not the full picture.  Whilst it is true that no previous Games has resulted in sustained increases in sport and physical activity participation in national populations, it is also true that no previous Games has attempted to raise population levels of sport and physical activity participation.  Participation data has merely been examined ex-poste to explore whether Olympic and Paralympic Games have affected participation levels.  Consequently, the BMJ review should be interpreted to mean that there is no evidence for an inherent sport and physical activity participation legacy effect, in which benefits occur automatically.

Reasonable Legacy Ambitions?

So what does this mean for London 2012?  Was it reasonable to suggest back in 2005 that a national sport and physical activity participation legacy could be delivered?  In short, yes!  The lack of evidence for national participation legacies following previous Games that had not attempted to deliver such legacies is not an indication that a national sport and physical activity participation legacy could not be leveraged from London 2012.  In fact, a worldwide systematic review of evidence, conducted by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University for the Department of Health, provides evidence that mechanisms associated with Olympic and Paralympic Games have had a positive effect on sport participation where specific initiatives have been put in place to leverage such participation.  However, such initiatives have not been on a large enough scale to affect national levels of sport and physical activity participation, hence the lack of evidence for an inherent effect in the BMJ review.

National Policy Failures

So, armed with this evidence about how sport and physical legacies might be developed, surely good progress must be being made towards delivering a national sport and physical activity legacy from the London 2012 Games?  Well, unfortunately not!  Evidence from Sport England’s Active People Survey shows sport participation in England has increased by an average of only 38,000 a year over the last three years.  The problem is that although evidence suggests London 2012 could have boosted the nation’s sport and physical activity participation given the right strategic approach, national legacy policies have not incorporated this evidence into a coherent national legacy strategy.  Instead, the legacy aspirations of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, like those of Lord Coe, have been pinned on the hope that there will be an inherent inspiration effect from the Games, with England’s Mass Participation Legacy Plan, Places People Play, focusing almost solely on supply: of facilities, of fields, of leaders, and of opportunities.  However, this is not Field of Dreams – there is no evidence to suggest that if you build a sport supply infrastructure, people will come! People will not come because there is no strategy in place to simulate demand.  Consequently, the lack of progress towards a national sport and physical activity participation legacy from London 2012 is a policy failing, in which national legacy strategy has not been informed by the available evidence.

Blaming the Data

Unsurprisingly, a policy failing is not one of the explanations respectively offered by Lord Coe and Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.  Lord Coe blames the data, believing that the Active People Survey fails to capture sport participation legacy outcomes, and suggesting that it should not be trusted because Sport England, which commissions the survey, has “singularly failed”.  As alternative evidence, Lord Coe suggests “if you speak to [the British Cycling performance director] Dave Brailsford he will tell you he’s got half a million more cyclists than pre-Beijing”.  However, Active People provides official National Statistics, and since 2005 has been conducted by two highly respected market research companies, IpsosMORI and TNS-BMRB. Each year its sample size exceeds 175,000, which provides accuracy to within 0.2%.  The same cannot be said of the anecdotal view of a national performance director, however genuinely-held it may be.

Removing the Goalposts

In contrast to Lord Coe, Jeremy Hunt does not suggest National Statistics are flawed.  Rather he claims an inappropriate legacy target was set by the previous government, which promised to get one million more adults participating in sport by 2012/13.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has now dropped this target, because Mr Hunt believes a “more meaningful national measure” is required.  However, with less than 2012 hours to go to the Games, a more meaningful national measure has yet to be announced.  Consequently, and somewhat conveniently, by effectively removing the goalposts the DCMS has now ensured that there is no nationally endorsed target against which government policy can be judged to have failed to deliver a national sport and physical activity participation legacy.
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Delivering or Demonstrating a London 2012 Sporting Legacy?

From the ambitions of the final bid presentation that secured the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for London in Singapore in 2005, through the legacy promises made in the previous Labour government’s legacy action plan published in 2008, to the Coalition government’s rationalised Plans for the Legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games published in December 2010, sporting, social, cultural and economic development legacies have all been referenced. Labour’s legacy action plan and the Coalition’s more recent plans for legacy each appear to give equal billing to legacies in different areas. However, undoubtedly the sport participation legacy is ‘first among equals’ in the minds of the IOC, LOCOG, the government and the UK media.

Sport Legacy Targets

Sport participation legacy ambitions were integrated throughout the Singapore bid presentation, whilst Labour’s legacy action plan allocated almost twice as many pages to the sport promise than to any other legacy area. Unfortunately for the Coalition, with its aversion to targets, the previous government set a very clear and very public legacy target for sport participation – that a million more adults in England would be inspired to play sport at least three times a week by 2012/13 – a target that is easy for the media to understand, and that is derived from the most robust rolling survey of sport participation habits ever carried out in England, the Active People Survey. While the Coalition has tried to distance itself from this target, as yet (Decemer 2011) it has been unable to come up with an alternative.
Following the election in May 2010, the Coalition had ‘quietly dropped’ a related target to get a further million people more active through more general informal activity, such as gardening or walking to work, and in March 2011 the Secretary of State for Culture, the Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, signalled that the sport participation target would also be dropped: “In an interview with the Guardian, Hunt confirmed the [physical activity] target had been quietly dropped shortly after the coalition government came to power. The [sport participation] target, towards which the sports have made only glacial progress, nominally remains in place for now but it is understood that it too will shortly be dropped in favour of a ‘more meaningful’ national measure.”

More Meaningful Measures?

Nine months after trailing the establishment of a ‘more meaningful national measure’, and with less than 250 days to go to the start of the Olympic Games, a ‘more meaningful’ measure has yet to be announced. Meanwhile, progress towards the one million target, which ‘nominally remains in place for now’ is such that this most prominent and most resonant of legacy goals is likely to be reached sometime around 2035. Unsurprising, then, that something ‘more meaningful’ is being sought, but with less than 250 days to go to the start of the Games it is difficult to see how establishing ‘a more meaningful national measure’ will contribute to the delivery of a sport participation legacy. Undoubtedly, though, changing the success indicator at this late stage could contribute significantly to the government’s ability to demonstrate that a legacy has been achieved.
The difference between seeking to deliver a legacy and seeking to demonstrate a legacy is an important one. If the imperative is the former, then strategies would be established in the belief that they would deliver genuine legacy outcomes over and above what could have been achieved with the same investment if the 2012 Games had not been awarded to London. If the imperative is the latter, then strategies would be established to ensure that the outcomes and impacts of as many programmes as possible could be claimed as demonstrating that legacies have been secured from the 2012 Games. Delivering legacies requires an understanding of what legacies are possible, how and for whom. Demonstrating legacies requires an understanding of methodological smoke and mirrors and political sleight of hand.

A Legacy of Supply?

While a legacy target provides a success indicator, it does not represent a sport participation legacy strategy, and in this respect the Coalition government does have some plans in place. Places People Play, the government’s ‘mass participation legacy plan’ was launched in November 2010, and is funded by £135m diverted from the National Lottery. However, the overwhelming majority of this £135m investment is in supply: £90m for facilities and fields, £2m for leaders and £4m for provision capacity. Even the sum of £32m to be invested in ‘Sportivate’, a programme of opportunities for 14-25 year olds, is for the supply of opportunities. As such, the government’s mass participation legacy plans contain no strategies to harness the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to stimulate demand. This appears to be because the government believe that there is an inherent inspiration to play sport deriving from hosting the Games in the UK, and that the only requirements of a legacy plan are to provide the supply to satisfy the increase in demand that will inevitably come, something that the Sport Minister, Hugh Robertson, implied at the launch of the plan: “With more Lottery money being invested in facilities, volunteering and protecting and improving playing fields, there will be opportunities for everyone to get involved. When people talk about the legacy of the Games, we want them to talk about Places People Play – and then we want them to get out there and join in.”
The only mention of demand here is that ‘we want them to get out there and join in’. However, ‘wanting’ something does not represent a strategy or a delivery plan, and as such the wholly supply-led mass participation legacy plan appears to be based on the assumption that if new facilities are built, people will come to use them. In this assumption, Robertson and his Coalition colleagues are likely to be correct. New facilities and fields carrying the London 2012 Inspire Mark are likely to be well used, but they are most likely to be used by people who are already participating in sport to play a little more often in a better surroundings, and people playing more often is not the same as more people playing.
However, counting the extent of new provision (numbers of new facilities and fields) and counting the numbers of people utilising such provision will provide some statistics that can be used to demonstrate that a sporting legacy is being achieved. But this will not change the fact that the latest results from the Active People Survey show that the number of adults participating in sport three times a week in England has only increased by an average of 38,000 a year in the last three years. This suggests that no matter how ‘more meaningful’ the Coalition government may wish it to be, counting the number of people, many of whom may be existing participants, that make use of improved provision carrying a London 2012 Inspire Mark does not represent the delivery of a mass participation legacy for sport. The places may be inspired by London 2012, but the people are not.

More Concern with Demonstrating a Legacy than Delivering One?

Following initial enthusiasm for legacy in the wake of winning the right to stage the 2012 Games, and Labour’s subsequent detailed legacy action plan, legacy strategy has more recently been rationalised by the Coalition, as might be expected in tough economic times. However, while legacy strategies for the 2012 Games have been rationalised, the £9.3bn Games delivery budget has not. Consequently, the British public has every right to expect a return from the £150 a head investment being made in the Games by the Treasury on its behalf.
Recent legacy strategy for sport participation has seen both legacy initiatives and success indicators being changed, dropped or re-branded in the final two years before the Games. This would appear to suggest a greater concern with demonstrating that legacies have been achieved than with actually delivering them. In fact, as there remains no politically endorsed ‘meaningful national measure’ for the sport participation legacy, it possible that we will never know whether the £9.3bn Games budget has been a successful legacy investment.
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The Difference between What’s Possible and What’s Probable: Why the Centre for Social Justice is Wrong on Olympic Legacy!

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) today launches a report “More than a Game: Harnessing the Power of Sport to Transform the Lives of Disadvantaged Young People”, in which it draws a number of conclusions relating to the sporting legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  While the general conclusion that it is probable that the “promise to deliver a sporting legacy across the country is unlikely to be met” is something that I have argued for some time, the CSJ’s four claims about the possibilities of Olympic sporting legacies are each flawed, dated, or just plain wrong.
CLAIM 1) “Previous Olympics such as the Sydney Games in Australia and the Manchester Commonwealth Games, both failed to produce any significant increase”: Setting aside the use of research on a single Olympic Games (Sydney) to make claims about “previous Olympics” in general, there are two problems with this claim.  Firstly, neither Sydney nor Manchester nor any previous major multi-sport event has sought to develop a sport participation legacy.  As such, it is hardly appropriate to draw conclusions about what is possible from events when the events considered have not employed strategies to lever a participation legacy. Secondly, a worldwide systematic review of the evidence for Olympic and Paralympic sport legacies by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) for the Department of Health showed that there have been changes (increases and decreases) in sport participation following previous Olympic Games and other major sport events.  In particular, the report finds evidence for ‘activity switching’ (people giving up one sport to try another).  This suggests that, for carefully targeted groups, a Demonstration Effect, in which people are inspired by elite sport, sports people and sports events to participate themselves, can increase participation: it can encourage those who have participated in the past to participate again, and it can encourage those who participate a little to participate a little more.  This effect has been seen in previous Games, but has not previously been effectively leveraged.
CLAIM 2) “Nearly half the most popular sports within UK schools, such as cricket, rounders and netball, do not even feature in the Games and will not get any boost from the 2012 event”:  Unfortunately, the CSJ presents no evidence that there is a link between the first and second parts of this sentence.  Clearly, the report misunderstands the nature of a Demonstration Effect, which it claims requires that “a mechanism must be developed for translating three weeks’ worth of publicity for one set of sports into sustainable participation in another, largely different set”.  However, a Demonstration Effect, properly leveraged, is based not on the stimulus from three weeks of the Games, but on the opportunity for new and unusual sports to benefit from four years of media coverage, promotion and development in the run up to the Games.  Certainly, SPEAR’s research across England, Scotland and Wales on National School Sport Week in 2010 showed that the opportunity to try new and unusual Olympic and Paralympic sports appealed to children regardless of whether they liked sport in the first place.  In short, the promotion of these sports within an Olympic and Paralympic themed week was effective in attracting children not normally likely to play sport.  In addition, SPEAR’s evidence-based guide, “Active Celebration: Using the London 2012 Games to Get the Nation Moving”, shows that the key to using London 2012 to encourage lapsed participants back into sport is to create nostalgia for the broader elements of sport (e.g. teamwork, competition, camaraderie), and that this is not linked to specific sports.
CLAIM 3) “The evidence shows that there is no link between national sporting success and increased levels of sporting activity”:  Unfortunately, this is the claim that is just plain wrong.  SPEAR conducted an analysis of the Active People (n=363,000) and the Satisfaction of the Quality of the Sport Experience (n=45,000) surveys for Sport England in 2009, which showed that a quarter of people who had been active at least once in the last year were “highly responsive” to a Demonstration Effect based on the national team’s success (ie, people rated a positive effect on their participation as 8, 9, or 10 out of 10).  Furthermore, among those who participated less than twice a week and were not club members, a third were highly responsive to this effect.  In addition, the SPEAR report identified specific segments within Sport England’s Market Segments among which the percentage highly responsive to this effect was as high as 40%.  The CSJ claims appear to have been undermined by using broad “across the board” participation figures, rather than a more granular approach to participation data.
CLAIM 4) “Specific plans to boost participation unveiled in November 2010 and backed by £135 million National Lottery funding have major weaknesses”:  This is a fair conclusion, but one that is rather dated.  Six months ago SPEAR’s analysis of Places People Play, the government’s Mass Participation Legacy Plan, showed that it will leave a lasting legacy, but it will not result in a new wave of mass participation in sport.  Over half a year ago, SPEAR’s analysis concluded that because the plan addresses supply at the expense of demand, “most likely, the Places People Play will be populated by the already sporty making hay while the Olympic and Paralympic sun shines”.
So why has the CSJ reached the right overall conclusion (that it is probable that the sport legacy promise is unlikely to be met) given that their claims about the possibilities for Olympic and Paralympic sporting legacies are flawed, dated or just plain wrong?  In short, while the CSJ claims about the possibilities for Olympic legacies are wrong, their overall conclusion is about the probability that an Olympic sporting legacy will be achieved.  The possibilities, which have been detailed in the critique of the CSJ claims above, represent what sporting legacies could have been achieved if appropriate evidence-based policies and strategies had been developed and implemented immediately following the Beijing 2008 Games.  However, the probabilities for London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sporting legacies represent what is likely to be achieved given the policies (or lack of policies) that have been implemented since Beijing 2008.  In short, the failure to achieve a sporting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a failure of policy not  possibilities.  That’s the difference between what was possible and what’s now probable for the London 2012 sporting legacy!
Posted in Physical Activity & Sport, Public Health, The Olympics & Paralympics | 2 Comments

Physical Activity and Sport: What Should We Recommend?

In his final annual report On the State of Public Health before retiring from the role of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in 2010, Sir Liam Donaldson highlighted the health benefits of physical activity, including sport, suggesting that “If a medication existed which had a similar effect, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or ‘miracle cure’”.  However, Sir Liam also noted that “Over the last 50 years, activity levels, particularly amongst the young, have fallen”.  So why have public health recommendations promoting “nature’s finest cure” been so unsuccessful?
1) What physical science says: Since 2004, the UK Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has recommended that for general health adults should take part in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least five times a week (5x30mins), whilst children should accumulate 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.  In the report that underpins these recommendations, these levels are promoted as being the minimum “necessary” for general health according to the scientific evidence.  Related to this evidence, Sport England’s policy goal is to increase participation in sport for thirty minutes at a time at least three times a week (3x30mins), based on the reasonable assumption that people taking part in sport at this level are likely to get another 2x30mins exercise in other ways.  More recently, however, there has been an increasing volume of research on the health benefits of short duration high intensity exercise. Reports of such research have been around for five years or so, but the volume of evidence is now increasing, and a recent University of West of Scotland Study was featured in the media last week.  The UWS study suggests that as little as four bouts of 30 seconds maximum effort exercise, interspersed with 30 second rest periods, on only three occasions each week (3x 4x30secs), may have equal, if not greater, health benefits  than the CMO’s recommendations of 5x30mins.
2) What behavioural science says: We know people can be motivated to be physically active and participate in sport in a number of ways.  There are external motivations such as reward (eg, payment or praise), external motivations that can become internalised (eg, the health benefits, sense of achievement or sociability of exercising or sport), and the truly intrinsic motivation of enjoying the physicality or movement of performing the activity itself (see the SPEAR Model in this report to Sport England, pp. 30-34). In many cases, internalised motivations are wrongly thought to be intrinsic motivations. Exercising to be healthy is not an intrinsic motivation – one does not need to enjoy the physical activity or sport itself to be motivated in this way.  Turning to aims around changing behaviour; we know that behaviour changes require two broad steps: firstly the development of a positive attitude towards a behaviour (thinking about change), and secondly a change in behaviour itself (see stages of change models in SPEAR’s report to the Department of Health, pp. 45-46). The problem group for physical activity and sport promotion is the proportion of the population who don’t even think about change.  These people can be put off physical activity and sport for many reasons: they may think that what is promoted as “necessary” for general health (5x30mins) is beyond their capabilities (this is called a competence gap), they may not be motivated by or value general health as an outcome, or they may react negatively to health messages that they perceive to be threats of consequences (eg, “if you don’t exercise you’ll have a heart attack”).
3) Why do we promote Physical Activity & Sport Participation? This is the vitally important question.  For the CMO and the Department of Health, physical activity and sport is not promoted for intrinsic reasons, but for its health benefits.  However, the sport community promotes sport as being important for intrinsic reasons of enjoyment, but also for a range of externalities such as health, the economy, sociability and socialisation, achievement, national pride and so on.   Now here’s the key: physical activity and/or sport can be valued by individuals for health outcomes, but still be regarded as a chore that isn’t enjoyable.  So, for those who are not yet even thinking about physical activity or sport participation, should we promote physical activity and sport on the basis of health benefits or on the basis of being an intrinsically and socially enjoyable activity?
4) Should we recommend what we can’t sell?  Given what we know about the underpinning physical and behavioural science, can the CMO’s recommendations that it is “necessary” to exercise at moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes at least five times a week for general health benefits be sold to those who are not even considering becoming more physically active or participating in sport?  If 5x30mins can’t be sold to this audience (and the relatively static participation figures across the UK suggests that it can’t) then, regardless of the physical science and medical evidence, the recommendations are pointless.
So, what can be done? Two alternative (or perhaps parallel) strategies suggest themselves.  On one hand, we could accept that doing physical activity and/or sport for health benefits is always likely to be regarded as an unpleasant chore (almost like taking medicine) for many people who are not active, and so we should make the pill as “un-bitter” to swallow as possible.  This is where the growing volume of research into the benefits of short duration high intensity exercise is important.  Performing four 30 second bouts of exercise with 30 seconds rest in between each (a total time of four minutes) three times a week (3x 4x30secs) is a much less bitter pill to swallow for those who do not like exercise than the CMO’s recommendations of 5x30mins exercise per week.  On the other hand, we could accept that health benefits do not appear to be working as motivations to engage those who are not physically active, and that they may even be off-putting to some audiences.  Alternative messages without any health references but focusing on, for example, enjoyment and sociability (eg, “Enjoy 30 Active Minutes”) or on green values in relation to active transport or the natural environment (eg, “Actively Save the Planet”) could be more widely used to capture those who, for whatever reasons, do not respond to health-related promotions of physical activity and sport.  What is clear, though, is that 3x 4x30secs will never be saleable as anything other than the least-bitter exercise for health option, whilst 5x30mins may be too much of a commitment to sell on the basis of health benefits alone.  For physical activity and sport promotion, it seems: For health or not for health…that is the question!
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