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.
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.