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Physical Activity & Sport, The Olympics & Paralympics, Uncategorized

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.

About ProfMikeWeed

Professor of Applied Policy Sciences | Head of Human and Life Sciences | Strategic Director, Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) | Editor, Journal of Sport & Tourism


One thought on “Delivering or Demonstrating a London 2012 Sporting Legacy?

  1. Great post Mike. Couldn’t agree more.

    Such a shame that there is so little understanding of the demand side of sport amongst policy makers.

    Posted by John Ainsworth | December 11, 2011, 8:10 pm

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