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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.

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


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