London 2012 Olympic Legacy and Sports Participation

The government has announced a 9 week consultation period as part of its new initiative to get more people active. As a personal trainer in London I really wish the government had a genuine ambition to encourage the nation to exercise more and get involved in sport, but I don’t believe they are prepared to invest nearly enough to make the impact needed.

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch

The new sports minister said that there are challenges to address to help further improve sport in this country. I can think of one such challenge: Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, who slashed funding for school sports partnerships, to the tune of £162 million. Another challenge: the policy to sell off state school sports fields to private property developers.

Tracey Crouch went on to say that the government wants to ensure that public money is targeted at those organisations which can best encourage people to get more active and play more sport. So why has George Osborne slashed funding for local authorities, restricting their ability to build new community sports & fitness facilities in their local boroughs?

Nothing the new sports minister has said gives me a shred of confidence that she is ambitious to boost sports and exercise in the UK. Serious investment is needed, and there’s no sign of this commitment.

Investment in Team GB

The wording of the consultation document betrays the lack of understanding of how much investment is needed: “The most pressing question for Olympic & Paralympic sport after Rio 2016 is how to sustain our success without the costs continuing to escalate to a point where they are unsustainable to be supported from the Olympic purse.”

This shows a huge lack of understanding on so many levels. What is unsustainable is continually penny-pinching and expecting Team GB to survive on a shoestring. When spending on Team GB is seen as an investment rather than merely a cost, there will be a much better chance of future British Olympic success across a wider range of sports.

This lack of understanding spills over into the funding of community exercise and sports facilities throughout London and the UK. The government can’t see past the cost of construction and maintenance, it repeatedly fails to take into account the cost of not having these facilities.

Sport England Figures

In the 12 months to March 2015 a total of 15.49 million adults (16+) engaged in sports/exercise every week, down from 15.9 million in 2012, the peak of physical activity in recent years. Two thirds of adults still don’t engage in any sports or exercise, and in poorer communities this proportion rises to three quarters.

Has the London 2012 Olympics delivered on the legacy promise of boosting sports and exercise participation in the years following the Olympics? Sadly not. There are now fewer adults physically active than in 2012, and fewer kids playing sport.

Swimming

For cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance, swimming is a fantastic form of exercise. But to build and maintain public pools, it takes a lot of investment. Australia understands this, and most towns & cities in Australia have at least 1 Olympic size 50 metre pool. The results speak for themselves.

According to Sport England, the number of people swimming is down by 729,000 in the last decade. We need a big investment programme in London to upgrade public swimming pools and build new ones. That won’t happen under a government which sees only the costs and fails to see the benefits.

The biggest winners of the 2012 Olympic Legacy

West Ham United are huge winners, securing the Olympic Stadium for a low rent, with £604 million of public money contributing to the conversion into a football stadium.

Coca Cola and McDonalds are huge winners too, benefiting from all that sponsorship publicity and the ‘halo’ effect of being associated with sports & fitness on a huge international stage seen by millions around the world on TV. Is it right that kids now associate junk food with sports & fitness?

Tessa Jowell

The former Olympics Minister, and now the bookies favourite to become the next London Mayor, says that the Olympic legacy has been squandered. I agree.

The London 2012 Olympics has certainly inspired more people to watch sport on TV, but that won’t get people fit & healthy. London 2012 was a prime opportunity for huge investment in grassroots sport, to capture that enthusiasm from the Olympics and channel it into more sports and fitness activity, particularly among kids.

School Sports

Rather than selling off playing fields to property developers, why not invest in more sports teachers with degrees in Exercise Science to increase sports and exercise in the school curriculum, and make far more intensive use of existing facilities.

Chris Gratton

Adviser to Sport England, Chris Gratton points to poverty and inequality as key barriers to participation in sport.

He calls for more community facilities which are affordable for people in poorer areas. Two good examples are the new Manor Park Fitness Centre in Newham, and the new Atherton Leisure Centre  – also in Newham, on Romford Road – currently being rebuilt to be bigger and better than before.

National advertising campaigns

Wouldn’t it be great if sports stars contributed their time for free, to create a range of national TV ads which promote healthy eating, taking more exercise, playing more sport? Kids look up to their sporting heros, particularly football stars, and this would have a big impact.

A more exercise-friendly London

There are two forms of activity that you can do for free: walking and running. However, it takes government to make our capital more exercise friendly.

Boris Johnson has failed as London Mayor to reduce air pollution, and this is a major downside of walking and running in London. And our city streets are so pedestrian hostile: not enough riverside walkways, too few pedestrian crossings, too few pedestrian/cycle only bridges over the Thames, too long a wait at pedestrian crossings before you can cross on foot, not enough segregated cycle lanes (although things are improving slowly for cyclists). We need to make London more pedestrian and cycle friendly.

I would love to see the government get serious about the nation’s health and fitness, but I’ve seen very little evidence of this happening on the scale needed to turn things around.

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London, and founder of Fitness Buddy, a free social network for Londoners.

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