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Delivering Mass Sports Programmes

Promises, promises

"There's a direct link between elite success and participation in sport”

David Cameron 12 Aug 2012

" would seem that hosting events is not an effective, value for money method of achieving either a sustained increase in mass participation or sustainable international success."

DCMS, Game Plan, A strategy for delivering Governments sport and physical activity objectives, 2002, p75, (PDF) download

The Australian situation

"Since our disastrous one-bronze showing in Montreal (1976), Australian Olympic Committee policy has been to reserve the majority of government support for the development of “elite” sports. That is sports—however obscure—in which it’s felt Australia might have a good chance of snaring a medal.

That’s why such disciplines as rowing, hockey and track cycling have enjoyed priorities quite disproportionate to their general participation rates. Up to now that approach has been successful, so it’s enjoyed the continued support of politicians on both sides who like to think international sporting success somehow converts into votes for them.

But the days of boasting about how Australia “punches above its weight” seem to be over and the moral equivalence arguments suddenly become more convincing. On one rough reckoning, the few gold medals we’re likely to win in London will cost the Australian taxpayer around $50 million each. That’s a lot of money that might otherwise have gone to health, education or a national disability scheme. Meanwhile, university students struggling to meet their HECS repayments wonder why athletes are paid to attend the Institute of Sport and receive their training, equipment, travel and food as a tax-free gift from the government.

The accepted counter-argument is that public funding for elite sport benefits the whole nation—it contributes to national fitness levels by encouraging participation, creates healthy role models, provides a source of national pride during overseas competitions, etc.

Well, those rationales are now looking rather frail. There’s no convincing evidence that Australians are getting any fitter (in fact the opposite seems more likely). Nor can we say with confidence that more youngsters are now throwing aside their Xboxes to take up water polo. Indeed, with the exception of soccer, the most popular competitive sports in Australia aren’t in the Olympics at all: AFL, rugby league, rugby union, netball and cricket. If the gold medals don’t start flowing soon in London, that distinction will not be lost on the politicians who dole out the funding.

So who are the real winners? Television, as usual. The Olympic juggernaut cannot work as a business model without TV. The saturation coverage generates huge ratings and overpowering brand awareness. That, in turn, makes the associated advertising and sponsorship cost effective. They get you coming and going in commercial TV."

The Cost of Olympic Failure: David Salter, former head of TV sport at the ABC and Channel Seven

Reviewing the evidence

"Originally it was claimed that 1 million extra people would be inspired to participate in sport in the run up to the games. In reality, surveys conducted by government-funded Sport England show that participation rates are essentially flat."

Stefan Szymanski, Forbes magazine, 25 July 2012

"Reviewing the evidence behind the Olympic legacy claim, a 2007 Departmental Select Committee commented that ‘No host country has yet been able to demonstrate a direct benefit from the Olympic Games in the form of a lasting increase in participation’ and recommended that funding be focused on an expansion of school sport and community activity, delivered by local authorities."

House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee, London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games: funding and legacy, House of Commons, London, 2007, p37. (PDF)

Quoted in: More Than a Game, Harnessing the power of sport to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people, Centre for Social Justice, 2011, p102. (PDF)

Sport should be used to create a more inclusive society

"[ Cameron] said he wanted the Olympics to be used to break down barriers which stop poorer children from becoming elite sports stars. [He] said he wanted to increase the number of after school sports clubs at secondary and primary schools from 7,500 to 13,500 by 2015."

David Cameron says too many top British athletes went to public school, Daily Telegraph, 5 July 2012

"The multimillion-pound investment into British Olympic athletes is all very well, but “we are trying to grow a tree from the top down”, says former athlete and agent John Bicourt, a contemporary of Lord Coe."

Roger Blitz, FT

[Tessa] Jowell said: "This has got to go all the way from the child coming into reception class in primary school, taking part in PE, right through to our extraordinary medallists."

Daily Telegraph Keep The Flame Alive campaign

"Both the inadequacies of a participation-driven approach to the Olympic legacy, and the unequal nature of sports participation in this country lead us to question whether it is possible for the legacy promise made in Singapore to be delivered. Limited available funding, and the tendency to direct what there is into capital spending and short-term programming mean that it is difficult to see how the money which has been allocated for this can be expected to produce greater benefits for disadvantaged young people. While co-ordinating aspects of the Places, People, Play money will enable more efficient delivery, without more specific targeting for the groups we are focused on, the programme will lack both the scale and the methodology to seriously impact upon participation levels.

Moreover ....even if the participation target were to be reached, it does not necessarily follow that this would produce the wider social outcomes which have been our focus. In this sense, the target was intrinsically flawed from the outset, not just because it was more convincing as a sales pitch than a policy objective, but also because engaging any number of additional people in some unspecified sporting activity is not the same thing as serious, targeted work aimed at transforming the lives of Britain’s neediest people."

More than a Game: Harnessing the power of sport to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people, The Centre for Social Justice, 2011, p116 (PDF)

See also: Turning Canada’s Olympic success into increased participation in sports, Peter Donnelly, Play the Game

See also: London 2012 euphoria has died, but will the Olympic legacy live on?, David Conn, Guardian

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