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Author Archives: Owen Gibson
Government defends grassroots participation claims as Sport England figures show 20 sports declined while only nine gained
There are now fewer adults playing sport regularly than before the London 2012 Olympics, according to new figures, but the government claims it is still on track to buck the trend of previous Games and inspire more grassroots participation.
The Sport England figures show that of 29 sports that recorded a change in once-a-week participation figures, only nine showed an increase, while 20 suffered a decline. And while 15.4 million people played sport at least once a week in April 2012, a year later that figure has declined to 15.3 million. A central plank of London’s bid to host the Games was to “inspire a generation” to play more sport.
Labour immediately called the figures disappointing and claimed they showed the government was failing to deliver the Olympic legacy. But Sport England, which invests around £300m of lottery and exchequer funding into sport annually, said that while a post-Olympic surge had tailed off, overall participation was still 530,000 higher than in 2011.
It claimed that the positive effect of hosting the Olympics should be credited with boosting participation throughout 2012, not simply immediately after the Games.
Sport England has also been given a new remit to focus two-thirds of its funding on 14-to-25-year-olds and said the figures showed a marginal increase in that age group for the first time. Some sports, such as women’s boxing, have shown a surge in participation thanks to the exploits of Nicola Adams and others.
“It does start to show the investment strategy is starting to have an effect. There’s a lot more to do, but for the first time in a long time we’re seeing those figures move in the right direction,” said Sport England’s chairman, Nick Bitel.
Sport England said that when the figures were last published, in December 2012, they showed 750,000 more people playing sport than the previous year. Six months on, despite the coldest March for 50 years, growth of 530,000 has been maintained, it said.
But in a year-on-year comparison the figures are down, and the shadow sports minister, Clive Efford, said they showed the government had no coherent strategy. “There should have been a significant increase in participation following the Olympics. It is not acceptable to explain away these figures by saying we have had a bad winter,” he said.
Football in particular will be alarmed by the figures, which show that the number of people playing the sport had declined by 258,600 on the previous year.
Critics of the government’s strategy say that any gains are likely to be undermined by cuts to local authority budgets, which mean that facilities will have to close, and a school sports policy that continues to attract criticism despite a recent £150m funding announcement for primary schools.
Sports minister Hugh Robertson insisted the figures showed that the government was “on track” to do what no previous host nation had done and use the Games to inspire greater grassroots participation. “We remain absolutely committed to delivering a lasting sports participation legacy from London 2012. The long-term trend shows we are on track, with 1.4 million more people playing sport regularly since we won the bid in 2005.”
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