Anticipated ‘legacy’ benefits of increased adult participation in sports and exercise from the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics have failed to materialise, a damning report from MPs has concluded.
The report, Grassroots participation in sport and physical activity, by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded the proportion of adults participating in sport at least once a week actually fell in the first three years following the games.
The government committed to delivering a lasting legacy of increased sports participation as a result of the £8.8bn invested in the games but, according to committee chair Dame Meg Hillier MP, there has been “precious little to show by way of legacy”.
The report highlighted that in 2015 the government refocused its strategy on local-based approaches and the least active, having initially relied too heavily on a national event to deliver increased participation. But this change of tack has not yet resulted in any meaningful change in national participation rates.
Community sport and physical activity brought an estimated contribution of £85.5bn in social and economic benefits to England in 2017-2018, including £9.5bn from improved physical and mental health.
Exercise and wellbeing
Yet, despite Sport England spending an average of £323m each year since 2015, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Sport England have made little progress in tackling inequalities and the barriers to participation, the committee said.
Of £1.5bn in grants distributed by Sport England since 2016, it only knew where £450m went, and the percentage of active adults increased by only 1.2 percentage points from 2016 to 2019. Nearly two in five adults in England are still not meeting the chief medical officer’s guidelines for recommended activity.
Hillier said: “After the short-term financial boost there’s been precious little to show by way of legacy, even in my immediate area of East London where the 2012 Games were held.
“Resets since 2015 have not begun to bring the levelling-up benefits intended. The lack of vision and drive has seen Sport England pay out £1.5bn of taxpayers’ money without knowing where two-thirds of it went, and there’s a paltry 1.2% increase in active adults to show for it.
“More waste, more loss of desperately needed public money. As the cost-of-living crisis bites hard, DCMS must set out what it will do differently to achieve change where it has not succeeded,” she added.
Lead PAC member Nick Smith MP said: “Gyms and parks will be flooded this January with people resolving to get a bit fitter and more active; we should be better equipped to capture this enthusiasm and support grassroots sports and more active lifestyles throughout the year.
“The committee has challenged Sports England to overcome the barriers that prevent people from having the motivation, confidence and opportunity to get active.
“There are good practice examples such as parkrun, which could be part of the answer. Coming up with a mix of sporting opportunities which are affordable, local and inclusive could help people sustain their activities into February and through the rest of the year,” he added.
Increasing activity levels had the potential to deliver financial savings across government through a healthier population and improvements in wellbeing, the report highlighted. But both DCMS and Sport England had “made little progress in tackling inequalities and barriers to people participating in sport and physical activity”.
DCMS, the report argued, lacked “a compelling vision” for integrating physical activity into everyday life. “We are not convinced that its approach to working with wider government and industry is effective,” the report said.
“The Department must urgently work with the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities and other partners to address the financial sustainability and condition of the nation’s leisure centre stock.
“Looking ahead, it will be essential that the Department’s new strategy focuses on addressing the motivation, confidence and opportunity barriers to people participating in sport and physical activity, particularly among the most inactive groups, and sets out what it will do differently to achieve change where it has not so far succeeded,” it added.