Tim Lamb: Leaving a lasting Olympic legacy
The Government may have abandoned its target to get a million more people active after the Olympics, but the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s chief executive Tim Lamb is still optimistic about a lasting healthy legacy from the Games…
In 2005, when Britain won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, it was based in no small measure on a brave promise to ‘inspire a generation’ of people to make sport a regular part of their lives. As a result, an ambitious Government target was devised to get one million more adults regularly taking part in sport in the UK, with free swimming offered to under-16s and over-60s in council pools.
Over the past few years these initiatives have been quietly dropped and millions in Government funding promised for school sport has been withdrawn. So does this mean that the Olympic legacy bubble, so full of promise, has burst before the Games have even begun? As chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance – an organisation that speaks on behalf of 320 governing bodies and 150,000 clubs (including the Ramblers), representing 8 million people in the UK – I can say that we’re optimistic that there’s still plenty going on.
There are, of course, concerns. Our annual sports-club survey told us that 84% do not see the Games as an opportunity. In addition, about one in four clubs is in deficit, with an extra one in four working hard just to break even, so you could argue that the Olympic legacy is the last thing worrying grassroots sport and recreation. But you have only to look at the array of projects and initiatives that are being planned, set up and delivered by LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games), local councils, national governing bodies and local communities up and down the country to know that this doesn’t represent the true picture.
So, with this in mind, here are three reasons why I think we should be more optimistic about London 2012 and its promise to leave a lasting healthy legacy on our nation for Britain:
1. A new participation strategy is now in place.
The Government’s initial one million participation target may have been dropped, but it’s been replaced by an arguably more realistic strategy that focuses on changing children’s habits so they continue playing sport after leaving school. Sports’ national governing bodies are being asked to spend around 60% of their funding on school clubs and activities, which will be open to the whole community in order to connect school sport with sport for life.
2. Funding has been promised for the next five years at least.
The millions of pounds of school sports investment cut by the Government has, in part, been replaced with an extra £50 million of National Lottery funding, which Sport England is using to implement a project called People Places Play. Among other things, it promises to upgrade up to a thousand local sports clubs and facilities in need of refurbishment, as well as to protect and improve hundreds of playing fields in danger of being neglected or sold off by local councils.
3. Recreation – as well as competitive sport – is being recognised.
The Olympic organisers have recognised that competitive sport isn’t everybody’s cup of tea; that recreational activities such as walking and cycling provide opportunities to galvanise a large chunk of the nation into leading a more active lifestyle. For this reason, London 2012 set up the Active Travel Consortium – a partnership of leading walking, cycling and health organisations (which includes the Ramblers) – who deliver projects to help inspire people to make walking and cycling part of their everyday lives. One of its roles was to help create a series of new walking and cycling routes around the Olympic Park.
These projects are just the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of activities and facilities being created that, if it weren’t for the Olympics on our doorstep, simply wouldn’t exist. It’s clear our members’ efforts to ensure a grassroots return from the Games are being rewarded.
But it’s important not to be complacent. There is still a lot to be done to make sure the legacy reaches people of all ages and all abilities, and, most importantly, inspires people who are currently living untouched by the rewards and benefits that sport and physical activity can bring.
In a 2007 report, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee concluded 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’. So it seems the Government has set itself an ambitious and pioneering target with the London Games. It needs to continue delivering on its promises long after the excitement of the Olympics has left town, and we’ll be keeping a close watch that it does.