Since I started writing this blog a little over two years ago, the theme I have returned to more often than any other is that of the paucity of quality strategy to service the participation legacy promised by the UK when awarded the London Olympics seven years ago.
It is a tale of poor strategy, of excuses and of blame. Most of all it is a tale of making big promises and then failing to plan for their delivery.
For all the political spin and media hype over the Olympic Legacy, there was one key legacy promise made on the nation’s behalf which has not been delivered and all for the simple lack of quality planning, the absence of good strategy; that of a measurable increase in levels of participation in sport in this country.
I was therefore interested to hear of Hugh Robertson’s lunch with the Sports Journalists Association which took place last Thursday (7th June) and to read comments the Minister for Sport made.
Mr Robertson is the Minister who coined the term ‘Inititiveitis’ shortly after the last election, a term he used, correctly, to describe the poor strategy displayed by the previous government when pursuing the participation legacy. In short, in place of quality strategy addressing the sports development continuum, the policy had been one of producing a seemingly endless number of initiatives in the hope they would somehow deliver on the promises made in Singapore on behalf of us all in 2005.
Unfortunately, since coining the term, the Minister has continued with more of the same, a stream of initiatives but still no clear, integrated strategy for the development of sport in the UK which services the full sports development continuum. In July 2010, after claiming to have such a strategy, he was challenged to produce it. We still wait.
You will understand my interest, nearly two years on, to hear what sort of update Mr Robertson would provide for the assembled journalists.
He is still scornful of the previous government’s efforts to service the legacy promise. He rightly points out that the target of one million more people being active by 2012 was “just idiotic.” Having an unattainable target gets in the way of quality planning as surely as having no target.
Over two years into his role as Minister for Sport and just under two years after promising he had a (still unseen) strategy for the development of sport in the UK, it was good to hear that he does at least have a clear aim.
“One of the things being in the Army taught me,” Mr Robertson said, “was always have a clear aim. It is our absolutely clear aim to deliver a successful Olympics, and part of that is having a successful team.”
This is good to hear. It is reassuring to know that he understands the need for a clear aim. However, knowing he understands makes the absence of any new target for the physical activity legacy baffling. He was right to get rid of the unachievable ‘one million’ target but what of its replacement? What is the new, realistic aim which will drive planning for this part of our nation’s legacy promise?
Sadly, we don’t know. Two years after getting rid of a bad target we still await news of its replacement. And, without that clear aim, quality strategy to achieve it cannot be put in place. Perhaps this is why we are still yet to see the strategy promised two years ago?
Two years (at least 40%) into this government, I do not believe it is unrealistic to have hoped for more from the Minister who recognised Initiativeitis for what it was and who professes to so clearly understand the value of a clear aim.
Two years into office, the lack of planning and any shortcomings within his own department and within its delivery agency (Sport England) cannot be blamed on the previous government. The buck must now stop at his own Ministerial door.
If the advice he receives is flawed, it is time to change the advisers. If the lack of clear, quality strategy is the responsibility of someone (or some agency) under his direction, it is time for a clear-out and for new, more capable strategists to come in. And if the lack of clear progress towards an undefined participation legacy target is frustrating him, he should try being in our shoes!
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2012