So, that was it. Fantastic wasn’t it? The greatest summer British sport has ever known. As the final echoes of the ‘Our Greatest Team’ parade fade away and summer turns to autumn the memory of those superb performances, the excellent organisation, the wonderful fans and the great Games Makers is still fresh in the memory.
But what of the sports participation legacy? What of the promise that secured the Games seven years ago? As politicians continue to ride the Olympic/Paralympic success bandwagon and talk up legacy; leisure facilities across the country are closing down and cutting their hours.
Regular readers of this blog will know I am a critic of the policy of Initiativeitis favoured by governments present and past and that I question the absence of an integrated national Strategy for the Development of Sport which fully services the sports development continuum.
Within such a strategy, a key component will undoubtedly be the provision of places where people can discover, learn, play, enjoy and excel at sport; the facilities.
The danger of not maintaining and improving leisure facilities, including access to them, was highlighted by former NBA basketball star John Amaechi. In June last year, Amaechi appeared on a Sky Sports News Special Report on Legacy and, talking of the threat of facility closures, said:
“…what’s going to happen here at the Olympics could be worse even than just people not participating afterwards, it could be that you excite young people to play, they go out into their communities to look for where to play and they come here and they realise it’s grassed over, it is no longer a facility where they can get the right kind of coaching and the right kind of development. That would be a true tragedy.”
And yet, that is what is happening. Last week the BBC reported that more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.
It is not as if Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson is not aware of the problem. In 2009, while Shadow Minister for Sport, he expressed his concern that, “to deliver the planned (sic) sport legacy would require all areas of the country to have both access to facilities and sporting infrastructure” The then Shadow Minister’s concern was that “Johnny – in Burnley, Leeds or Glasgow – can get past first base when he feels inspired by Beccy Addlington at London 2012.”
The threat was (and is) real. In 2009 63 public swimming pools closed and only 28 opened and a report suggested that, without intervention, by 2014 levels of public sector provision could regress to those last seen in the 1960s. Sport England (2003) had reported that simply sustaining the (then) current level of public sector sports facilities would require £110m per annum. The current Government’s flawed ‘Places People Play’ collection of initiatives provides for £50m of National Lottery money for community sports clubs to improve their facilities plus another £30m for investment in Games inspired ‘iconic’ regional facilities. It is woefully inadequate.
There is an assumption that any slack will be picked up by local authorities. However, unlike many of our European neighbours, other than playing fields, sports facilities are afforded no statutory protection in this country. Hence, when times are tight and councils need to find savings, public sports facilities will always be on the list of places where those savings can be made.
The initiatives continue to come from government but without a properly thought out, fully integrated strategy for the development of sport which takes in the full sports development continuum, the facilities where they assume many of these initiatives will play out are under threat.
It is worth repeating what last week’s BBC report stated; more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.
For Legacy to become tangible and long-lasting sport must be given statutory protection as part of a comprehensive strategy. Sports facilities, community clubs and sports development units must be protected and with that protection, have access to adequate funding.
These are hard times and you might ask where the extra money will come from? The fact is that extra money is unlikely to be required; the savings made by planning strategy properly rather than randomly should be more than adequate. Proper, integrated strategy will always be more economical, more efficient and more effective than the deploying of random tactics (which is what Initiativeitis is).
Is this new knowledge? No. 2500 years ago the father of strategy Sun Tzu stated; “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
It is time for politicians of all parties to stop playing and to start getting serious. It is time they took their own promise of Legacy seriously and planned for it properly. It is the very least they owe us after promising it to the world on our behalf and, in straightened times, they also owe it to us to invest what money we do have far more wisely.
(Additional References: Hughes, K (2012) Sport Mega-Events and a Legacy of Increased Sport Participation: An Olympic Legacy or an Olympic Dream?)
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012