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The sports making an Olympic contribution to the UK economy

UK Sport

6 min read Partner content

Olympic and Paralympic sports are generating increasing value for the economy – and UK Sport believes they have an important part to play in helping the country Build Back Better from Covid.

Few can deny there’s a feel-good factor when British athletes take to the podium at an Olympic or Paralympic Games. At recent Games, our sportsmen and women have reaped the benefits of nearly two decades of government and National Lottery funding, winning a slew of golds, silvers and bronzes – and giving us all a reason to celebrate in the process.

But their success gives the country more than just a reason to feel proud; figures from a Sheffield Hallam University report into the economic importance of Olympic and Paralympic sports show that the sports also make a gold-standard contribution to the UK economy. 

In 2017, the year after Team GB and ParalympicsGB’s stellar outing at the Rio Games, the Gross Value Added (GVA) of Olympic and Paralympic sports in the UK was almost £25 billion. This was equivalent to more than half of the contribution made by the entire sports industry as estimated by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and represents an impressive 9% in real-terms growth compared to 2014.

In fact, as a share of the national economy, Olympic and Paralympic sports generate 1.3% of GVA, making them collectively a larger contributor to the UK economy than four other sectors, including the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry. They also generate 2.5% of UK employment and, as of 2017, the economic activity associated with Olympic and Paralympic sports provided employment for 784,000 people in the UK, a figure that rose by around 10% from 2014. 

Olympic and Paralympic sports also appear to be punching above their weight when it comes to the consumer spending they generate, which accounted for an astonishing 1.9% of overall household spending in 2017. UK consumer spending on the sports was £25.3 billion, equivalent to £306 per head of population.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Sport, Nigel Huddleston praised the report’s figures: “Over the past decade, one of Britain’s greatest success stories has been becoming an Olympic and Paralympic powerhouse, supported by funding from the Government.

“In addition to inspiring the nation to greatness, our medal-winning athletes also add significant value to the economy through employment and investment.

“UK Sport now provides over £350m for 43 elite sports and I have no doubt this support will continue to drive up the added value Team GB and ParalympicsGB provides both at home and on the world stage.”

Conservative MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sport, Ben Bradley, also welcomed the report commenting: “Whilst we all love watching the Adam Peatys and Dame Sarah Storeys of this world representing Team GB across the globe, it is also vital to understand and recognise the importance of this sector to the UK throughout the four-year cycle.

“Every four years, we do not see the hundreds of thousands of people who work tirelessly to make sure our athletes are able to represent our country on the world stage. Following London 2012, we read a lot about the legacy of the Games and I am proud that this country continues to value and to get behind our athletes, and to support all of the many and varied benefits that it brings to the UK.”

Chair of the Olympic and Paralympic All-Party Parliamentary Group, Sir David Amess echoed this sentiment: "successive Games this century have shown us the huge economic benefits which staging the Games brings. As this Report demonstrates, the economic impact is worth all the hard work which goes into preparing our athletes". 

I hope this report will encourage the Government to invest more heavily in sporting facilities – especially in local areas – where the talent is primed and ready to be nurtured.

But it isn’t just the national economy that benefits from Olympic and Paralympic sports’ contribution; local communities reap the social and economic advantages of sports centres and schemes used to train athletes for the Games. Speaking about Loughborough University’s Elite Training Centre, local MP Jane Hunt said: “It’s where many of our sporting stars train in preparation for the Games. 

“Loughborough’s reputation for sporting excellence is in part down to the Olympic and Paralympic Games and is a perfect example of the important role they play in our economy.”

Now UK Sport is looking to capitalise on this success with the delayed Tokyo Games fast approaching this summer. In looking to “Build Back Better” from the impacts of Covid-19, UK Sport has recently launched a new 10-year strategy which recognises the importance of continued British medal success alongside an increase in the wider societal impact Olympic and Paralympic sport has on the nation.

With the sector's contribution to employment so much higher than its contribution to GVA, further growth in Olympic and Paralympic sports could result in an accelerated rate of growth in employment. 

UK Sport’s new strategic plan is underpinned by a mission to create the greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments; reaching, inspiring and uniting the nation. This involves some significant shifts for the high-performance sport community and while winning and being competitive at the highest level remains the priority, they are determined to win in a way that connects even more with people and makes them feel even more proud.

Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair at UK Sport, said: “This report once again shows the huge value that the entire Olympic and Paralympic sector in the UK contributes to the economy of our country and what a wide-ranging impact it has not only on the sport industry itself but also jobs and consumer spending.

“While we are aware of the challenges presented to Olympic and Paralympic sports in the UK throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the report is a clear indication of the great impact that the Games and all of our athletes have on the nation.

“Of course, there is no room for complacency. In launching our new strategy, we are seeking to build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport.  One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively, where we keep winning but win well and do so in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.”

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, agrees, and encourages the Government to go further: “Our sportspeople come from every nook and cranny of the country, and it is this hard work and dedication that drives this economic success. 

“Without them, there would be no Games. This is why I hope this report will encourage the Government to invest more heavily in sporting facilities – especially in local areas – where the talent is primed and ready to be nurtured. Let us harness this economic success and inject some of it into the communities where it is needed most!”


You can read Sheffield Hallam University's report into the economic importance of all Olympic and Paralympic sport here.

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