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Government Failed To Achieve Legacy Aims For 2012 London Olympics

The motto of the 2012 Olympic Games was "Inspire a Generation" (Alamy)

4 min read

The government has failed to meet its legacy aims on sports participation after the 2012 London Olympic Games, according to a report by an influential select committee.

The report from the Public Accounts Committee, which oversees government expenditure, has found that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) “lacks compelling vision” on sport for England and has lost track of millions of pounds of spending on sports initiatives.

It found that the main long-term objectives for the Olympic games have not been met despite the Games costing £8.8 billion – two thirds of which came from the central government.

With the motto “Inspire a Generation”, the primary aims of the 2012 Olympics were to increase public participation across multiple sports and facilitate the urban transformation of east London – where the Games were largely based.

However, the new report has found that adult participation in sport actually fell in the first three years after the Games.

The number of active adults increased by only 1.2 per cent between November 2016 and November 2019, despite Sport England, a non-departmental public body under DCMS, spending an average of £323 million of taxpayers money each year since 2015 to increase participation in physical activities.

Nearly two in five adults in England still do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for recommended activity.

Labour MP Nick Smith, who led the report told PoliticsHome: ”It’s terrible this legacy hasn't been met yet, but I would encourage the government to keep at it.

“We need a better understanding of where the money is spent and how best to spend the money.

“Local initiatives outside of the big cities and the big elite sport stadiums need to be supported as well. We must do better.”

Smith’s constituency of Blaenau Gwent was found to be the most deprived constituency in Wales by the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. 

Through his involvement in the local park run, he said he has seen firsthand the benefits of exercise to disadvantaged groups. 

Women, lower socio-economic groups, disabled people, and Black and Asian ethnic minority groups are among those who experience greater barriers to accessing sport and physical fitness. 

Immediately prior to the pandemic, Sport England was on track to deliver against its target for increasing sports participation among lower socio-economic groups, but significantly off track on its women’s target. 

No targets were set for increasing activity levels among the over-75s, disabled people, or within Black or Asian ethnicity groups, and the Covid-19 pandemic has since exacerbated some of these existing health inequalities.

The report also cites the potential for increasing activity levels to deliver financial savings across government and ease pressures on the NHS through a healthier population and improvements in people’s wellbeing. 

Sport England distributed £1.5 billion in grants for five years from 2016. However, it has only tracked £450 million of this spending and does not know where in the country the remaining two-thirds of grants awarded were spent.

According to the committee report, this means it is impossible for Sport England to fully assess whether it is meeting its objectives to target spending at less active groups, including lower socio-economic groups.

It recommends that for future sporting participation goals, DCMS should set out how they will be achieved, with the performance metrics it intends to use and the long-term approach for monitoring these. 

In particular, the report says DCMS should establish how funding is being distributed geographically and how it is targeting deprived and less active communities. 

Labour MP and Chair of the Committee Meg 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. 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.” 

The UK hosted the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where the report says it “applied some, but not all, of its learning from the 2012 Olympics” through its aim to tackle inactivity in the West Midlands with a £3 million programme.

Although the report states this initiative has helped nearly 75,000 people to become active, there are no mechanisms in place to monitor the long-term participation legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

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