25 August 2016
Watching Team GB bring home medal after medal in Rio has been awe inspiring, as it was in London four years ago, but I can’t help wonder how this will translate into long term increased participation among the masses. Our GB hockey women winning gold has brought about the most traffic in my social media world but not one person has said they’re going to take up or get back into hockey as a result. Most of the comments relate to a fantastic achievement, and great recognition for the sport, but then used to put down England’s national football team. Rightly or wrongly, the brilliant hockey victory still doesn’t equate to more people playing hockey.
There was a great deal of publicity about London being awarded the 2012 Games because of the legacy it would provide for young people – especially in and around the capital. Many experts have debated the legacy and its impact since then, and there are various opinions depending on how you measure. But, as an example, one of my local leisure centres received LOCOG funding to build a brand new badminton facility and still boasts that it provides one of the most significant legacy benefits for the people of east London and beyond.
I would agree that this new facility is a ‘legacy’ of the Olympics in capital terms because otherwise it’s very unlikely to have been built. But I would definitely question whether it’s of huge benefit to the people of east London and whether it has subsequently increased activity levels – especially among young people. Firstly, they already had an adequate facility and thriving badminton section. Plus, having decided to give badminton a go, my friend and I pitched up, with our recently purchased racquets, to be told the courts cost £19.80 for an hour. For someone who spends a lot of money on sport and is very happy to do so, this seemed ridiculously expensive, let alone for a recently Olympic-inspired individual who is relatively new to sport.
Perhaps it is too much for us to expect that the Olympics, even with Team GB’s success, could get people more active just as a by-product. There’s a huge difference between cheering on Andy Murray from the comfort of the settee to actually getting out on a tennis court to have a go. You need racquets, balls, sports clothing, suitable footwear, someone to play with and then to know how and where to find a court.
To get a real legacy you need to start to break these barriers down, and people are beginning to recognise this. At London Youth, we work with National Governing Bodies to provide adapted versions of many different sports to be delivered in youth clubs – free of charge for young people. The Tennis Foundation are a fantastic example of where they have been flexible with their approach to attracting newcomers to the sport by providing mini tennis pop up nets, racquets and balls for young people to use in their youth club – and also a tennis festival rather aptly delivered this summer in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park attracting over 80 young people from across London.
As a charity, London Youth gives almost 4,000 young people a year the chance to take part in our sports programme, Getting Ready, through the capital’s youth clubs. We aim to make sports accessible to those who would otherwise miss out. The young people we work with aren’t always engaged in school and wouldn’t choose to attend after school clubs, and certainly couldn’t afford a £19.80 an hour badminton court. We work with sports organisations, like the Tennis Foundation, to provide high quality sports sessions and activator training courses in locations young people choose to be – their local youth club – where they are far more likely to try new things and keep coming back each week to take part.
Sport England recognise the vital role local communities can play in delivering to people who wouldn’t ordinarily get involved, and we fully support their new strategy ‘Active Nation’. Early intervention is key, providing alternative opportunities away from schools is also vital, and putting young people – as customers who have a choice about what they do with their time – at the heart of the programme is crucial. We want to ensure all young people have access to high quality sports provision whatever their background.
I would love to see a huge spike in our participation levels as a direct result of Rio – but we didn’t witness that in the summer of 2012 so are under no illusion that this summer will be any different. But I don’t see this as a negative: there were so many good things about the Olympics and Team GB’s performance at the games it would be missing the point to be critical. All of us working in community sport want to build a culture of sports participation. But we understand that whatever huge elite event is happening on the world stage, young people in disadvantaged communities still lack access to high quality sport. This is why we come to work everyday – and seek the active support of Sport England and others – to ensure we do all we can to make sport accessible to all.