23 09 2011

Former Sports Minister Richard Caborn has hit out at “disastrous” results  in the drive to boost sports participation on the back of the London Olympics.  In doing so, he once again highlights the myth of the promised Olympic legacy  and the failure of successive governments (his own included) to plan properly  for its provision.

Speaking on the BBC, Caborn says that  Sport England’s aim of increasing participation by one million is facing “complete failure” before going on to  say; “The  Olympics will be a spectacular success but we are not capitalising on that. We  are in danger of failing completely on the long-term sporting legacy of the  Games. There needs to be a major change of direction in the strategy on this if  the disastrous decline experienced by many of the sports is to be reversed.

Sport  England’s ‘Active People Survey’ supports Caborn’s position showing that since  2007/8 only nine sports have seen an increase in participation while 21 have  seen a decline. The reality is likely far worse with athletics being reported  by Active People to be one of the nine growth sports while independent analysis  of participation in the sport suggests the opposite is true. Athletics is the  only sport to have received independent analysis of its reported figures.

However,  where Caborn calls for “a major change of  direction in the strategy” what is he actually asking for?

It was  Richard Caborn who was the Minister for Sport when, in 2005, London won the  right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012. It was at  this time that the target of one million more participants was set by him but  no strategy (worthy of the name) was ever presented for public consumption by  Caborn’s department. Instead a series of initiatives were launched in the hope  that they would support the stated aim.

Caborn  told the BBC that in 2008 it was decided that Sport England should merely fund  governing bodies instead of involving local authorities and regional sports  councils in boosting participation. Sport England insist that is not the case.

Of  course, it should be remembered that Sport England’s primary role is to support  government policy via the distribution of Lottery cash and therefore the  government and Sport England are not that separate.

The fact  is that both are right. Caborn’s successor as Minister for Sport, James  Purnell, decided that the governing bodies (NGBs) should play a larger role in  raising sports participation. Sport England were briefed to change ‘strategy’  to reflect this and agencies like the County Sports Partnerships were, as a  result briefed by Sport England to focus more closely on working with NGBs.  This did not stop them also working with local authorities, education, health  and others, it was the prioritisation of such partners which changed.

Purnell  did not stay long at the DCMS but for the remainder of its life the last  government continued on a policy of ‘initiativeitis’, a term coined by Tory  Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson, in place of one involving proper strategy  aimed at the integrated development of sport.

When the  Conservatives won the election, Robertson lambasted initiativeitis and  promised to deliver the missing strategy. That was in May of last year and yet we  still await the strategy while initiativeitis continues unchecked.

But what  of one million new participants in sport? Caborn is right when he says the aim  will not be delivered but he has missed an important fact; no one is trying to  deliver it anymore. In an interview with The  Guardian newspaper on 29th March (and reported in this blog) the  Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the previous government’s target  had been quietly dropped by the present government shortly after the election.

What the  revised target may be we don’t know. What the strategy for achieving the  revised target may be is also unknown. The sad fact is that despite promising  to the world that a legacy from hosting the Games in London would be an  increase in the participation in sport, no one in government has yet seen fit  to produce a strategy (worthy of the name) to deliver on that promise.

When  Caborn calls for “a major change of  direction in the strategy” what he should be asking for is a strategy  designed to deliver on our promise to the world however the evidence of the  past and of governments of both hues does not suggest we should be getting too  optimistic.

Speaking on BBC  London yesterday, Hugh Robertson reminded us that no other host nation has ever  managed to achieve the feat of raising participation through hosting the Games,  something we knew already and something which the bid presentation in 2005  pointed out, telling the world that Britain would deliver.

Not  without a strategy we won’t and time is fast running out!

More from Cowan Global on the Olympic Legacy issue:

Initiative-it  is – A Welcome End?

Initiative-it  is Returns Before It Had Even Left

Is It Initiative-it is? The Minister Says Not

The Public Funding Of Sport And A Legacy From 2012

How Government Policy (Past & Present) Undermines Our Children’s Future

School Sports Partnership Likely U-Turn Begs The Bigger Question

Sports Strategy Still Absent While Initiative-it is Continues Unchecked

School Sports U-Turn Further Evidence That The Government Lacks Strategy

Legacy Or Smokescreen?

Now The Stadium Is Decided Can We Please Debate The Legacy?

The Clock Finally Stops For The Promised Legacy

Olympic Legacy Report Is Right – But For The Wrong Reasons

Sky Sports News On Legacy – Not Such A Special Report

© Jim Cowan, Cowan  Global Limited, September 2011


Twitter @cowanglobal




One response

23 09 2011
Clive Breedon

Without a strategy and a commitment to its direction and time scale any business or large scale project is doomed to failure, planning prevents pathetic performance. There will be no national legacy from the games as this should have been the driving force for four years not 9 months.

Game Plan stated that the infrastructure for sport needed to be re-modelled to remove duplication and the waste of resources. This has to some degree been achieved however that infrastructure has been underutilised and is now being dismantled to achieve cost cutting targets.

With a lack of leadership from government (no strategy, clear vision, direction or objectives) the Big Society policy will produce lots of local initiative that are cost inefficient duplicating the work others are doing so back to square one!

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