13 06 2012

Photo: The Telegraph

Since I started writing this blog a little over two years ago, the theme I have returned to more often than any other is that of the paucity of quality strategy to service the participation legacy promised by the UK when awarded the London Olympics seven years ago.

It is a tale of poor strategy, of excuses and of blame. Most of all it is a tale of making big promises and then failing to plan for their delivery. 

For all the political spin and media hype over the Olympic Legacy, there was one key legacy promise made on the nation’s behalf which has not been delivered and all for the simple lack of quality planning, the absence of good strategy; that of a measurable increase in levels of participation in sport in this country.

I was therefore interested to hear of Hugh Robertson’s lunch with the Sports Journalists Association which took place last Thursday (7th June) and to read comments the Minister for Sport made.

Mr Robertson is the Minister who coined the term ‘Inititiveitis’ shortly after the last election, a term he used, correctly, to describe the poor strategy displayed by the previous government when pursuing the participation legacy. In short, in place of quality strategy addressing the sports development continuum, the policy had been one of producing a seemingly endless number of initiatives in the hope they would somehow deliver on the promises made in Singapore on behalf of us all in 2005.

Unfortunately, since coining the term, the Minister has continued with more of the same, a stream of initiatives but still no clear, integrated strategy for the development of sport in the UK which services the full sports development continuum. In July 2010, after claiming to have such a strategy, he was challenged to produce it. We still wait.

You will understand my interest, nearly two years on, to hear what sort of update Mr Robertson would provide for the assembled journalists.

He is still scornful of the previous government’s efforts to service the legacy promise. He rightly points out that the target of one million more people being active by 2012 was “just idiotic.” Having an unattainable target gets in the way of quality planning as surely as having no target.

Over two years into his role as Minister for Sport and just under two years after promising he had a (still unseen) strategy for the development of sport in the UK, it was good to hear that he does at least have a clear aim.

One of the things being in the Army taught me,” Mr Robertson said, “was always have a clear aim. It is our absolutely clear aim to deliver a successful Olympics, and part of that is having a successful team.

This is good to hear. It is reassuring to know that he understands the need for a clear aim. However, knowing he understands makes the absence of any new target for the physical activity legacy baffling. He was right to get rid of the unachievable ‘one million’ target but what of its replacement? What is the new, realistic aim which will drive planning for this part of our nation’s legacy promise?

Sadly, we don’t know. Two years after getting rid of a bad target we still await news of its replacement. And, without that clear aim, quality strategy to achieve it cannot be put in place. Perhaps this is why we are still yet to see the strategy promised two years ago?

Two years (at least 40%) into this government, I do not believe it is unrealistic to have hoped for more from the Minister who recognised Initiativeitis for what it was and who professes to so clearly understand the value of a clear aim.

Two years into office, the lack of planning and any shortcomings within his own department and within its delivery agency (Sport England) cannot be blamed on the previous government. The buck must now stop at his own Ministerial door.

If the advice he receives is flawed, it is time to change the advisers. If the lack of clear, quality strategy is the responsibility of someone (or some agency) under his direction, it is time for a clear-out and for new, more capable strategists to come in. And if the lack of clear progress towards an undefined participation legacy target is frustrating him, he should try being in our shoes!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal



9 responses

14 06 2012
Bill Laws

If Hugh agrees that the 1 million extra participants target was a nonesense then why are Sport England continuing to pay £millions for “Active Sports” surveys undertaken by Ipsos Mori. We are now up to survey 6 and Sport England have recently asked for comments on how future surveys can be improved. It is a farce.

14 06 2012

Hi Bill,
Agreed. However, as Sport England are funded by DCMS to do their bidding (i.e. deliver government agenda) and given Mr Robertson is the Minister responsible for the ‘S’ in DCMS, isn’t this another question he needs to answer?

14 06 2012

I sympathise with the frustration that Hugh Robertson is currently engaged in a game of “stand still, do nothing”. However I suspect that any Sports Minister will do the same bullet til after the Olympics.

Sadly the job of the Sports Minister appears to be “don’t rock the boat, until the Olympic Games are done and dusted”. I will judge Hugh Robertson based on his words in the first quarter 2013, and his actions thereafter.

Til then I am happy to continue blaming Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell and Richard Caborne for the Game Plan strategy document, and Lord Patrick Carter, and Dame Sue Campbell for implementing it so enthusiastically.

Sport might be a great social tool, but the social agenda should not be its main purpose if you want it to grow.

15 06 2012

Hi Zac,

You may well be right re Mr Robertson standing still however nothing he has said suggests this is a ‘planned’ stand still. Two years ago he told us he already had a strategy for the development of sport, not that he was developing one, still no sign. Now he tells us he understands the value of a clear aim and yet has not announced one for sport and its development (ie the legacy).

I agree with you that the previous ‘players’ you mention take much blame but in two years, 2/5 of his term, what has the current Minister done to change things for the better? Nothing; even continuing with a policy of Initiativeitis after clearly identifying it was flawed.

All I see is incompetence. And unfortunately incompetence is a cross-party issue!

I agree with you regarding sport as a social tool. This is why I continually press for a strategy for the development of sport, something different from a strategy which uses sport for development although the two can (and should) overlap.

16 06 2012

Glad to read that its not just me that is frustrated over this issue.

The truth is though, if our athletes perform well and collect a lot of medals, much of this will be forgotten. We know that success breeds higher participation, just look at Henman at Wimbledon and the effect he had on people playing tennis when he had relative success getting through to the second week. Success at the Olympics across a range of events will have a massive effect.

For the government, success will help to cover the holes. It will only be much later when the good-will has died down that any dissenting voices will be heard, and by that time it won’t matter to the Government as politically, it won’t damage them very much, if at all.

Of course, if we have a bad games there will be a national outrage. The media will have a field day… but if that happens increasing sport participation will be the least of the Government’s worries.

17 06 2012

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Let’s hope for a hugely successful Games for all of our athletes however let us also hope that does not paper over the cracks created by years of poor/zero strategy.

21 06 2012
Larry Davis

Sports Legacy is one thing,Sports Access is another particularly for blind and visually impaired children.With most now in mainstream education the facility to encourage and nurture sport for this sector is woefully inadequate and there appears to be no cohesive strategy to change this.A clear reflection of this situation is the dramatic fall in the number of GB VI competitors in the London 2012 Paralympics.

22 06 2012

Hi Larry,

I whole-heartedly agree. When I talk of quality strategy and of integrated strategy these are exactly the kind of issues I have in mind. Inclusivity and accessibiity must be measured by actions and successes not by talk. Thank you for taking the time to comment and to raise the issue.


22 06 2012
Larry Davis

As Director of Vision Charity, I set up a Sports Legacy Fund to enable blind and VI kids to access sport. Through The Gold Challenge ( Vision have encouraged specialist schools to join the Challenge , and will then plough back the money the schools have raised to the school’s sporting projects. It is just a shame that the Government and the National Sporting bodies do not seem to have the same vision which will only lead to an increase of registered blind people who do not work ,(currently at 80%) and a complete demise of blind and VI representation at the highest levels of sport.Sport is such a great way to break down barriers and provide a platform to learn and understand commitment and teamwork,to improve social,mental, and physical well being and most of all a sense of being included.

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