9 12 2012

Active_People_logo_fullI have visited the sorry tale of the absent Olympic sports participation legacy on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. Absent or bad strategy, undelivered promises and political finger crossing have been the key elements of the tale to date, to which we can now add barely believable data…..

Last week (December 6th) Sport England released the latest set of ‘Active People’ statistics which, somewhat surprisingly, were reported by the media without question. Yet, to anyone taking even a passing glance the figures are barely credible. It would appear that having been unable to generate the increase in sporting participation promised by our politicians when winning the London Games bid, the solution has been to simply massage the data to match the promise.

Officially 750,000 more people over the age of 16 are taking part in sport at least once a week compared to 12 months ago. Surely this is good news? Well, yes, it would be if it were believable.

The headline figure offered by Sport England’s expensive Active People survey is 15.5 million over 16s regularly (once per week) taking part in sport.

Put that figure another way and it tells us that Sport England want us to believe that 1 in 3 over 16s in England regularly participate in sport. Seriously? Take a look around you – friends, work colleagues, family, neighbours – one in every three are playing sport regularly, that is what we are being asked to believe.

I can only speak for myself and, for me, that claim beggars belief. That the media accept it unquestioningly astonishes me. That the politicians who fund this expensive survey believe it continues to offer value for money (if it ever did) astounds me.

One in three. Take another look around you. Not one in three under 30s or under 40s, but 33% of all over 16s in England.

It appears the solution for successive governments poor sports development strategy has been introduced. Just make the figures up to fit the promise. And why not, it appears no one cares enough to check anyway.

We still lack a properly integrated national strategy for the development of sport. Young people are still missing out on learning physical literacy at the key age/stage of development and we are still missing any target by which success (or failure) of government policy can be judged. But take a look around you, 1 in 3 of your neighbours are playing sport regularly (ahem) so everything in the garden must be rosy.


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan


Twitter @cowanglobal




2 responses

9 12 2012
john bicourt

Spot on, once again, Jim.

Government lies? Sport England lies? Well not exactly? What they do is believe what they want to believe and set questions that are more likely to give them the answers they want.

If they can produce a survey allows for wide ranging undefined and unspecific answers to massively general questions, e.g., “do you do any kind of physical activity which might be called sport” or words to that effect, or “Do you walk for more than 30 mins each week?” then obviously most would answer yes rather than say no.

Mori collect this information from 160,000 telephone interviews from the est., 43,000,000 million people who are 16+ in England.

From this size of sample any number, or breakdown of a number which is less than 10,000 is statistically unsafe.

The each individual 20 minute telephone survey is for people aged 16 plus, how many 16,17 & 18 year olds would answer this on a landline?

How does the survey realistically show a government claimed, post Olympic Games 1 million increase effect of 15 million 16+ regularly and meaningfully participating in sport?

10 12 2012
Downer, Kristian

Hi Jim

I agree the figures do not hold up, however this is probably due to excellent survey management.

These figures will be based on the extrapolation of a sample (I was never asked) therefore if you poll people in the right way you can get the statistics you want.

I.e if you only pull your sample from those standing outside a sports centre rather than outside the pub etc you can skew your stats, it is after all the one thing you can rely upon from any public body with pervading self interest.

Now back to backslapping what an excellent job our government has done on sports inclusion



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