When the Great Britain delegation travelled to Singapore in 2005 to bid for the 2012 Olympic games, it was promised that they ‘would inspire a generation’.
Bid leader Sebastian Coe stated that “we can no longer take it for granted that young people will choose sport. Some may lack the facilities. Or the coaches and role models to teach them. Others, in an age of 24-hour entertainment and instant fame, may simply lack the desire. We are determined that a London Games will address that challenge. So London's vision is to reach young people all around the world. To connect them with the inspirational power of the Games. So they are inspired to choose sport.”
Coe outlined three principles which guided the bid:
1. “an electrifying experience for competitors and spectators”.
2. to “be your best partners” - essentially, we can do it well, while keeping costs for the IOC and NOCs down.
I don’t even know what this means!
3. “deliver a lasting sporting legacy”.
Tony Blair, echoing Coe, stated that "London will inspire young people around the world and ensure that the Olympic Games remain the dream for future generations." Blair continued “our vision is to see millions more young people in Britain and across the world participating in sport, and improving their lives as a result of that participation. And London has the power to make that happen.”
And in fact, in a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Blair said his two greatest achievements as PM were the Northern Ireland peace settlement and winning the 2012 Olympic Games Bid.
However - back in 2002, the British Government - led by Prime Minister Tony Blair - produced a strategy document called Game Plan, that said that holding an Olympics would not inspire people to take up sport. "Depending on the scale of the subsidy," the document stated, "it would seem that hosting events is not an effective value-for-money method of achieving ... a sustained increase in mass participation."
The strategy document was based on research showing that no previous Olympic Games has led directly to an increase in people taking part in sport. In fact, the opposite seems to happen. Perhaps intimidated by the Olympic ‘models of perfection’, it seems that the average citizen would continue to prefer to watch sport from their sofas, rather than engaging in it.
Add to this that despite huge investment of public funds since Great Britain won the rights to hold the Games, participation in sport by young people has actually declined. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt says “we need a radical change in policy to address the deep-seated problem of people dropping out of sport when they leave school.” And so the British Government - desperate to not follow in the footsteps of past host cities - have launched a billion pound, five-year strategy in the attempt to encourage young people to play sport for life. NGBs will have direct links to school-based sports clubs. Expert coaches will run sessions to help create strong ties between clubs and schools. School sport facilities will be available for public use. And 450 million pounds will go to the NGBs for their ‘whole sport plans’. Funding for these NGBs, by the way, will be based entirely on results. No results - no payments. As well, funding will only go to organizations that encourage youth participation. Hunt continues: “our bold approach will see money going to organizations that deliver on youth participation, but also withdrawn quickly from those which fail to meet agreed objectives.”
Well, that’s all well and good...
...I’m glad that a vast majority of the facilities will continue to be used. And I’m glad that the government seems to be delivering on its promise to continue to invest in sport. The question is not whether “you are inspired”. Or whether or not the youth of the country are inspired. How can you - and they - not be? Surely, it’s whether this inspiration will lead to a positive impact on the culture of the country. Will it lead to more youth participation in sport? Currently, only 22% of British adults engage in any sporting activity (compared to the 55% of say, Finland). Will this figure rise? Will it lead to more couch potatoes dragging themselves to the local swimming pool? Or buying a bike? And actually riding it once in a while?