Thursday, February 17, 2011

The London Olympics will not make people more physically active

An article in the New York Times by Jeré Longman echoes an argument that I have long made on this blog: there is no reason to expect that the London Olympics next year will persuade more people to become physically active.

Longman writes:
Research on the Olympic Games stimulating mass participation in sports has not produced encouraging results. In 2007, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons concluded that “no host country has yet been able to demonstrate a direct benefit from the Olympic Games in the form of a lasting increase in participation.”

A study of the 2000 Sydney Games showed that while seven Olympic sports experienced a slight increase afterward in Australia, nine showed a decline.

After the 2002 Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester, England, “there appears to have been no recorded impact on sports participation levels” in the country’s northwest, Fred Coalter, a professor of sports studies at the University of Stirling in Scotland, wrote before London won the 2012 Olympic bid.
It is even possible that hosting the Games will be counterproductive. Longman goes on to say:
The average person may feel a disconnect from elite athletes, he said, while the most sedentary might be put off by perceived pressure to lose weight and become more active. This seemed to be borne out in recent interviews conducted with weekend warriors in Manchester.

“The Olympics are up here and we’re down here,” said Asha Solanki, 30, who works in marketing and participates in martial arts. “It seems unachievable. How many people do you know who do the 400-metre hurdles?”
This obsession with elite sport and organised games is very Labour. You see it in Leicester where at Aylestone Meadows the council is trying to build sports pitches and accompanying facilities, which will be used by a minority of young people, on a wild area currently enjoyed by people of all ages.

I am also worried by the decision to keep an athletics track at London's Olympic Stadium. As the Guardian reported the other day:
UK Athletics has admitted it will be almost impossible to fill the Olympic Stadium when it stages meetings following the Olympics. The main event, the two-day London Diamond League Grand Prix, attracts a 17,000 capacity crowd to Crystal Palace where it is currently held and some of the lesser meetings are likely to struggle to attract spectators.
You can see what will happen. The Grand Prix will move to the Olympic Stadium putting the future of Crystal Palace under question. Then there will be pressure on other athletics venues around the country - Gateshead, the Alexandra Stadium in Birmingham and the Don Valley Stadium in South Yorkshire - to surrender their events too.

So one long-term effect of the Olympics could be to make it harder for most people to see top-class athletics.

No comments: