Sunday, August 28, 2016

Olympic Legacy. Same as it ever was?

The 2016 Rio Olympics finished one week ago.

In case you missed it Team GB are now a world sporting superpower. Beating China in the medal table, a country that has 20 times the population and a state sponsored sporting programme. We also won medals in 19 sports, a more diverse range of sports than the USA or China.
I was surprised by the level of TV media and print media coverage. August may be a slow news month but the headlines and top stories were always Olympic stories. Why the media chose to prioritise the Olympics over war and economic crisis is a whole other article; but they deemed it important enough to be the headline news, and that impacts the national consciousness.
But now as the summer fades into Autumn, and the next mention of Olympic stars will probably be on Strictly Come Dancing or a voice over on BBC sports personality of the year with elegiac music playing in the background; What will be the legacy?
Will sport participation increase? Will TV coverage revert to its old favourite of football, despite the fact we are truly terrible at football and Sport England figures show more people participate in swimming, athletics and cycling than football.

I saw the chairman of UK Sport, Rod Carr, on TV, he said

"We want to see a healthier nation that takes part in exercise. We've played our part in that. We need a collective effort."
The subtext here is that they delivered what was promised, now someone else needs to do something. 

Sport participation down since the last Olympics.
Sport England's figures show a decrease in sport participation since 2012, down from 1.7 million in Oct 2012 to 1.56million in April 2016. And even more surprising there is a decrease in disabled sport participation since the Paralympics in London.
15.8 millions people play sport or exercise once a week. The biggest growth has been in ‘keep fit and gym’, so not actually a sport. Unless you count Crossfit as a sport and there are no figures for Weightlifting.
Yes, the lottery funding has worked for elite sports and Olympic cycles. But has it filtered down into the general population, are kids more active? And are there more opportunities to participate in sport and activity than before.
Since the last Olympics, the Olympic athletics stadium is now a football ground, the track where Jess Ennis trained in Sheffield has closed down. And I know from personal experience that trying to get funding for a local running track to have a better surface put on it is near on impossible.
Has there been a sudden rise in the number of 50 metre swimming pools or velodromes? The answer is no.
There is a sport we are world leaders in, cycling. Apparently 2.5 million people take part in this per week ( and this doesn't include commuting ) and we dominate track and road cycling. Something that was unthinkable 20 years ago. And yet, has there been a massive increase in the building of cycle lanes, cycle paths, mountain bike courses, BMX courses? The answer is no, no, no and no. Last time I looked Denmark and the Netherlands put us to shame.
We are willing to spend billions on infrastructure projects like high speed railways, road widening, congestion charges and even nuclear power stations. But something that is a green form of transport and good for your health. Nah, take your chances in the bus lane.
Rightly or wrongly, physical exercise is a big part of the governments strategy for tackling obesity. (Many people argue there is a lack of emphasis on nutrition, and as all the research shows for weightloss nutrition is more important than exercise).
As we know exercise is one of the greatest things you can do for all aspects of health. But does the Olympics have a trickle down effect?
We know there is no trickle down effect from football. A game that is worth billions of pounds has not impacted the grass roots game. Outside of the Premier League, clubs struggle. There is no co-ordinated national programme. The Premier League is a business showcase for international players and managers, but participation in football is down and trumped by cycling.
More adults take part in cycling or swimming than football or golf. Source: Sport England.

A working class hero is something to be.
Sport participation in the poorest social groups is down according to Sport England data.
In the London Olympics a disproportionate amount of medals were won by people who had attended private (public) school. The figures for Rio 2016 are looking somewhat better, but still over one third of our medalists went to private school, when only 7% of under 16's go to an 'independent' school.
Let's face it, to take up rowing or show jumping you need access to those facilities and there aren’t many fencing clubs on housing estates.
Private schools tend to have running tracks, swimming pools, rugby tours and more. Other schools had to sell their playing fields.
Even the Sport England figures for athletics are a bit misleading, as they count road running and jogging as athletics, not only track and field. I would be interested to see the figures for athletics if you took out jogging and park runs. If a young girl wants to emulate Jess Ennis or Katarina Johnson Thompson and practice these events, access may be somewhat harder depending on your location in the country.
Some sports have always had traditional working class roots like Boxing, and even middle distance running. But unlike Kenya or Ethiopia we don’t have 10 people waiting to take Mo Farah's place, as a nation our marathon times are slower than in the 1980s.
Running is essentially free, but there is something else at play, something deeper.
Badminton is available at nearly every leisure centre, but it still tends to be an ‘old persons’ activity.

The Olympics are great, you get to see all these sports that never normally get shown. For example, the BMX was exciting, I personally like weightlifting and had to find it on the red button.
BMX: Way more interesting to watch than cricket. Source:

They still showed an inordinate amount of tennis and golf, which we get to see all year round anyway, we won gold so you can’t complain.
But once the Olympics is over, you will need to tune into Channel 4 at 7am on a Sunday to see anything different.
Even the Tour De France, which we actually win, is on ITV4 despite the fact more people take part in cycling than football. What's more, cycling is seen as the 'new golf' for more middle aged men, the section of the population most likely to watch sport on traditional TV.
But there is a perceived wisdom in the media. The nightly news will show football and cricket results and assume you know what they are talking about. No need to explain the rules (and I still don’t understand cricket even though we had to do it at school.). But show some cycling and they are explaining yellow jerseys and stage wins like we are dumbasses at home.
Mainstream TV really needs to start showing these sports, they could buy the rights for pennies. We literally have hours of coverage of snooker and darts, and I have nothing against this but with digital channels, iplayer etc there is so much more scope.
Kids do what they see.
Some sports don’t translate well to TV, for example, squash. But I can’t see badminton being any less compelling than tennis, and if people watch golf and cricket for hours then surely anything is fair game.

Coaches, Paralympics, Weightlifting.
American Universities have state of the art facilities, tracks, stadiums, pools and coaches. There is a high school system and a college system that feeds basketball and football (NFL). The idea of the coach is embedded in their system.
Fees at many UK universities are now comparable with US Universities, but good luck seeing that reflected in facilities.

Now I'm not saying the American University system is perfect and we should be handing out scholarships to people just because they can play basketball. But there are lessons to be learned in terms of coaching and facilities.
The US system is used to having coaches at school and college level. In our system there is a coaching void until you reach the high level. Also note the level of foreign coaches at the highest level – rowing – German coach, rugby – Australian, cycling – several nationalities.
We still have an amateur approach to coaching at most levels. After the last Olympics I expected there to be an explosion in coaching opportunities, especially with athletics and weightlifting. There wasn’t.
Weightlifting lost its funding because it hadn’t attracted enough people to the sport. Despite an explosion in Olympic weightlifting in gyms and crossfit facilities, there was no push to get younger people into the sport, despite ready-made facilities and coaches good to go. In Rio 2016 Colombia had more athletes competing in weightlifting than us.
A few years ago a disabled gentlemen was interested in taking up some athletics, I contacted several organisations about how he could start and how to find a coach. All the organisations were very supportive and there to 'facilitate' disabled sport but no one knew how I could find the guy a coach or how someone would become a coach. After seeing this page from Paralympics I hope the situation has changed,
But disabled sport participation is down since 2012. 
After The GB Women Gold in the Rio Hockey final, the importance of their Strength and Conditioning coach was cited, and how the coach was moving on to another sport. Surely we should be cultivating coaches at all levels of sport?

Women in sport.
Everyone in leisure knows if you want some funding for a scheme, say you are trying to get teenage girls involved in exercise, and a cheque will be winging its way to you before you can say ‘zumba’.
The lack of participation of young girls in exercise is a worrying trend.
And yet we have young black female sprinters winning medals in the 4x100m, and golds in female cycling and hockey players. How can we convert this into more female participation in exercise?
Rio 2016 GB Female 4x100m team. Ask them how to get more girls involved in sport.
I know not everyone wants to be an elite sports person, and some girls may be put off by the idea of competing, but surely there is someway we can use the likes of Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita and their coaches to galvanise girls to take part in sport. I note that Dina Asher-Smith is from my hometown and is also currently at Kings College University, surely she is a role model not some chump on reality TV?
Would more female sports on TV help? Our female hockey players and female football players are more successful than their male counterparts. Do we need to encourage more female coaches?
I see the GB Hockey team doing the rounds on TV, they are passionate about their sport and want more people to participate. It's a game involving a ball we actually won, the media need to take note.

Legacy reboot.
After London 2012 the legacy trail went cold. As someone in the leisure industry there was no big investment, or campaign or grassroots uptake of sports. There was no investment in facilities or coaching.
Yes, things like Back to Netball, No Strings Badminton and Go-Tri have been launched to try and encourage more people into these sports but have these worked?
The problem was no one was clear on what the legacy was meant to be. Was it to create another successful Olympic games, in which case success; cased closed. Or was it to increase sport participation, or increase levels of activity and exercise, or was it to make a healthier nation with less burden on the NHS? No one was sure.
We do know that exercise is as close to a magic bullet as there is for brain health and disease prevention. Survival rates from stroke and heart disease are way higher than in the 1970's mainly due to early medical intervention and drugs. When as everyone knows, prevention is cheaper and more effective.
We need to be clear on the goal. Who are we trying to attract?
The media will play its part, facilities will play its part and an increase in coaches will play its part too.
Otherwise in  four years time we will be having the same conversation. Four years of non mainstream sports being ignored, four more years of people asking what can be done about the burden on the NHS and peoples health.

Am I setting the bar too high? It's hard enough to get the most of the population to go for a walk and yet we are now an elite sporting nation. Is there a disconnect between the general population and the sporting elite?
What are your thoughts? What is the legacy? How do we get more people active? Does it even matter to you?


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