Mo Farah wins gold in Men's 5000m, London 2012
Mo Farah wins gold in Men’s 5000m, London 2012

Five years ago this month, the London Olympic Games – seen as a great success for Britain – came to a close.

At the time, the country was promised that the end of the Games would not mean the end of the success story, that there would be a lasting legacy for sport participation.

But, in England at least, that promise was broken.

The government gave Sport England £1bn to invest in grassroots sports, and Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, saidthe Games provided an “extraordinary chance” to “reinvigorate this country’s sporting habits for both the young and the old”.

He described it as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity, a real golden moment for the UK”.

But there has been virtually no increase in participation in sport.

Since 2005, when London won the bid to host the Olympics, Sport England has surveyed people about their physical activity.

In 2005-06 the proportion of over-16s in England who played sport for at least 30 minutes each week was 34.6%. By 2015-16, it was 36.1%.

Among 16- to 25-year-olds, there has been no change at all in participation rates since 2005-06.

What about younger children?

From 2012, Sport England has included 14- and 15-year-olds in the survey.

School sport is included, so a higher percentage of this age group report playing sport once a week – about 70%.

And while it looks like there may have been a post-Olympic boost, the proportion then dropped back to just under 70%.

To look at participation rates for children younger than 14, we can look at Taking Part, an England-wide survey from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

Since 2011-12, this survey has asked a number of questions about the impact of the London Games, including whether hosting the Olympics encouraged respondents to take part in sport.

In 2015-16, nearly 70% of the five- to 10-year-olds answered: “Not at all.”

Of the 11- to 15-year-olds, 57% said the Games had encouraged them to take part in sport.

But the Taking Part survey has a similar measure to Sport England of playing sport for 30 minutes a week.

And, although it shows higher participation rates in younger children, overall, for both age groups, there has been no change.

But the sports legacy was part of a wider set of ambitions that included:

  • economic regeneration
  • improving transport links
  • providing world class sporting facilities in London and across the UK
  • the creation of a new green space, the Olympic Park

And the London Games legacy is evident when it comes to elite sport and medals.

Although British Athletics came sixth in the medal table at the World Championships last week, they hit their target.

And in Olympic and Paralympic sports as a whole, Team GB retain their strong position.

In the 2012 London Games, Team GB athletes came third in the overall medal tables for both the Olympics and Paralympics.

And in Rio, four years later, they came second in both – the first nation in the history of the Olympics to improve their medal tally following a home games.


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