The sporting legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games has been called into question after new figures revealed a huge fall in sport participation by women, the disabled and the poorest in society.
Labour seized on the figures to accuse the Government of wasting “wasting a golden sporting legacy” after Sport England admitted it was “concerned” that its yearly Active People Survey showed a dramatic fall in sport participation by women and disabled people.
Overall the study found that 125,000 fewer people were participating in sports than a year ago, with swimming among the worst-affected sports with 245,000 fewer people taking to the pool.
However sport equality campaigner are most concerned by the revelation that 121,700 fewer disabled people and 125,000 fewer women are regularly taking part in sport, despite big inclusion drives since the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The total participation in sport is now down to 15.6m people who play sport across England for 30 minutes or more at least once a week, compared to 15.7m people last year. This figure has been partly offset by increases in participation in football, athletics and cycling.
The English Federation of Disability Sport reacted with dismay to the figures which it described as “disappointing” called for organisers to be more “proactive” in supporting disabled people.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a Paralympic gold medallist and member of the House of Lords, told the Independent: “We know we see an increase in [disabled] participation after the Olympic and Paralympic Games and can expect to see that tail away without a massive financial commitment. But this isn’t simple. The way all people want to do sport is changing, it’s no longer about trying out for a team or training twice a week with a club, people want to be more flexible.”
Sport England chief executive Jennie Price said that while she was “very concerned” about the drop in popularity of swimming, she was “equally” concerned about the decrease in disabled partition in sport.
She said: “I am determined to address this, which is why we we’re now working with a much wider range of organisations from the disability sector.”
Sports minister Helen Grant said she was “very concerned” about the overall fall in sports participation and called on sports bodies to take steps to involve more women, the disabled and ethnic minority groups.
However Labour described the Government’s record on sport as “appalling”, pointing to the fall in disabled participation and the fact that the hardest hit by the fall in popularity of sport were the poorest in society.
Clive Efford, shadow Minister for Sport, told The Independent: “It is completely unacceptable that we should see a decline in participation figures so soon after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, at a time of unprecedented media exposure for both female and disabled athletes. This Government has completely failed to build on the golden sporting legacy they were left by the previous Labour Government.”
Swimming has traditionally been England’s most popular sport, so the drop in participation has come as a shock to sports bodies. One theory was that local swimming pools had failed to modernise and adapt in the same way gyms and athletics clubs have done since the London Olympics.
Amateur Swimming Association chief executive Adam Paker said the body was “surprised” by the fall, but said it was already making significant changes including a new programme to re-engage with “lapsed swimmers.”
Unlike swimming, most team sports, including football, cricket, netball and rugby union, have seen a modest rise in participation in the last two years, with less mainstream solo pursuits such as canoeing, mountaineering, fencing and taekwondo all enjoying an Olympic bounce with rising numbers of people taking part. Sports bosses will also take heart though from signs that youth participation is still climbing though with an increase of 55,900 14-25 years-old in England playing sport, up to 4.72m, while overall participation across all age ranges remains 1.6m higher than when London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic games in 2005.Reuse content