Robin Scott-Elliot: Young Britons are not 'choosing sport' – will that be £9.3bn legacy?
The number of 16-25-year-olds taking exercise has fallen
Wednesday 11 July 2012
It was seven years ago that Seb Coe made a bold promise about what would happen if London were awarded the 2012 Olympics. Bringing the greatest sporting show on earth to the UK would "inspire young people to choose sport".
Getting young people active has been installed as a cornerstone of the London Games – this is part of the reason for the £9.3bn spend, in effect the moral justification of having the Games in this country. It's all about "the L word": legacy.
Sports participation among young people is a problem. The number of 16-to-25-year-olds taking regular exercise has fallen over the last five years, according to figures released earlier this month by Sport England. It is an issue that needs to be addressed, but it is one the Coalition government seems to care very little about outside the offices of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Over the last two years, free swimming for under-16s and over-60s has been scrapped (reluctantly by the DCMS) and Michael Gove cut the £162m ring-fenced for sports coaching in schools. Swimming is the sport that tops the Sport England table of most participants. The numbers of people in the pool since that cut was made has fallen.
Second on the list is football. Its numbers have held firm. Make it more expensive for young people, a generation under increasing financial pressures, to participate in and those numbers will fall. Football is popular among the 16-25 age group. It is a simple equation.
Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, cares about his brief. He shadowed it before the election and has since made a good impression with many of the plethora of governing bodies who oversee sport in this country. Little will be seen of him in the coming weeks as he is elbowed aside by his superiors in government leaping aboard the Olympics bandwagon.
Once it has rolled out of town in five weeks' time, Robertson will be left to pick up the pieces of a legacy that, when it comes to inspiring a generation to actually get up and do something, is looking increasingly unconvincing.
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