Tom Peck: The London Olympics was never going to solve inactivity

No host nation has ever recorded a boost in sporting uptake

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The Independent Online

Getting the nation off their sofas was the central promise of the London Olympics and evidently it has not succeeded.

But Olympic decision- making is rarely understood in its proper context. There was no moment in and around 2003, or any time after, that Tony Blair or Tessa Jowell looked at the inactive nation around them and decided that bidding for the Olympics was the way to solve the problem.

Britain bid for the Olympics for their own sake. A promised surge in national Lycra wearing was only ever a part of the strategy for how to win the right to host the Games, and how to convince the public they were the exorbitant cost.

No Olympic host nation has ever recorded a boost in sporting uptake as a consequence of hosting a grand sporting party, and London and Britain will be no different.

Labour, predictably, have been quick to attack the Government, with sports spokesman Clive Efford telling 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.”

Of course, there have been cuts. Even Jessica Ennis-Hill’s own training track, at Don Valley, Sheffield closed last year. But there have been cuts everywhere.

Even by ignoring the Olympics, which fade ever faster on the distant horizon, this country needs to get more people fit. 15.6m people regularly playing sport constitutes less than a third of the total population (the number only pertains to England − Wales, Scotland and northern Ireland monitor themselves). And the money that is spent on doing so must be deployed more wisely.

The great drop off in disabled participation figures are the most alarming, given the big talk of transformation that followed the Paralympics. In the months that followed the Games many disabled people spoke of unanswered phones, malfunctioning websites and facilities not ready to meet their sudden enthusiasm.

These numbers are certainly depressing, but they are being taken seriously. And the rise in footballers, netballers, cricketers and rugby players is encouraging. If swimming can address its demise, as it says it is already doing, next year’s figures might well be more promising.