Government lowers the bar to help Coe claim legacy victory

Pledge to increase sporting participation is boosted – by setting easier once-a-week goal

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The Government looks set to report a big rise in the currently disappointing figures on sport participation by changing the way in which it calculates them.

Increasing participation in sport was a huge part of the "legacy" promise made by Lord Coe that helped win London the Olympics in 2005. The Sports minister, Hugh Robertson, said the current measurement however – that of taking part in three separate instances of sport a week – was "incredibly testing" and a new "more sensible once-a-week target" would be introduced.

The previous government set a target of a one million people participating in sport by 2013, and invested considerable public money in meeting it.

However, when Labour left office in 2010, the number participating in sport was a tenth of that figure. The Coalition Government subsequently abandoned attempts to reach the target – though it is still committed to increasing sporting participation.

"One million was an amorphous target, it doesn't exist anymore," said a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). "There are lots of problems with the way that information was captured. Someone who goes out and plays cricket for seven hours at the weekend, or someone who trains once a week for two hours, then plays a football match at the weekend – these people wouldn't be considered active participants in sport."

A consultation with Sport England, and the governing bodies of various sports on a new way to measure participation is about to begin.

The spokesman said the way in which information was gathered on sporting participation was flawed, as research teams "only called people on landlines. No email, no mobiles. It's not the best way to find out what people are up to."

The DCMS is currently working with Sport England to develop "whole sports plans" for all of the sports it oversees. In these will be new targets on participation, which sport's governing bodies must meet in order to receive the funding Sport England gives them.

Sport England have more than £1bn of both lottery and government money to invest in more than 100 sports between 2012 and 2017, including angling, dodgeball and Chinese martial arts.

"The problem is that we as a government, as the last government has done, have measured sports participation by an incredibly testing target," Mr Robertson said in an interview with Sky News.

"You have to do three separate instances of it a week and I think that very tough measurement is masking a much greater improvement in the number of people who play sport once or twice a week but fail that three-times-a-week target and one of the things we're doing as part of the new strategy is having a more sensible once-a-week target."

The minister's comments come after the Government was heavily criticised for its perceived failure to increase sporting participation in a report by the Public Accounts Committee two weeks ago.

The committee's chairman Margaret Hodge wrote in the report: "With only 109,000 new people regularly participating in sport against an original target (which the new government chose not to adopt) of one million by March 2013, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has got poor value for money for the £450m spent through sporting national governing bodies."

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