The government is preparing to turn its back on one of the key legacy aims for the 2012 Olympics – the pledge to inspire one million adults to play more sport. It is understood that key participation targets bequeathed by the previous administration, towards which only negligible progress has been made, will be dropped.
Jeremy Hunt, the Olympics secretary, has also indicated a significant strategy shift for Sport England, the grassroots funding agency that will merge with elite funding body UK Sport after the Games. Both have had their funding protected through to 2015, thanks to a change in the way Lottery income will be distributed. But Hunt indicated that from 2013, Sport England would concentrate its strategy on school-leavers and young adults.
“I do think it’s reasonable to ask whether, with resources as constrained as they are, if it’s an appropriate use of taxpayers money to be focusing on adult participation when really what we want is to be getting young people into a habit for life,” he said. “We are looking very closely at whether we should target our resources more effectively in that respect. That would be a very significant shift that we’re actively talking to them about.”
Through the shift, it is hoped that older teenagers and those in their early twenties will get into the habit of playing sport and it will ultimately drive up adult participation figures in a more effective manner.
A total of £480m is invested through governing bodies under the current Whole Sport Plan to 2013, but it remains to be seen whether that total is maintained in the next four-year cycle.
Shortly after London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics, Labour pledged to use the power of the Games to inspire a million more people to play sport three or more times a week. A second pledge, to be delivered through the Department of Health, promised to get a million more people doing more general physical activity, a broader definition that included decorating and gardening.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hunt confirmed the second target had been quietly dropped shortly after the coalition government came to power. The first target, towards which the sports have made only glacial progress, nominally remains in place for now but it is understood that it too will shortly be dropped in favour of a “more meaningful” national measure.
It is likely to be designed to keep up the pressure on governing bodies to improve participation figures ahead of 2012, while also preparing the ground for the shift in strategy after the Games.
“It’s pretty hard to justify, in the current environment, Sport England funding office workers to try and encourage them to go to the gym more often. I’d rather encourage young people to get into sport for life,” Hunt said.
He said some studies showed the number of children playing sport dropped by two-thirds when they left school. The new School Games should provide a framework for “much closer links” between schools and governing bodies, he said.
Figures published last week by Sport England showed barely any progress was being made towards the target of 7.815m people playing sport three or more times a week by 2012-13.
Its latest quarterly Active People survey showed the figure stood at 6.881m, only a marginal increase on the 2007/08 baseline of 6.815m.
Over the four-year period football gets more than £25m, tennis more than £26m, cricket more than £38m, badminton more than £20m, rugby union more than £31m and rugby league more than £29m.
Sport England has been forced to warn sports that their funding could be cut if their participation figures don’t improve. The government is believed to be keen to ensure that the shift in strategy doesn’t let governing bodies off the hook.
A total of 17 sports have seen a decrease in the number of people participating once a week since 2007/08, while just four (athletics, mountaineering, netball and table tennis) have recorded an increase.
Basketball England this week became the first governing body to suffer a cut in funding. It was docked £1.2m as Sport England attempts to get tough over the issue.
Meanwhile, the sports minister Hugh Robertson will meet British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan on Tuesday in a bid to find a solution to its ongoing contract dispute with the London Organising Committee over any potential surplus from the 2012 Games.
The embarrassing dispute, which the BOA is taking to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, comes as the International Olympic Committee’s inspectors arrive in London to check on progress.
The BOA insists that the Olympics would yield a substantial surplus of up to £400m if all costs associated with the Paralympics were stripped out. But Locog believes the two events are part of an integrated whole and have budgeted to break even.
The government, who believe they have first call on the first £63m of hypothetical surplus in any case, and the IOC back Locog’s view.
Moynihan will meet with Robertson, who has been trying to mediate between the two sides, ahead of a meeting of all the Olympic sports represented by the BOA.
“Good progress was made over the weekend and at our request the government has agreed a meeting to discuss an amicable resolution to the current contractual dispute,” said Moynihan at a press conference to unveil a cast of British Olympic legends who will provide motivational, practical and fund raising support to Team GB.
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