This article titled “Richard Caborn: ‘Olympic legacy in danger of failing completely'” was written by Owen Gibson, for The Guardian on Tuesday 20th September 2011 15.31 UTC
The sports minister who helped to shape the legacy promises that won London the 2012 Olympics has claimed one of them – the drive to increase sports participation – has been “disastrous” and called for an urgent change of strategy.
Richard Caborn, the sports minister when the bid was won in 2005 with a stirring speech from Lord Coe about the legacy it would leave for east London, sport and the youth of the world, said the participation drive was in danger of “failing completely”.
“The Olympics will be a spectacular success but we are not capitalising on that. We are in danger of failing completely on the long-term sporting legacy of the Games,” Caborn said.
“There needs a major change of direction in the strategy on this if the disastrous decline experienced by many of the sports is to be reversed.”
Caborn plans to elaborate on his warning in a keynote speech at the annual meeting of the Sports and Recreation Trust Association in Birmingham on Wednesday.
One of the many ambitious legacy promises attached to London’s bid by the then Labour government was a vow to increase the number of people playing sport three times or more a week by one million by 2013. However, according to the latest quarterly figures from Sport England the total stands at 6.924 million, a modest increase on the 6.815m “baseline” figure in 2007‑08 and a long way from the target of 7.815m by 2012‑13.
The government has already dropped a second target that was to have been delivered through the National Health Service to get one million extra people taking more exercise every week.
The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, indicated this year in an interview with the Guardian that the Sport England target was also likely to be dropped in favour of a “more meaningful” measure.
Caborn partly blamed the system put in place by his successors in the Labour government, whereby £450m has been invested through the so-called “Whole Sport Plan” over four years and channeled through governing bodies.
“The key to this is Sport England changed the strategy in 2008 and has basically been just acting as a bank, funding governing bodies,” said Caborn.
“They have failed on just about every count. They are responsible for the structure of grassroots participation and now need to change course and provide leadership.”
Sport England rejected his claims, saying that less than half of its annual budget went to the governing bodies but admitted the pace of change needed to “increase significantly” over the next 12 months.
Caborn’s concerns echo those raised recently by the British Olympic Association chairman Lord Moynihan, another former sports minister. In July, he told the Guardian that the sports participation legacy was at risk and called for local authority funding of sporting facilities to be made mandatory.
Sport England has blamed the governing bodies and warned them that funding could be cut if their participation figures do not improve. Some, including both codes of rugby and basketball, have already seen their existing awards cut.
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.
But the latest Sport England figures from April 2011 show that 17 sports have recorded a decline in the number of people playing once a week since 2007‑08 and only four – mountaineering, athletics, netball and table tennis – have recorded a statistically significant increase.
“The number of people playing sport is increasing, but the pace of change needs to increase significantly over the next 12 months and beyond,” said the Sport England chairman, Richard Lewis.
“That is why the secretary of state for culture, media, sport and the Olympics has written to all sports governing bodies with the clear message that they must deliver participation growth or put their public funding at risk. Sports such as cycling and netball are already demonstrating what can be achieved through innovative approaches that focus on what people want from grassroots sport.”
A DCMS spokesperson said: “Creating a sporting legacy from London 2012 is a key pillar of the Government’s sporting strategy.
“A national School Games sporting competition, an investment of £135m in grassroots sport through Sport England’s ‘Places People Play’, together with the very real prospect of significant British success in the Games next year, will create a springboard for a fitter, healthier and more confident nation in the years to come.”
Sport England, which is to be merged with elite sport funding body UK Sport after the 2012 Games, is banking on the recent launch of mass participation schemes by the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union and the Lawn Tennis Association to make a difference.
The body distributes £242m a year in lottery and Treasury funding to grassroots sport, a figure that will increase to £283m next year as changes to Lottery distribution kick in.
“Our commitment to harnessing the power of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to boost grassroots sport goes beyond sports governing bodies, who receive about half of the money we invest,” said Lewis.
“Through the Places People Play legacy programme, we are investing £135 million of lottery funding to transform sports facilities, create more opportunities to play sport and inspire more people to get involved in making sport happen at the local level. We are also investing in the School Games, which is giving young people across the country more opportunities to take part in competitive sport.”
The government is believed to be in discussions about how the next round of Whole Sport Plan funding should work from 2013 and is planning an overhaul of the scheme.
It is understood that it will focus on specific targets around keeping young people in sport and be based on a much tougher “payment by results” mantra.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010