The London Olympics may fail to boost the number of people participating in sport in Britain, according to research. A sporting legacy with more people taking part in activities at grassroots level was at the heart of the London 2012 bid.
A study conducted by the University of Kent into the legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics has found there was at best only a temporary impact on people taking up sport.
Dr Sakis Pappous, of the Centre for Sport Studies, said there was only a shortlived boost of 6% in sports activity in Greece between 2003 and 2004.
Five years on from the Games, the number of people who said they exercised regularly had fallen by 13%.
"It is not even clear that the shortlived increase in those exercising regularly was down to the Games effect, as Greece won the European football championship in that year, which may have influenced sports participation.
"But what is evident from the statistics is that rather than producing a lasting impact on a generation of people who are excited about sport, the Games in Greece had at best only a temporary impact on participation in sport and physical activity.
"The data for the Greek population suggests that, if a broader strategy towards an active lifestyle is not implemented, then sporting excitement on its own will not sustain participation.
"In fact, there may be a reduction and possibly a rebound effect, where participation drops to levels lower even than during the pre-Olympic period."
In November, a £135m lottery-funded drive was announced in Britain to encourage mass participation in sport on the back of the London Games.
Olympics minister Hugh Robertson had said tackling the poor state of sports facilities across the country is a top priority. A nationwide campaign to offer teenagers and young adults six weeks of coaching in the sport of their choice was also announced.
"It will be really interesting to see if London organisers achieve their ambitious plans and manage to turn the UK into a more active nation, or whether the results will have the same firework effect that we found in Athens 2004, where participation increased dramatically in the short term, but was not sustained."
Earlier this month a Centre for Social Justice report raised doubts about whether the London Games will fulfil its legacy pledge of helping Britain's neediest young people.
The thinktank said the legacy pledge will eventually come to be seen as a "highly effective sales pitch that was never fully realised".
The report said:
"The scale of the challenge that the Olympic organisers have set themselves is too high for the relatively limited amounts of funding and the programmes that have been promised to deliver successfully."
The report also said previous Olympics, such as the Sydney Games in Australia, failed to produce an increase in participation, and pointed out that popular school sports such as cricket, rounders and netball will not feature in London 2012.
It added that there was no evidence of a link between national sporting success and increased levels of sporting activity.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said:
"We have not seen the full research but the government and Olympic organisers are completely committed to delivering a lasting sporting legacy from the 2012 Games."
"Increasing participation as a result of hosting the Games is not an easy task and past host cities have not managed to achieve that but we are not shirking from that ambition. We are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to create better facilities and give people more opportunities to play sport."
"And the new School Games competition will encourage young people up and down the country - from all backgrounds - to get involved in sport."
Orginal Article Posted on:
www.guardian.co.uk, Sunday 29 May 2011 19.47 BST