Jim Cowan: Sport England London 2012 legacy figures are beyond belief

Tuesday, 11 December 2012
Jim Cowan head and shouldersI have visited the sorry tale of the absent Olympic sports participation legacy on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. Absent or bad strategy, undelivered promises and political finger crossing have been the key elements of the tale to date, to which we can now add barely believable data...

Last week Sport England released the latest set of Active People statistics which, somewhat surprisingly, were reported by the media without question.

Yet, to anyone taking even a passing glance the figures are barely credible. It would appear that having been unable to generate the increase in sporting participation promised by our politicians when winning the London 2012 Games bid, the solution has been to simply massage the data to match the promise.

Officially 750,000 more people over the age of 16 are taking part in sport at least once a week compared to 12 months ago. Surely this is good news? Well, yes, it would be if it were believable.

The headline figure offered by Sport England's expensive Active People survey is 15.5 million over 16s regularly - once per week - taking part in sport.

Put that figure another way and it tells us that Sport England want us to believe that one in three over 16s in England regularly participate in sport. Seriously? Take a look around you - friends, work colleagues, family, neighbours - one in every three are playing sport regularly, that is what we are being asked to believe.

I can only speak for myself and, for me, that claim beggars belief. That the media accept it unquestioningly astonishes me. That the politicians who fund this expensive survey believe it continues to offer value for money - if it ever did -astounds me.

One in three. Take another look around you. Not one in three under 30s or under 40s, but 33 per cent of all over 16s in England.

Active People cyclingOne in three people in England now play sport, according to figures released last week

It appears the solution for successive Governments poor sports development strategy has been introduced. Just make the figures up to fit the promise. And why not, it appears no one cares enough to check anyway.

We still lack a properly integrated national strategy for the development of sport. Young people are still missing out on learning physical literacy at the key age/stage of development and we are still missing any target by which success (or failure) of government policy can be judged.

But, take a look around you, one in three of your neighbours are playing sport regularly (ahem) so everything in the garden must be rosy.

Jim Cowan is a former athlete, coach, event organiser and sports development specialist who is the founder of Cowan Global, a company specialising in consultancy, events and education and training. For more details click here.
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