Jim Cowan: Lack of coordination undermining London 2012 physical participation legacy

Thursday, 15 December 2011
Jim CowanThe last couple of weeks have seen two important reports published, neither of which has been linked to the other by media or politicians but which together add weight to my oft-repeated suggestion that far better vertical integration of strategy is demanded of our politicians and their quangos.

First came Cancer Research UK's report telling us that 40 per cent of all cancers are due to the lifestyle choices we all make. This was reported - correctly - as a ticking time bomb for the NHS, and while it hasn't really added anything to the body of knowledge on the subject, it did come as a timely reminder that lack of exercise and poor dietary choices have more downsides than just the thickening waistlines visible on every high street.

The second report was Sport England's 'Active People' survey which, although suggesting physical activity is slightly up, did not provide evidence that the Government and its agencies are in any danger of delivering the participation legacy promised to the world in 2005 - added to that, other than the figures for athletics, none of Active People's reported figures have undergone independent scrutiny and those for athletics have been shown to be wildly over-exaggerated - the picture is likely far worse.

In July last year Minister for Sport and the Olympics Hugh Robertson insisted a national strategy for the development of sport was in place. Following the announcement of the latest Active People figures he told Sky News that a strategy would be in place early next year. The apparent contradiction needs explanation and, further demonstrating poor understanding of strategy, neither has anyone in Government yet explained how scrapping New Labour's targets for participation but not replacing them gives any strategy - current, future or imagined - meaningful measures?

If the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is failing in its duty to honour the sporting participation legacy  - and in providing any strategy at all for the development of sport - it should realise that has impact far beyond the world of sport and what Cancer Research UK's report reminds them is that a healthier nation will require far less intervention from an NHS facing obesity and cancer - and other - time bombs in the future.

I pick on the DCMS but in general, strategy emanating from all Government departments, where it exists, continues to be poor. And where it shows any degree of integrated thinking is limited to the horizontally integrated only. There is no evidence whatsoever of any of the vertically integrated strategy demanded to link - for example - the needs identified by Cancer Research UK's research and the promises made for physical participation when securing the 2012 Olympic Games.

In tough economic times it should also not be overlooked that ensuring strategy is well-integrated vertically doesn't only help to recognise broader - but related - issues and increase the likelihood of strategy being successful; vertically integrating strategy always offers far greater value and economy.

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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