Duncan Mackay
.Jim Cowan(2)Former Sports Minister Richard Caborn has hit out at "disastrous" results in the drive to boost sports participation on the back of the London Olympics. In doing so, he once again highlights the myth of the promised Olympic legacy and the failure of successive Governments - his own included - to plan properly for its provision.

Caborn says that Sport England's aim of increasing participation by one million is facing "complete failure" before going on to  say: "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. There needs to be a major change of direction in the strategy on this if the disastrous decline experienced by many of the sports is to be reversed."

Sport England's Active People Survey supports Caborn's position showing that since  2007/2008 only nine sports have seen an increase in participation while 21 have seen a decline. The reality is likely far worse with athletics being reported by Active People to be one of the nine growth sports while independent analysis of participation in the sport suggests the opposite is true. Athletics is the only sport to have received independent analysis of its reported figures.

However, where Caborn calls for "a major change of  direction in the strategy" what is he actually asking for?

It was Richard Caborn who was the Minister for Sport when, in 2005, London won the right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012. It was at this time that the target of one million more participants was set by him but no strategy worthy of the name was ever presented for public consumption by Caborn's department. Instead a series of initiatives were launched in the hope that they would support the stated aim.

Caborn said that in 2008 it was decided that Sport England should merely fund governing bodies instead of involving local authorities and regional Sports Councils in boosting participation. Sport England insist that is not the case.

Of course, it should be remembered that Sport England's primary role is to support Government policy via the distribution of Lottery cash and therefore the Government and Sport England are not that separate.

The fact is that both are right.  James Purnell, who followed Caborn at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), decided that the governing bodies (NGBs) should play a larger role in raising sports participation. Sport England were briefed to change "strategy" to reflect this and agencies like the County Sports Partnerships were, as a result briefed by Sport England to focus more closely on working with NGBs. This did not stop them also working with local authorities, education, health and others, it was the prioritisation of such partners which changed.

Purnell did not stay long at the DCMS but for the remainder of its life the last Government continued on a policy of "initiative-it is", a term coined by Tory Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson, in place of one involving proper strategy aimed at the integrated development of sport.

When the Conservatives won the election, Robertson lambasted initiative-itis and promised to deliver the missing strategy. That was in May of last year and yet we still await the strategy while initiative-itis continues unchecked.

But what of one million new participants in sport? Caborn is right when he says the aim will not be delivered but he has missed an important fact; no one is trying to deliver it anymore. In an earlier interview the Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the previous Government's target  had been quietly dropped by the present Government shortly after the election.

What the revised target may be we don't know. What the strategy for achieving the revised target may be is also unknown. The sad fact is that despite promising to the world that a legacy from hosting the Games in London would be an increase in the participation in sport, no-one in Government has yet seen fit to produce a strategy worthy of the name to deliver on that promise.

When Caborn calls for "a major change of direction in the strategy" what he should be asking for is a strategy designed to deliver on our promise to the world however the evidence of the  past and of Governments of both hues does not suggest we should be getting too  optimistic.

Robertson has reminded us that no other host nation has ever managed to achieve the feat of raising participation through hosting the Games, something we knew already and something which the bid presentation in 2005 pointed out, telling the world that Britain would deliver.

Not  without a strategy we won't and time is fast running out.

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