Chief Executive of Sport England, Tim Hollingsworth, has come out in strong defence of major events, following the abrupt and disappointing decision of Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews to pull out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, and just a day before Alberta has cancelled its bid for the 2030 Games. In an article for Inside The Games, Tim calls Andrews’ statement “myopic”, and sets out how host communities can benefit from “real and sustained change”. As the social legacy funder for the London 2012 Games, we at Spirit of 2012 have spent the past decade building up evidence about how this can be done.

The long-term impacts can be wide-ranging but, as Tim sets out, do not happen automatically. When it comes to increasing physical activity, the sector has largely (if not completely) moved on from assuming the inspiration effect alone will prompt people to get moving. The article concedes that in the London 2012 Games’ approach (notwithstanding some excellent physical activity programming) there was too often a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude, and refers to the targeted, place-based approach Sport England took with Birmingham 2022.

But it didn’t take us a decade to learn those lessons and we Spirit of 2012 still believe getting people active must be a key legacy of London 2012 to address persistent health inequalities. Two years after London, and following the fantastic Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, we began to focus on developing sustained work with the very least active, designing a major funding round in the lead up to Rio 2016, which would become Get Out Get Active (GOGA). This development focussed on working across sports and disability agencies to look at how we could work differently to deliver this aim – not funding traditional sports or activity sessions and with no over-inflated targets but funding an approach to reaching and sustaining activity levels for the least active.

We have invested £7.5m over the last seven years in Get Out Get Active in communities across the UK. Participating locations use evidence on their inactive communities to design physical activity (in its broadest sense) that people actually want to do, and that actively removed the barriers that have been stopping them getting active. Three years ago, Sport England and London Marathon Trust joined us as funders based on the considerable impact the project was evidencing. Led by Activity Alliance, the programme follows many of the principles that Hollingsworth sets out.

GOGA is on target to reach 40,000 people across the UK by the end 2023, with 7 in 10 participants in the programme being classified as physically inactive. Retention data shows that 2 out of 3 participants are sustaining their increased levels of physical activity during and after the programme. GOGA participants have told us they feel better, both physically and mentally, with statistically significant increases in wellbeing and decreases in anxiety. A social return on investment (SROI) analysis showed that GOGA was delivering an impressive £8.83 return on every £1 spent.

Over the past nine years we have also continued working directly with the Scottish Government on their physical activity grant funding, Legacy 2014, to keep the Glasgow legacy focus on tackling entrenched health inequalities.

More broadly we agree that events can leave a sustained legacy if that plan for “what next” is baked into the very heart of the decision to bid or host and is part of the long-term plans and ambitions for the place. In January 2023, our Inquiry into the Power of Events set out five recommendations for how events large and small could approach and deliver legacy for long term, sustained, benefit. Victoria’s loss will be another city’s gain – who knows, maybe even our friends in Birmingham and Glasgow again! – and using the evidence from the last ten years there is a real opportunity for them to use the catalytic effect of a major event to leave lasting and sustained impact.

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