The Public Accounts Committee has been critical of DCMS and Sport England over the weekend for making insufficient progress at reducing inactivity.

It’s something we’ve thought a lot about at Spirit of 2012. As the social legacy funder for the London 2012 Games, we’ve funded powerful projects that focus on finding out what works to encourage the least active people in the UK to start and stay active.

The ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach of assuming people will watch elite sport and be inspired to become more active doesn’t work but getting people more active is still a fundamental legacy aim of most major sporting events. As the Rio Games approached in 2015, we started to work across sports and disability agencies to look at how we could work differently to deliver this aim – not funding traditional sports or activity sessions but funding an approach to reaching and sustaining activity levels for the least active. This led to Get Out Get Active (delivered by Activity Alliance and now joint funded by Spirit, Sport England and the London Marathon Trust) which shows what is possible by taking an inclusion and person-centred approach, not focusing on big participation numbers.

Sport England told the committee that there were three major factors stopping people from being active: opportunity, confidence and motivation.  These are helpful categories – which of course overlap and reinforce each other in complex ways. What does this look like in practice? In focus groups conducted as part of our inquiry into major events we spoke to people across the country about the barriers they face. You can get a taste of these rich conversations in the video below:

Our evidence to the committee – which you can read in full here, focused on what we’ve learnt about reducing inactivity, and how projects like GOGA might be scaled. The ‘inactive’ are not a homogenous group. There is also a danger that focusing purely on participation numbers leads to sports practitioners chasing low-hanging fruit, rather than doing the work building relationships with those who have the furthest to travel.

And what of the role of major sports events within all this? The Public Accounts Committee is justified in questioning the physical activity legacy from London 2012. The pieces were not fully in place to make good on those promises. The signs are hopeful for Paris 2024, where the French government have already used the opportunity of the event to introduce thirty minutes of physical activity a day in all schools.  But we should be careful about judging all sporting events by whether they lead to a marked increase in the numbers of people who are physically active – and writing off those which don’t as having no legacy whatsoever. We need to approach each event with a clearer understanding of who it might inspire, and how that inspiration can be built on over the long term.

Sport England’s Uniting the Movement strategy is a very welcome step in approaching physical activity in a way that will help more people get and stay active, but as we set out in our report Step Change, make a real and lasting difference it needs wider commitment from across government – not just DCMS – as well as the voluntary and community, faith and education sectors.

Further information

Consultation responses