Sport funding facing overhaul to save London 2012 legacy

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch: "There isn't one simple reason why people aren't getting involved in sport"

Sport funding is facing a major overhaul in a bid to reverse recent disappointing participation figures.

Amid increasing concerns that Britain is failing to live up to the legacy promise of the London 2012 Olympics, a public consultation has been launched to mark the start of a new strategy for sport.

And the government has warned that the mounting cost of success for Britain's Olympic and Paralympic athletes is "at odds with the current financial climate".

Whereas latest figures for Sport Wales, Sport Scotland and Sport Northern Ireland all show increases in participation levels, almost 250,000 people have stopped taking part in regular activity over the past six months in England.

A major shake-up of the way sport is funded across the UK will now be considered, with money potentially diverted away from national governing bodies (NGBs).

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said: "Sport has such a positive impact on people's lives and I want to embed participation into this nation's DNA.

"I want to make sure that the sports sector gives everybody - no matter who they are and what their ability - the chance to take part.

"However, public funding is a privilege not a right and has to go to the organisations that can make a real difference."

The BBC understands sports charities such as Sported, StreetGames, Parkrun, Access Sport, Street League and Greenhouse could now receive more of the £1bn that Sport England spends every five years to fund community sport and encourage participation.

In a sign that the government is running out of patience with some NGBs, a more 'mixed economy' approach will be considered, with other providers trusted to deliver results.

Great North Swim
Around 10,000 participants were involved in June's Great North Swim at Lake Windermere

Last month, Crouch criticised the UK's "severely outdated" sports strategy after an alarming decline in the numbers of people taking part in swimming, the country's most popular sport in terms of participation, with 144,200 fewer people visiting their local pool in the last six months.

She pledged to "rip up that strategy and start again", and a nine-week consultation will begin on Tuesday in what could be a major shake-up of sports policy.

However, Clive Efford MP, Labour's Shadow Sports Minister, said: "The government's consultation is five years too late and can't hide the fact that with a year to Rio, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic legacy is crumbling because the government's sports strategy under David Cameron has been an abject failure; he's wasted a once in a generation opportunity to inspire people to get active and play sport."

According to Sport England, the percentage of those on the lowest incomes participating in sport has hit the lowest level since records began in 2005/06.

And at a time of rising childhood obesity, less school sport and cuts to local authority leisure budgets, official figures show that most five to 10-year-olds (59.6%) and 11 to 15-year-olds (42.5%) say the 2012 Games had "not at all" encouraged them to take part in sport.

The previous coalition government was criticised for abolishing £162m of ring-fenced funding for national School Sport Partnerships, although £150m a year was subsequently reinstated in the form of a school sport premium.

Many blame what they see as the lack of a coherent, joined up, cross-departmental national sports policy, and Emma Boggis, CEO of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, said: "A new strategy has to aim to integrate physical activity policy everywhere - from schools to local authorities, from transport to health services.

"Anything less will be a lost opportunity. It's been 13 years since the last sports strategy. A lot has changed since then and we need to work together to make sure that the UK is fit for the future. It needs to be a root and branch review of the government's objectives."

The government has become increasingly ruthless with NGBs, cutting their public funding if they fail to deliver participation targets.

In 2014, Sport England reduced its investment into England Basketball and began funding community organisations with strong track records such as the British Basketball League Foundation and Reach & Teach.

National sports charity StreetGames was given £6m for its Doorstep Sport Clubs programme, a reward for it reaching its target of setting up 307 clubs and getting more young people from disadvantaged communities into sport.

Who's taking part in what
Oct 2012-Oct 2013Oct 2013-Oct 2014Change
Rugby union159,900178,800Increase
Source: Sport England's Active People Survey

Chair of the Sports Think Tank, Andy Reed, said: "There is a strong appetite for change. It's time to embrace new technology, new players and new approaches if we are going to maximise the potential of sport to improve sports participation and the nation's health, fitness and well-being.

"It is time the sector came together to create and deliver a truly inspirational long-term, cross departmental sport and physical activity strategy."

Some NGBs will no doubt feel Crouch is over-reacting. After all, there are doubts over the reliability of the data that Sport England bases its annual Active People Survey on and the extent to which it determines funding decisions. In addition, some sports - cycling and athletics for example - are increasing in popularity.

Facilities, changing lifestyles, school sport and the drift of sports towards satellite television and less exposure all play a role.

Some suspect this consultation will pave the way for an impending cut to sports funding in the autumn spending review, and question the government's commitment when sport is still not represented by a Secretary of State.

Although 1.4m more people are participating now than when the bid to host the Games was won in 2005, the struggle to make the nation more active since 2012 is in stark contrast to the success Britain has enjoyed in elite sport.

Although controversial for discriminating against less established sports, the 'no compromise' approach of UK Sport has delivered impressive results with a record medal haul at the London Games. Crouch will now want more of the same, but with cuts to the current record levels of elite sport funding expected in the future, that could also prove a challenge.

For now however, the priority appears to be participation rather than high-level performance.

The 2012 Olympics were won on a promise of a glorious sporting legacy, but exactly three years on, the consultation represents an admission that the country is failing to capitalise on that memorable summer of sport, and the £9.3bn it cost to stage.


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