Britons prefer better access to sport for all over Olympic gold, survey shows

London 2012. Photo: Duncan Rawlinson

24.02.2017

By Stine Alvad
Instead of public funding for the national Olympic team, a majority of the respondents in a recent survey say they prefer more accessible and affordable public sports centres and playing fields.

In a new survey carried out by YouGov, only seven percent of Britons indicate the Olympics as the inspiration for taking up sport. The respondents cite costs, poor or non-existent facilities and a lack of time or confidence as the main reasons for not doing sports.

In December 2016, UK Sport announced that the Team GB Tokyo campaign had reached £345m in funding and was aiming for the “best ever away Games in Tokyo, through delivering more medals and medalists to inspire the nation”.

However, according to the survey, spending millions on Olympic participation might not be the best way to “Inspire a generation”. In fact, only four percent of the respondents support this latest UK Sport funding strategy. Targeted campaigns like “This Girl Can” or programmes aimed at engaging disadvantaged are rated as more valuable (9% and 5%, respectively).

Nearly one fifth of the respondents (18%) would prefer to see government sports funding channeled into more community sports centres and into making them more affordable, 14% would prefer to have school and public playgrounds reinstated, 14% would like sports funding to go into local grassroots sports, while 13 % say that they think funding should go to improved physical exercise in schools.

Next week, Pro Bono Economics, who have commissioned the survey, will host a lecture under the theme: ‘Has Britain got sport upside down?’

Journalist Simon Kuper will be giving the lecture that will be followed by a panel discussion also featuring Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, gold-medal Paralympian and parliamentarian and others.

"These findings support my theory that Britain really has got sport upside down,” says Kuper according to a press release from Pro Bono Economics.

“Why spend billions on an Olympics when few kids in the country have the facilities to play judo, fencing or equestrianism anywhere near their homes? In many neighborhoods it's hard even to find a decent football field. The sell-off of school playing fields in the Thatcher/Major years did terrible damage to British sport.”

Focus on elite sport hinders mass participation
In a comment piece published earlier this week in the New Statesman, author and commentator, David Goldblatt, also argues that Britain is targeting physical inactivity in the wrong way saying that current and former governments have failed to facilitate the grassroots activities while focusing too hard on the “inspirational” quality of elite sports.

According to Goldblatt, the current lack of physical activity among the British population dates back to the deindustrialisation of the 1980s which led to a more sedentary lifestyle while fast-food industries experienced a boom.

Meanwhile, playgrounds, parks and municipal leisure facilities have been shot down and gaming and smartphones have become a large part of children’s playing time and unsupervised playing has ‘collapsed’ due to security concerns, writes Goldblatt.

He also argues that sport is much more than performance-based competitive elite sport, and too much focus has been put in that field instead of on the forms of sport that “doesn’t offer athletic brilliance, narrative complexity or collective extacy”.

“In the world of elite sport, decision-making is meant to be “performance-based”, so it is remarkable how immune it is to arguments that more star athletes do not translate into a healthier population,” he says.

Instead, the primary determinants of participation for children are their parents, peers, wealth and access to infrastructure. According to the YouGov survey, as much as one third have ‘no interest’ in the Olympics.

“Sport’s obsession with being “inspirational” is a hindrance to public-health interventions, not a help,” Goldblatt writes.

Like the respondents in the survey, Goldblatt points to the importance of creating easier access to sports facilities and making it less costly as a way of activating the population.

“Not a question of choosing”
In a statement commenting on the survey, Rod Carr, Chair of UK Sport, argues that both elite sport and grassroots sports are worthy of funding.

“The fundamental premise of the Pro Bono Economics research is highly questionable. Grass roots and high performance Olympic and Paralympic sport are both hugely important and worthy of investment – there is no question of having to choose between one and the other,” Carr says.

“Our own extensive research across a number of years demonstrates clearly that Olympic and Paralympic success instils a sense of national pride, ambition and achievement, that improved facilities for elite athletes benefit local communities and that hosting major sporting events inspires participation and boosts the economy.“

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