Olympics fit Britons campaign slammed

A former sports minister says not enough people in the UK are being inspired to take up sport by next year's Olympic Games. Is the level of participation 'disastrous' as he claims?

The Olympic motto may be ‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’ (in Latin, Citius, Altius, Fortius), but the team who bid successfully for London to host next year’s Games also promised that, as a result of the sporting contest, the rest of the UK would do more exercise – Britons would, if you like, become Fitter, Healthier, More Active.

Their idea was that alongside the main preparations for the London 2012 Olympics, a huge spurt of enthusiasm – and some £450 million of extra funding – would boost participation in sport. Ministers in the last Government set some ambitious targets, pledging to increase the number of people playing sport three times per week or more by one million by the time the 2012 Games were over.

But yesterday Richard Caborn, who was sports minister in 2005 when the London bid won the international competition to host next year’s Olympics, warned that the effort to get more Britons playing sport had been ‘disastrous.’

‘We are in danger of failing completely on the longterm sporting legacy of the Games,’ he said in a speech.

According to the latest official figures, 17 sports have seen the number of people playing once a week fall since 2007-8, while four are increasing significantly. Only mountaineering, athletics, netball and table tennis have seen a real boost. The money doled out to the official bodies for some sports, including rugby and basketball, has already been cut as a punishment for failing to improve popularity.

And overall, there are just under 7 million Britons playing regular sport each week, out of a population of 62 million: this is still a long way off the target 7.8 million.

The push to get more people taking up a sport is also focusing on young people, and coincides with competitive sport in schools returning to favour among politicians and policymakers. While it was once thought to make too many children and teenagers feel left out if they saw their more athletic peers winning prizes and captaining teams, now there is a concerted campaign to encourage pupils to compete against each other in sporting contests.

Almost half of all young people now take part in sport pitting school teams against each other, and nearly three-quarters take part in competitions in their own schools.

Character building?

The current Government says it still wants to use the Olympics as ‘a springboard for a fitter, healthier and more confident nation.’

Some will be inspired by the Olympics to get out and test their own skill and determination in the swimming pool, or on the tennis court or running track. Others may feel bullied or nagged: sport may be good for your body, but is it necessarily good for your character, as sporting enthusiasts claim?

You Decide

  1. Should everyone be encouraged to play sport? Why / why not?
  2. The modern Olympics: bringing benefits as well as entertainment to local people or an international circus of athletes, media and sports fans that leaves an expensive mess in a different city every four years?


  1. Can you translate The Day's invented motto for the sports participation legacy, 'Fitter, Healthier, More Active', into Latin, or any other languages that you study or know? Design a poster to encourage the idea.
  2. Get out and do some sport! Organise an event, big or small, in which everyone can take part if they want.

Some People Say...

“I don't want to participate, I want to be left alone.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What is all this talk about legacy?
When cities bid to host the Olympics, they have to promise more than a great, well-managed spectacle. Partly to justify the enormous cost to taxpayers, they have to come up with a plan showing how the population as a whole will feel the benefit both now and in the long-term.
And does it usually work out that way?
Sadly no. In Athens, where the 2004 Games cost $15m (£9.5m), the sporting grounds and the Olympic village have become abandoned wrecks and the facilities are not used by ordinary citizens. As for encouraging more sport, Greece has child obesity rates among the highest in Europe.
Oh dear. Are there other challenges?
Yes. The organisers have promised additional positive legacies: no white elephants in the shape of unused facilities, and a massive facelift for East London, where the Olympic Park is being built.

Word Watch

A short phrase which sums up the philosophy or ethos of some family, organisation or event.
In this sense, something that continues to give benefit in the future after the main event, something inherited. A financial legacy is money or goods of value that are inherited.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.