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Olympic legacy failure: sports participation figures

London Olympics 2012 promised to leave the legacy of an inspired generation engaged in sport.

So, three years on, how is it looking?

Numbers released on the amount of people playing sport regularly have been closely scrutinised since the big event

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According to the latest release of Sport England’s annual active people survey, the number of people in England who regularly take part in sport is rising.

But is has the Olympic promise been kept? It’s not that straightforward.

When you compare the 15.5m people aged 16 years and over in England playing sport at least once a week during the year up to March 2015, to the 14.1m in 2006, then the number has indeed increased. And not just that: from 2008 the number remained fairly stable until a boost in 2012 – no doubt in part thanks to the Olympics.

However, since 2012, the number of people practicing sport for at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity at least once a week has slowly declined. Most recently the number of people participating in sport once a week fell by 222,000 compared with October 2014.

Which sports have had the biggest boost or slump since the Olympics?
Taking six medals (four of these gold) the Team GB athletics squad did the nation proud at London 2012. Did well-known stars such as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah help raise the profile of athletics? It was already one of England’s most loved sports, being the third top sport for weekly participation pre-Olympics but by October 2013-2014, athletics became the second highest. During the year up to March 2015, more than 2.2m people regularly took part in atheltics each week – up by 328,100 on October 2010-October 2011.

Close behind on the success stories is cycling. Maybe it’s something to do with the truckload of medals the Team GB cycling team won at London 2012, the promises of investment in cycling infrastructure from the government or the effect of the Tour de Yorkshire, but cycling has done well. The number of people getting on their bike at least once a week reached 2.1m between October 2012-October 2013 (although it has dropped slightly in the most recent data). That’s a boost of 258,700 people since before the Olympics.

Weekly sports participation, 16+. England
But since 2005, the year Great Britain won the Olympics bid and the year from which Sport England calculates the difference, there has been an increase in weekly participation figures of 873,700 for athletics, 374,100 for cycling and 31,600 for table tennis.

It’s not equally successful news for swimming and football, the two sports that have seen the biggest decreases in weekly participation. The downward trend in swimming is not new though – since October 2009 the number of people taking to the pool each week has been dropping.

In 2010, when the coalition government came into power, Labour’s free swimming scheme got the chop and sports facilities have also suffered as a result of local council cuts.

Other sports which have seen their popularity drop are badminton, table tennis and Equestrianism.

Since 2005, swimming (-728,800), football (-140,100) and badminton (-66,800) are the Olympic sports which have seen the biggest decreases.

It remains to be seen whether the current downward trend in weekly sports participation continues, to reach pre-2005 levels – if so then much may consider the Olympic legacy to be a failure.

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