London didn’t deliver its goal, but we won’t make same mistake with the Commonwealth Games

It is a decade since London 2012. Ten whole years since the nation was thrilled by Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, Nicola Adams and Sir Chris Hoy, among so many others, winning gold in front of capacity crowds. 

The Olympics and Paralympics Games were fuelled by a sense of optimism and expectation, and I’m not sure Britain has seen a time of celebration and connection through sport quite like it since. 

But the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which start this week, give us another national moment to get behind. It is a time for reflection too. 

On what we have learned from the legacy of 2012 — and how we apply those lessons now. In 2012 I was the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association.

It was remarkable to witness the transformation of public interest in disability sport and with it their perception of what is possible. 

The London 2012 platform created opportunities never seen before for our athletes, as well as driving more investment. 

It’s been 10 years since the nation was thrilled by Sir Chris Hoy and many other athletes

Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds (pictured) and Nicola Adams all won gold at London 2012

Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds (pictured) and Nicola Adams all won gold at London 2012

And both Games boosted sporting infrastructure, driving more opportunities for people to be active. 

Sport England, where I am now CEO, ran a programme in which more than 2,200 facilities were improved, 370 playing fields protected and areas of deprivation regenerated. 

But one of the key questions from 2012 is: did it make us a more active nation? Since we won the hosting rights in 2005 and began to work on the Commonwealth’s legacy, the number of active people has substantially increased. 

Commonwealth Games offer an opportunity to reframe the legacy of a major sporting event

Commonwealth Games offer an opportunity to reframe the legacy of a major sporting event

The Active People Survey shows that between 2005 and 2016, the number of people playing sport in Britain at least once a week grew by 1.9million. 

In 2015, Sport England introduced a new survey, Active Lives, designed to measure the number of people meeting the new Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity. 

Between 2015 and 2019 Active Lives showed that until the beginning of the pandemic the number of active people continued to rise, with those doing at least 150 minutes of sport and physical activity a week increasing by 1.1million. 

The trouble is, this growth was anything but universal across our communities and the inequalities that existed in 2012 have stubbornly remained. But we now know the reason for that — and, more importantly, how to address it. 

The evidence from 2012 tells us that hosting major events alone is not enough to drive long-term change in national behaviour. 

Jake Jarman has won a gold medal for England at the 2022 Games in the Men's Floor exercise

Jake Jarman has won a gold medal for England at the 2022 Games in the Men’s Floor exercise

You create a legacy for a big event through working hard to provide the right opportunities. It requires time, patience and a deep understanding of the barriers an individual or community might face. 

It requires more than building wonderful facilities or watching incredible athletes and assuming people will start being active on the back of that. 

Above all else, it requires sport bodies such as ours to break down the obstacles we know to exist, particularly when they are especially high for groups such as disabled people, diverse communities and those from areas of deprivation. 

Sport England’s research show us that affluence and activity levels are closely linked. The wealthier you are, the more active you are likely to be. 

Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth wants to provide resources to those that need help

Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth wants to provide resources to those that need help

That is why our 10-year Uniting the Movement strategy focuses on tackling stubborn inequalities in activity levels.

It targets providing resources and support to those that need more help to be active. Our approach to the Commonwealth Games is the same. 

We have invested £35million into Birmingham 2022, with a priority of creating inclusive and affordable local opportunities for people to get active. 

We are doing this by working with grassroots organisations who know the barriers to getting active — and how they can be overcome. 

Birmingham 2022 offers us the opportunity to reframe what the legacy of a major sporting event could and should be. 

First and foremost, this means tackling known inequalities to make it easier for everyone in society to participate at grassroots. 

It was Tanni-Grey Thompson who said ‘everyone has the right to be rubbish at sport’, and while I love watching our very best athletes deliver on the biggest stages, I’d love nothing more than to see the everyday participant thrive. That is what a true legacy should deliver.

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