This review considers the evidence for legacy from major sporting events. It looks across the four themes of the Commonwealth Games Evaluation Project (flourishing, sustainable, active and connected).

6. Active

6.1 This section looks at evidence of achieving legacy aims in relation to sport participation and physical activity. It also looks at legacy of physical sport infrastructure, specifically post-Games use of venues and capacity building of sports clubs at the grassroots level.

Physical activity and participation in sport

6.2 In order to identify changes to participation levels, Veal (2003) examined national leisure participation survey data in Australia between 1985 and 2002. Issues such as constant changes to survey design made tracking over time far from straightforward and he stresses the caution required in interpreting data.

6.3 Veal demonstrated that following the Sydney 2000 Olympics, seven Olympic sports showed an increase in participation, while nine showed a decline in participation. Comparison with non-Olympic sports shows a similar pattern of small rises and declines, providing a very mixed picture. He later updated this research looking also at the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and Melbourne in 2006 alongside the Sydney data (Veal, 2012). Sydney data suggested a small non-significant increase which followed a substantial decline, and thus Veal suggests the Games could have been mitigating further decline. Data in relation to Melbourne, on the other hand, showed a small decrease between 2006 and 2007. He concludes that the available evidence is still insufficient to draw any strong conclusions and more research is needed.

6.4 A number of studies have reviewed the existing research into whether hosting a large multi-sport event increases levels of physical activity and participation in sport. McCartney et al. (2010) conducted a systematic review looking at sources published between 1978 and 2008. Their study highlights the lack of robust evidence. In terms of sport participation, only two studies passed their inclusion criteria. One of these studies suggested a decrease in sport participation levels after Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games while the other suggested an increase from the early 1980s to 1994 in relation to the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. However, both studies were regarded as being of lower quality. McCartney et al. conclude that the evidence base is not to sufficient to either confirm or refute the idea that sport participation will increase as a result of hosting such largest sport events.

6.5 Minnaert (2012) examined data from academic and non-academic research and conducted interviews with stakeholders from seven Olympic host cities (Atlanta, Nagano, Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, and Turin). She concludes that events tend to have the greatest impact on those who are already participating in sport and that there is little evidence of sustained changes in participation levels. Similarly, the East London Research Institute (2007) concludes that although there were signs of short-term increases in participation after the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the Barcelona 1992 Olympics, it is unclear whether these increases were in fact a result of the Olympics and there is no evidence of long-term effects (see also Campbell, 2012).

6.6 There has already been data published in relation to the London 2012 Olympics, but it is still too early to draw firm conclusions about the long-term impact on sport participation and physical activity.

6.7 The meta-evaluation of the London 2012 Olympics reports a small increase in the proportion of adults taking part in sport once a week between 2005/6 and 2012 (DCMS 2013). Sports participation data published since the meta-evaluation suggests some decline in England in 2013 (Sport England, 2013).

6.8 Wider physical activity levels were not specifically tracked in the meta-evaluation. The most recent data on physical activity in England was published in 2013, and shows no change in physical activity in recent years (Craig and Mitchell, 2013).

6.9 Surveys tracking sport participation levels over time suggest a significant, though small, increase in 2012 compared to 2005/2006[1] (DCMS, 2013). There does however appear to be a small dip in the data in early 2013. The first major study to capture the wider effects on physical activity in England in the year of the Olympics has also been released (Health Survey for England, 2013). It also shows a mixed picture, but overall it shows no significant change to participation levels in the wider population.

6.10 Nonetheless, when asked explicitly, many people agree that London 2012 has inspired them get more active, in particular people who are already taking part in sport (Garside, 2013; Centre for Sport Physical Education and Activity Research, 2013; DCMS, 2013; TNS BMRB, 2012). Although it is still unclear whether these beliefs will translate into actual changes in behaviour, they do demonstrate positive perceptions of the event and a willingness to be inspired and take part. There are also indications that more people are taking up active travel, in particular cycling, during and after the Games (Grous, 2012; LOCOG, 2012), although the long-term trend is yet to be established.

6.11 Evaluations of legacy programmes such as the Inspire Programme (Millward, 2013) and Street Games (Hills, 2013) also suggest that some, in particular young people, have benefitted from 'event-themed' activities which aim to build on the momentum of the Games. The rigour of these evaluations varies and suggests mixed success. Moreover, the scale of these programmes is unlikely to be large enough to affect population levels of activity and participation.

6.12 Weed (2009) discusses the processes that may be involved in increased sport participation. He outlines the 'demonstration effect', which involves people being inspired to take up or do more sport as a result of watching elite athletes, and the 'festival effect' which involves people being inspired to participate in sport and culture activities by the excitement and the positive atmosphere around the event (see Smith, 2012). Weed concludes that there is mixed evidence for a 'demonstration' effect and that the effect is often short-term. If anything, these effects appear to work for people who are already participating in sport, and may do it more frequently or switch to another sport. The evidence for the existence of a festival effect is also limited. Weed (2009) suggests that positive perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the events are important in this regard.

6.13 Weed (2009) also questions the direct link between elite sport events and community participation in physical activity, i.e. the 'trickle down' effect. He points out that hosting the event is not enough, there needs to be a plan for supplemental activities to leverage the main event. Smith and Fox (2007) make a similar argument when they describe 'event-themed' as opposed to 'event-led' regeneration in relation to the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games. Rather than being directly linked to the Games, the Manchester Legacy Programme used the Games as a hook to bring people in and create momentum. The programme included activities for young people to get involved in sport and art, activities which continued for some years after the event.

Factors which make an increase in participation more likely

6.14 There is little clear evidence for a specific mechanism by which major events increase physical activity. This is an area which would benefit from further long-term primary research. Nonetheless, the evidence does suggest that positive effects are more likely where there are long-term strategies which engage with local communities at a grass-root level.

Active infrastructure

Games Venues

6.15 Looking at previous Games, there is great variation in success in integrating venues into the local landscape and securing post-Games use. Successful examples include the Barcelona 1992 Olympics and the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. These host cities made use of existing venues to a large extent and built new venues only when there appeared to be a long-term need for them (Smith, 2012).

6.16 On the other hand, many commentators have suggested that the Sydney 2000 Olympics did not have sufficient plans in place for post-Games use. They argue that the main stadium was too big for local needs and ended up struggling in competition with other smaller venues (Searle, 2002; Biearch, 2011). The Athens 2004 Olympics faced even more difficulties with stadia being left unused for several years after the event and with a bill of $100 million per year for their upkeep (Krohe, 2010). Smith (2012) suggests that a lack of public and private sector partnerships was a contributing factor to Athens difficulties. Without private sector engagement and buy-in, the public sector ended up solely responsible for a range of very expensive venues.

6.17 Important factors for successful use of Games venues are early planning, flexibility and good management. This approach was largely adopted by the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games (Branson, 2012). An agreement with Manchester City Football club was in place in advance. It involved them taking over the stadium after the event and the extra revenues resulting from having a larger venue would be handed over to the city (Smith, 2012).

6.18 London venues secured their post-Games use relatively early, though not without controversy. The main stadium was first planned to host mixed sports, mainly athletics, but its lease was later awarded to a football club and it included a conversion to a smaller number of seats. Balancing elite and community use in these venues is a long-term challenge, but it is still too early to know whether this will be achieved (The Select Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy, 2013).

Grassroots active infrastructure

6.19 There is also limited evidence that there can be a tension between funding for elite-level sport, and providing the infrastructure for grassroots participation. A review of sport policy for the Australian Government finds that a clear focus on winning medals at major sporting events, including the 2000 Sydney Olympics has resulted in a 'neglect of the fundamental basis of sport' in the country (Crawford, 2009: 142). Therefore there was little focus on participation in the wider population.

6.20 A limited amount of evidence from London 2012 also suggests that legacy aspirations in this area may be undermined by wider government policies. Based on a survey of sport facility managers in England and their perceptions about the impact of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Kavetsos (2009) reports concerns about a diversion of funds away from local clubs as a result of the Olympics. Another survey among sports clubs raised concerns about difficulties in meeting demands following the event (Cox, 2013; Sport and Recreation Alliance, 2013). The Smith Institute (2013) also report concerns that changes to funding for schools sport will result in the Olympic legacy being lost.


6.21 In conclusion, the jury is still out with regards to the potential increase in physical activity and sport participation in relation to hosting large sporting events. The evidence base is small and limited. If anything, it seems to suggest the likelihood of increasing participation is highest for people already taking part in sport.

6.22 Moreover, the 'trickle down' effect is unlikely to work, instead there needs to be early planning and engagement much wider than the event itself. Rather than being 'bolted-on extras', these plans need to be firmly grounded in existing long-term strategies for sport and physical activity in order to not lose momentum after the event.

6.23 Games venues need to be integrated into the existing community and designed for local needs, which is likely to involve public and private partnerships. However, in order to increase participation levels, building capacity at the grass-root level may be even more important. Using the Games for leverage, early plans need to be in place for supporting clubs and school sport.

6.24 The evidence also points to the importance of embedding legacy ambitions into long-term strategies and policies on health, sport and physical activity, and considering the effects of wider interventions to ensure policy alignment.


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