There should be no debate as to whether this was the right way to be investing public funds during a period of austerity: from my perspective, as a nation, we have no option to capitalise on Legacy as a result of the challenges that are staring us in the face. We only have to make the most marginal impact on the projected cost of overweight and obesity of £50bn by 2050 to have made this the very best £7bn we have ever spent.
And that is now the challenge that we have to pick up, together. There will be acres of column inches written in the weeks to come, debating whether we truly will have a lasting Legacy from these Games. To squander this opportunity would be criminally negligent, given the opportunity we have to harness the excitement of a generation which truly has been inspired. The support to do so is deafening and crosses the political divide. Even before the Games, we learnt that Tony Blair was to return as a policy advisor to Labour on Legacy. Yesterday we had the announcement that Seb Coe would take up the same role for the Government. My hope is that they pick up the phone to each other and tackle this challenge hand in hand. Creating a lasting Legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games is too important for knee-jerk decisions and party political positioning.
The decision to secure elite sport funding through to Rio 2016 was the right one; however, as The Sports Think Tank has pointed out, the comment by the Prime Minister that primary schools should focus their efforts solely on competitive sport was a statement seemingly shaped by personal experience and based on no evidence or advice from the experts. You only have to listen to the comments of some of our greatest Olympians such as Sir Steve Redgrave and Denise Lewis this weekend to realise that what matters is getting the youth of this nation moving, building their physical literacy and enjoying themselves, with the ability to excel and chose their sporting route later in life.
But the challenges we face as a nation mean that we cannot simply focus the debate on Legacy on children and young people – there is a far wider issue that we have to tackle.
Our opening ceremony placed the National Health Service at the heart of the Games and it has to be at the heart of thinking about Legacy. Physical activity, including sport, is intrinsically linked to the future of our National Health Service. This is increasingly recognised within the medical profession, as the recent Royal College of Physicians report “Exercise for Life” demonstrates. The reality, as it stands, is that the provision of healthcare free at the point of use through the National Health Service is at long term risk as it struggles to meet the rising costs of an aging population increasingly burdened with lifestyle related diseases.
Currently, only a third of adults meet the Chief Medical Officer guidelines for physical activity whilst physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality and costs the UK economy £8.2 billion per year. According to the Chief Medical Officer, physical activity can reduce the prevalence of chronic conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, Obesity, and Stroke by between 30-50%. An inactive person spends 38% more days in hospital, yet there is no clear plan regarding how to increase the number of healthcare professionals who recommend and refer to physical activity. As Jo Webber, Deputy Director of Policy at NHS Confederation pointed out at a recent FIA Vanguard Members event, meeting this challenge is essential to the survival of the NHS.
So how do we move forward? At the FIA, we stand for getting more people, more active, more often. We always have and always will. We’re currently going through a process to rebrand our organisation so that we can bring more organisations together. The fact is, together we can achieve more.
But what do we want to achieve? Team GB demonstrated at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games that it’s amazing what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. And we should put our mind to achieving something amazing: like making the UK the most active nation in the world.
How do we do that? Well, that’s the hard bit to which I only have some of the answers. It requires a “grand partnership” across the sporting and activity world, bringing together strategies which together can have a great impact than the sum of their component parts.
As a starter for 10, here are some of the key recommendations from our perspective:
- Bottle the spirit: the GamesMakers truly made the Games. Volunteering is what keeps community sport alive in this country. Sport is the very embodiment of the “big society” with volunteers giving birth to the backbone on which success at the elite level. We need to continue to say thank you and support those volunteers that make such an impact. Sports Makers, a programme led by Sport England, should be embraced and we should all be thinking about how we can make sport happen for our local community. You could even start this weekend – why not check out www.joininuk.org and join the thousands of people who are going back to where every Olympic medallist starts, their local community sports club. And as part of the legacy if people will not come to the sports club, let's bring the sports club to them and drop it on their doorstep just like StreetGames.
- We have to make exercise a routine part in the prevention and management of chronic disease. We have the National Health Service but we need to make “wellness” an equal concern to “illness”. How can we get exercise professionals into every GP surgery as part of the healthcare team? How can we make the most of the fantastic asset we have in the new National Centres for Sport and Exercise Medicine? How can we harness the expertise of specialist Sport and Exercise Medicine Doctors who are now able to have such a huge impact on the health of the nation? Finding the answers to these questions really will help us to establish what we all know: exercise is medicine.
- Put simply, these Games would not have happened without the support of the 54 Olympic partners who contributed significantly towards the cost of bringing the greatest show on earth to London. Rightly, they owned the Games. However, we have to be clear: the Legacy belongs to everybody. Those brands and commercial partners, who have so far been excluded from the glow of Olympic glory, need to now be embraced at the heart of making Legacy a reality. The major challenges facing us in creating a Legacy cannot be addressed by Government action alone. Ultimately, a societal approach is needed in which business, government and other actors all move forward in the same direction together. The Responsibility Deal Physical Activity Network which now has over 200 organisations signed up shows that corporate Britain wants to play a role in improving public health and needs to be embraced.
- These were the first truly “Digital Olympics” – the Games in which social media came alive to bring us as the spectators intimately close to the competitors and each other as we cheered them on. In addition to human endeavour, these have also been a technology focused Games with our most successful teams such as British Cycling exploiting every opportunity to explore technology in pursuit of their much craved “marginal gains”. Technology has to be embraced by the sector as the primary driver of growth in the future. As a start, I urge everyone to get behind spogo – the sports and fitness finder which the FIA is developing in partnership with Sport England. It is early days, the site is in beta, and we are aware of the challenging task we face in making it as easy to find and book sports and fitness services online as a train ticket or hotel room but I promise to disrupt and challenge everyone in the sector until we have reached that goal. Innovation has to come to the fore and technology has to be the way we achieve that. Just imagine where the digital world will be by Rio 2016? Let’s not get left behind.
- 9.8% of children enter primary school as obese yet twice as many (18.7%) leave primary school as obese. Such figures leave our primary schools open to accusations of being “Fat Factories”. We have to crack this once and for all – a ridiculous debate about whether competitive sport or Bhangra Dance is the answer helps us get nowhere. For starters, let’s confirm that school sport funding for secondary schools needs to be returned to the levels they were at prior to the Comprehensive Spending Review. Once that’s done, let’s give activity in Primary Schools the attention it deserves, and the resources. This isn’t just financial – exercise, sports and activity professionals across the country could do worse than to volunteer an hour or two of their time every week to their local community primary school. The Jason Kennys, Katherine Copelands, Adam Gemilis, Laura Trotts, Brownlees, Sophie Hoskings and Anthony Joshuas of this world have grown up during a period of unique investment in school sport and we need to keep investing to make sure the well doesn’t dry up. The Youth Sports Trust is one of the sector’s greatest success stories and we could do worse than listening to them moving forward. This agenda stretches beyond the school yard and requires community sports clubs, local leisure facilities and exercise professionals to work together to improve provision of young people. I also like the campaign run by First News – the children’s newspaper – to guarantee membership of a local sports club for every young person. Big ideas like that deserve to thrive. You can back the petition here.
- We have an army of professionals out there who can make an impact on the health of the nation. The fitness and exercise professionals across the UK need to be deployed appropriately but they also need to keep on training, improving their skills and learning new approaches to deal with people who simply haven’t been interested in getting active in the past. We also need to recognise that ours is a sector full of opportunity for young people and open our doors to provide work experience and real job opportunities in a sector with no artificial glass ceiling created by a preference for academic ability over the ability to emphasise and motivate the public. We need to recognise the role of the sector on the health of the nation and deem it as a “priority sector” for skills investment in the future.
- Finally, it’s a hackneyed phrase which is often the case with something which is simply true: the drive for Legacy has to be an integrated cross Government strategy. This means that we need to bring together those various Government departments and make sure they interact where their interests in physical activity converge. DBIS, DWP, DCMS, DH, DCLG, DfT, DfE, and DEFRA all have considerable interest in the agenda but lack a means of coordinating effectively. We need to recognise that the Olympics will leave a Legacy far beyond the local community sports club which will stretch out onto the roads of Britain as youngsters seek to emulate [Sir] Bradley Wiggins and we need to have an infrastructure in place to support them. That’s why organisations such as Sustrans have such a crucial role to play in the Legacy debate, which simply shouldn’t be the preserve of the sporting bodies that have delivered athletes to the main event but a much wider coalition of organisations dedicated to getting more people, more active, more often.
Rising to this opportunity will not be easy: embedding sustaining volunteering and community sports structures across the country, establishing exercise as medicine, innovating to capitalise on the Digital Olympics, nailing consensus on school sport, tooling up our army with the skills they need and generating cross Government support and investment is some task. But so is finishing third in the Olympic medal table. We are now the pound for pound most successful sporting nation in the world. Can we become the most active as well? That’s a national challenge I’m excited about taking part in.