Making Us All Part of the Games ; Just How Can the Olympics Widen Participation in Sport and Help Boost the Health of the Nation?

Article excerpt

WHEN London pitched for the 2012 Olympics Game s , t h e b id emphasised how a London event would inspire future generations of athletes not only in the UK but in countries all over the world. But trying to inspire wider participation in physical exercise requires a much more sophisticated approach than simply staging an elite games and London's universities, teaching hospitals and local authorities are working up plans to ensure this is part of the Games' legacy.

According to John Lock, a development director at the University of East London (UEL), there is no evidence to suggest that past Games have delivered any long-term identifiable public health gain in the host city or the host nation at large.

He says: "While there is potential to use the Games as a means of inspiration and motivation, in reality the Olympics is something that happens to them when they are sitting down watching on TV. It's getting the Olympics to be a catalyst to engage them in physical activity which is the real challenge." Lock compares the Olympics with the London Marathon which has had great success in widening participation.

"The great thing about the Marathon is that it has two distinct sides," he says.

"Yes, there are people like Paula Radc l i f f e w h o r u n extremely fast, but there also 10,000 "ordinary" people who participate and have fun doing it.

And those people don't just turn up and run 26 mile and 385 yards: they spend months out and about training for the race." Working with partners in local authorities, especially in the five Olympic boroughs, UEL is supporting community sports development through provision of sports science, sports psychology and nutrition expertise to organisations including Newham Sports Academy, which has been set up by Tessa Sanderson to provide coaching for local young people. It also supports the London Youth Games and the establishment of disability sports clubs with local schools.

"What the London bid demonstrated was the UK's success not in participation but in how it was a worldbeater in the creative industries being able to put together an emotive video, having Seb Coe talking about watching the Olympics as a child at home in Sheffield, and brilliantly bringing along young people, rather Challenge: John

than Jacques Chirac, to present our case," he says. …