Sport and Participation [Primer #5]

Sport and Participation [Primer #5]

Despite ambitious legacy claims to the contrary, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games is essentially a sporting event. 11 days of sporting competition with elite athletes travelling from around the Commonwealth to compete. Gordon Matheson claims that he is determined that ‘every Glaswegian will take something from the event that will remain with them. Everyone will take home memories, but I also want them to take home aspirations.’ One part of this legacy building is to create an “active Glasgow”.  Shona Robertson, Minister for Commonweatlh Games and Sports, claims that ‘people will be inspired by the world class sporting competition.’

Is there any substance to these claims though? Are the facilities accessible for local people? Are the participation legacy claims achievable?

Games monitor is highly sceptical. Research we’ve conducted suggests that the bold claims are unlikely to be met and that they are actually often aimed at a minority of people. They also form part of wider legacy plans which, as a forthcoming primer will show, are largely speculative and often unrealistic. This primer details the nature of these claims and considers similarly bold sporting legacy claims of previous mega events to question the rhetoric of increased participation and improved facilities for all.

A recent Guardian article considered the changing landscape of the East End of Glasgow in the build up to the games. The most eye catching change in the area is the Emirates Arena. A £113m sporting facility providing a cycling velodrome, sports arena, gym, five a side football pitches, spa and hospitality facilities. The facilities look impressive (albeit an ugly addition to the landscape) and Games Monitor questions whether they are intended for the use of local people in the East End. The Guardian questioned the changes to the landscape and interviewed city councillor Archie Graham about the facilities and how people would access them. Graham admitted that “We expect most people to come by car … And that’s a busy main road, so it’s no place to cross.” So much for a sustainable transport plan and access for all!

Nice to see an honest politician for once though. His comments are not surprising as it is unlikely that people in the local area will be able to afford to use the facilities. The sporting facilities within the velodrome are part of a wider Glasgow Life scheme which provides many unaffordable facilities across the city. Glasgow Life is part of a wider process of privatisation of sport and culture across the city whereby business interests provide the driving force. Membership to use these facilities equates to between £33-37 per month (or £355 per year) or £7 per visit. In times of increasing austerity these costs are a complete barrier to people using the facilities. Even elite disabled athletes are facing up to the possibility of being unable to participate due to welfare cuts. Let’s not forget that Atos, one of the sponsors of the forthcoming games, carry out the work assessments for the DWP.

Expensive facilities are not necessary for all sports though. Often people can take part in physical activity on public land. However, as the Games Monitor’s recent East End walk shown, the local landscape doesn’t look that hospitable. Children are instead offered the chance to play on artificial five a side pitches.  The only problem with this is that one hour’s game on the pitch is £39 for a non-member or £4 per player if you can organise a game of fives.

The bold claims of an inspired nation by local and national politicians are not uncommon. Only two years ago, Sebastian Coe was making similarly bold claims about the 2012 Olympics inspiring a nation. Two years on and the analysis suggests that the impact wasn’t quite what he intended. A Sport England survey suggested that more sports had suffered a decline in participation than had increased following the Games.

Football (down by 11.76%), Cricket (down by 10.36%), Golf (down by 14.89%), Rugby (down by 15.75%) and many other sports have suffered a significant decline following the games. 200,000 less people are participating in sport regularly accord to Sport England. There are fewer adults participating in 20 out of the 29 sports that were part of the 2012 Olympics.It seems the inspired generation has yet to take up Seb’s challenge. The trend is currently being replicated in Scotland where there the prospect of the Games has yet to make any impact on participation figures.

Similarly bold legacy claims have been made by other mega events but in reality these are not met and expensive facilities often remained unused post games. The facilities do not match the demand or need for sports facilities or equipment as the padlock on the velodrome in Delhi (host of the last commonwealth games) illustrates. Not surprisingly, there is a contradiction between the spectacle of the games, the ideas of planners and the needs of local people.

Academic literature on the topic suggests that the supposed trickle down effects of mega events are extremely limited and often overplayed in winning the event. Professor Fred Coalter, University of Stirling, has argued that “sporting excellence might not be the most appropriate role model for achieving increased recreational participation and getting the nation “fitter and healthier”. He argues that mega-events have had limited effects on local club memberships. Maybe the Games are not so inspirational after all and are actually more likely to reinforce sport as an elite activity:

“the potential of elite sportspeople to deter participation because of the perceived competence gap”— that is, many people are put off doing sport because they cannot imagine being anywhere near as good at sports as everyday sporting heroes.

The games are a distraction from the actual social and health problems within the city. Health professionals argue that it is ‘simply implausible’ for a sporting event to be the solution. In a systemic review of health benefits associated with one-off sporting events over thirty years (1978-2008), research has found “insufficient evidence” to confirm any economic or health legacy benefits. Assessing the potential for sport more generally to produce economic regeneration, further research found that the economic benefits have been “poorly researched” and that there is a distinct lack of “adequate evidence” to support such claims.

Sport has the potential to play a huge role in local communities. It already does without the need for a massive over-priced urban spectacle. The increasing commodification of sport, through exclusive facilities, high costs, sponsors interests and a lack of accessibility, means that it is unrealistic for the Games to claim a participation legacy. Sport is being used as a tool to promote wider gentrification of the city, just as it always is in mega sporting events. The new facilities and pledges of an active Glasgow are targeted at the few at the expense of the many.