Here at Konkura we’re big fans of two things: increasing grass roots participation in sport and fitness, and Ben Goldacre, the Guardian’s resident science boffin and debunker of nonsense.
Whilst all members of the Konkura team are keen on sport and keeping fit, and some have competed at a moderately serious level, our view has always been we’d rather see 1000 people enjoying a bit more sport and looking after their health, than a full-time athlete winning an Olympic medal.
Of course, we’d rather see both those things happen, but if it’s a choice between the two, we’d go for the first option every time. In other words, we love pro sport, but the “medal tables” we’re most interested in are those that show heart disease, obesity or mental health issues falling as a result of more people enjoying sport. That’s why we created Konkura, so that people of all ability and commitment levels can have fun and enjoy extra motivation by finding new sport and fitness challenges.
However, big sporting events like the 2012 Olympics have a massive positive impact on sports participation for the host country. Governments wouldn’t pour billions into them if they were just massive vanity projects. Isn’t that right?
Well, here’s where our love for Ben Goldacre comes in, because he’s just published a fascinating article highlighting just how little evidence there is for this assumption. Here’s what he has to say (read the full article at badscience.net)
“After London was chosen to host the 2012 Olympics, Labour made a series of pledges, including two around health: to use the power of the games to inspire a million more people to play sport three or more times a week; and to get a million more people doing more general physical activity.
“Politicians seem keen on the idea that large multi-sports events can have a positive impact like this, so the area has been studied fairly frequently, and last year the BMJ published systematic review of the literature. They set out to find any study that had ever been conducted looking at the real-world health and socioeconomic impacts of major multi-sport events on the host population.
“They found 54 studies. Overall, the quality was poor (it’s a fairly difficult thing to measure, and most studies used cross-sectional surveys, repeated over time). The bottom line was this: there is no evidence that events like olympics have a positive impact on either health or socioeconomic outcomes.
“One study looked at Manchester before and after the 2002 Commonwealth Games: overall sports participation (4 times or more in the past month) fell after the games, and the gap in participation rates between rich and poor areas widened significantly…new facilities tended to benefit elite athletes rather than the general population.
“There was a vague upward trend in sports participation in Barcelona between the early 1980s and 1994, and they had the Olympics in 1992. Volunteers in the Commonwealth Games showed no increase in sports participation.
“This week, it emerged that both of the government’s targets for improving healthy activity after the 2012 Olympics are now being quietly dropped. By walking away from outcome indicators that will not be met, a government can create a false impression of success: if prespecified outcome indicators are ever to mean anything, after all, it’s because you report on each of them clearly, whether success is achieved or not.
“But more than that, governments around the world spend billions of pounds on these events: by quietly dropping these outcome indicators, rather than carefully documenting our success or failure at meeting them, our current politicians pave the way for ever more false and over-optimistic claims by their colleagues, all around the world.”
So there you have it – the evidence from past events suggests that the Olympics, whilst a great spectacle and something we at Konkura will love watching, is unlikely to make much difference to sport and fitness participation in the UK.
If its aim was to get people fitter and healthier and doing more grass roots sport, the government should probably have spent the money ON grass roots sport! It’s too late now for London 2012 – the money’s already committed and we need to make the most of it, but once the Olympics are over the real work is going to need to start.
What do you think? Have your say below or on Twitter.