Has the Olympic effect been a "flop"?

21 August 2013

"The Olympic effect proves a flop as children of all ages opt out of sports."

The Telegraph, 21 August 2013


One year on from the London Olympics, the race to brand the legacy from last year's Games as either a success or failure is being as keenly contested as any gold medal.

According to the Prime Minister "thousands of people have been inspired to get involved with their local sports clubs" as a result of the Olympics. This morning's Daily Telegraph painted a bleaker picture, branding the legacy a "flop", and noting that "the number of children taking part in sport has fallen to the lowest level for five years."

The data at the centre of this story is the annual Taking Part survey which measures children's participation and interest in sport and other leisure activities, and was released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today.

The survey found that the proportion of children aged 5-15 saying they had taken part in sport at least once in the previous month was 87.5% in 2012/13, which is indeed the lowest level it has been at for the past five years. It is worth noting here however that the results from the past five years fit within a range of just 3.6 percentage points, while the error margin has varied between 1.3 and 3.3 percentage points. It might therefore be fairer to note that the proportion of children taking part in sport at least once in the previous month has changed little over the past five years.

Not all of the Telegraph's claims are as easy to trace. The paper also writes that "three quarters under the age of 10 said that the Games had not inspired them to take up a sport. Just over half of 11- to 15-year-olds shared the same view."

The children questioned for the Taking Part survey were asked if the hosting of the 2012 Olympics had encouraged them to "take up a new sport". 15.9% of 5- to 10-year-olds and 20.5% of 11- to 15-year-olds reported doing so, far fewer than the Telegraph reported.

What the paper appears to be refering to is the response to the question of whether or not the Olympics "encouraged you to take part in sport". In 2011/12, 72.1% of 5- to 10-year-olds replied "not at all", while 51.1% of 11- to 15-year-olds responded likewise. However this year's data is more encouraging, with just 46.4% of 5- to 10-year-olds and 38.7% of 11- to 15-year-olds reporting that the Olympics had had no effect at all on their participation in sport.

In fact, the proportion reporting that they had "a lot" of interest in taking part in sport as a result of the Olympics rose sharply from 4.3% to 18.4% for 5- to 10-year-olds and 9.9% to 18.2% for 11- to 15-year-olds, with similar increases for those reporting that the Games had encouraged participation "a little".

It's important to remember that this year's data (2012/13) reports the results of the first survey to be conducted after the Games closed. Many of the results are encouraging, particularly the large increases reported in the numbers saying that the Games has stimulated an interest in taking part in sport, although this doesn't yet seem to have translated into action, as the numbers reporting having taken part in sport over the previous month are at a five-year low. With this in mind, it might be premature to call the Games' legacy a "flop", as the Telegraph does on this morning's front page.

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