A sporting legacy? How participation has changed since the 2012 Olympics

8th Aug 2016

Participation in sports has increased overall since 2005, but in England is down on the Olympics peak in 2012. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, participation is still increasing.

In 2012 London and the UK hosted the Olympic Games and the government committed to creating a "lasting legacy”, particularly by encouraging grassroots participation in sport among young people. It also wanted to promote community engagement and participation “across all groups in society”.

Four years on, the Rio 2016 games is about to begin. So have more people become involved in sport?

Participation overall is higher than a decade ago but below the Olympics peak in 2012

15.8 million people in England over the age of 16 played sport for 30 minutes at least once a week in 2015/16. That’s 36.1% of adults.

Back in 2005/06, just after London won the Olympic bid, it was 34.6%. Participation peaked at the time of the Olympics: in 2012 it hit almost 37%.

Few signs of improvement for different groups across England

Younger people are more likely to play sport, and their participation has stayed about the same in the last decade. 55.8% of younger people play sport for 30 minutes at least once a week, according to the latest figures. Back in 2005/06 it was 56.2%, so it doesn’t seem to have changed much, although it’s up from a low of 54.6% around the time of the Olympics.

Meanwhile, less well-off groups are among the least likely to participate. They’re the only group surveyed that’s seen a significant fall in participation over the last decade. There was a small boost shortly after the Olympics, rising to 29%, but otherwise the level has remained at around 26% ever since.

People are more likely now to be participating in sports several times a week. Back in 2005/06 15.6% of adults in England played sport at least three times a week for 30 minutes. This had increased to 17.7% by the time of the Olympics and has remained at the same level ever since.

On the flipside, club membership, sports tuition, the numbers participating in competitions and organised sport have all decreased over the last decade and since the Olympics in 2012.

But sports participation has increased overall in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

It’s tricky to compare sports participation across the UK because the time periods and years they refer to, and what they classify as a “sport” all vary. But the surveys do suggest a common trend across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales: participation in sport seems to be rising.

Take Northern Ireland. We couldn’t find data on participation over a four-week period as far back as 2005, but just before the last Olympics, 34% of adults in Northern Ireland reported that they had participated in sport in the last four weeks.  By 2014/15 it was 41% of adults. 

Participation seems to have risen in Scotland too. 48% of Scottish adults reported doing some sport in the past four weeks when surveyed in 2007, the earliest year there is data for. By 2012 this had increased to 51%, the same level as in 2014. 37% had participated in sport on 15 days or more in the previous four weeks in 2007, by 2012 this was 46%, and increased to 48% in 2014.

Finally, participation in sport in Wales has gone up, both over the last decade and since the 2012 Olympics. Sport Wales found that participation in sport of any kind over a four week period increased from 59% of adults over 15 in 2005 to 70% in 2012 and to 72% of adults in 2014. Unlike the other surveys, this includes walking as an activity. When walking was not included in the 2014 survey the participation level dropped to 55%.

Primary school pupils are reported to be healthier in England

Over £450 million of funding has been given to primary schools to improve the quality of PE and sports. 87% of schools surveyed said that the quality of their PE teaching had improved since the funding was introduced.  

Now nearly half of all primary schools in England have specialist PE teachers, an increase of 50%, according to social researchers NatCen. Almost all schools said that the funding had had an impact on the fitness, skills and behaviour of pupils as well as contributing to healthy lifestyles.

Sporting success since 2012

The Olympic legacy report focuses on high level as well as grassroots sport.

At the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 the GB team equalled its best ever performance, at the Chamonix Games in 1924, winning four medals, including one gold. In the Winter Paralympics it had the most successful games in 30 years, winning six medals.

We’ll find out in the next few week’s how Team GB’s athletes get on this time around…