2012: the Olympic Legacy – where is it?

There is a real risk that the legacy of London 2012 will not be as positive as it might have been due to insufficient focus having been placed on this in the lead-up to the event. Granted, there has been substantial physical regeneration in east London and a range of new sporting facilities around the country. There is also initial evidence of some growth in participation, but this is arguably more a result of the phenomenal success of Team GB than any structured plan. These areas, however, miss the real value of what can still be achieved through the legacy of London 2012, which is what can be done through sport rather than simply being about sport itself. It is about the impact which sport can have.

Taking growth in participation: it is not the participation itself which is beneficial – although many will gain intrinsic enjoyment from taking part in sport. The real benefit –what we might term the positive impact of sport – is the improvement in the health and wellbeing of the participants through increased physical activity. It is perhaps a shame that this is not made more explicit in the public discussions around participation, as this would make it much easier to then move on from this to discussing the broader beneficial impact of sport.

There is already substantial evidence on the wider social benefits of sport (ref 1), both in terms of hard and soft outcomes. In relation to hard outcomes, numerous studies (2) have shown positive links between taking part in sport and reductions in crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly in relation to providing diversionary activities from other potentially negative influences. There is also evidence of a link between participation in sport and improvements in educational achievement (3) and also community regeneration and social inclusion (4). There is also substantial evidence about the potential impact of sport on soft skills such as teamwork, communication and leadership. Because of the nature of team sports particularly, there is an obvious opportunity to develop these skills, although this does generally require the sports activity to be part of a larger youth work programme.

The legacy of London 2012 therefore is not so much sport itself, whether future medal-winning performances by Team GB or sustaining higher levels of participation. What we have the opportunity to do as a result of London 2012 is take advantage of the raised profile of sport to engage with groups who would benefit from some of the positive impact which can result from taking part in sport, particularly young boys many of whom have an affinity with sports or sporting icons. The real legacy of London 2012 will be what can be done through and with sport in terms of the wider impact on the lives of those taking part and the country as a whole. It is this which is now requires urgent attention from all those involved the sport for development if there is to be a true legacy of London 2012.

This was originally written for a sports-specific audience, but the use of sport for engaging and working with young people is equally valid for the youth sector


(1) Coalter, F. (2007). A Wider Social Role for Sport (Oxford, Routledge) and Holt, N.L. (ed) (2008) Positive Youth Development Through Sport, London: Routledge
(2)Laureus (2012) Sport Scores (London: Laureus Sport for Good Foundation/Ecorys) and Bailey, Richard (2005) ‘Evaluating the relationship between physical education, sport and social inclusion’, Educational Review, 57: 1, 71 — 90
(3) Grissom, J.B. (2005) ‘Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement’ in Journal of Exercise Physiology 8(1), pp 11-25 and Sharp, C., Chamberlain, C., Morrison, J. and Filmer-Sankey, J. (2007) Playing for Success: An Evaluation of its Long Term Impact (Slough, National Federation for Educational Research)
(4) Coalter, F. with Allison, M & Taylor, J (2000) The role of sport in regenerating deprived areas. (Edinburgh, HMSO) and Collins, M.F. with Kay, T. (2003). Sport and Social Exclusion (Oxford, Sage)


About Luke McCarthy

I have a background in sport and particularly its use for personal and social development. I also have extensive knowledge of the use measurement and evaluation approaches and requirements, particularly in relation to demonstrating impact of the work of the youth sector. Outside of work I do a lot of sports including cycling, running and adventure racing. I also struggle to find the time to keep my allotment under control.
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