Commonwealth conundrum

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It’s a bit early to assess the legacy, but organisers should have built on the ‘buzz’ of the Games, argues Keshav Kapoor

Commonwealth

Keshav Kapoor
Deputy Sports Editor

The 2014 Commonwealth Games were a carnival of sport for all. The 20th edition of the sporting extravaganza brought athletes from all over the world to compete in Scotland’s biggest city.

The games were readily applauded worldwide as being one of the best ever seen. The whole event was delivered with such staggering class, openness and warmth to all spectators. This was nothing like what was experienced in previous host cities. Glasgow provided the clearest blueprint – that major cities can host major sporting events to a high standard, without smashing budgets. Everything from the opening ceremony to the transport networks were delivered with a touch of class. The city became a hub of activity, with events luring in keen tourists and, more importantly, locals, too. The atmosphere was one of jubilant celebration. Even the weather held out for most of the Games, transforming Glasgow into a sun-drenched carnival of excitement. Clichéd as it sound, during the Games, people did really make Glasgow.

As with every major sporting event, however, there is a question of legacy. Sure, the games provide a fortnight of thrills and excitement, but what happens after the buzz dies down? What is the lasting impact of the Games?  Cost cannot ust measured in monetary terms, but the lasting social impact the event has on local development and opportunity in the city.

The importance of legacy for Britain has become more and more prominent since the London Olympics in 2012. After the shambles of previous events, organisers were adamant that London 2012 was going to deliver what no sporting event had before – a lasting legacy. This meant that stadiums were going to be reused, and the Athletes Village was, apparently, only the beginning  of the urban regeneration of East London. Most importantly, the Games were meant to ‘inspire a generation’- inspire them to take up sports and become more active.

Glasgow 2014 organisers had a  similar outlook. The eco-friendly Athletes Village was developed in the East end of Glasgow, with the organisers intending to use the Games to boost jobs, housing provision and participation in sports in Scotland.  With a year having past, have those objective been met? In a staggering report published by the Scottish Health Survey, it was concluded that there had been almost no change in levels of physical activity in Scotland since the Commonwealth Games. The report suggests there has in fact been a one per cent decrease in physical activity participation for adults, and a mere one per cent  increase in the levels of children participating. Furthermore, the report shockingly concluded that only four per cent of those questioned said they were thinking about doing more sport as a result of the Glasgow Games.

Although it must be noted that the report does not represent the whole population of Glasgow, the figures are quite astonishing. It seems as though the organisers have fallen flat on what seemed to be a key promise in the lead up to the Games. Of course, it is quite easy to look at these figures and make a rash judgement. There are, however, several reasons why the general participation in sport in Scotland is low. A number of key grassroots issues highlighted in the report itself seem to shed some light on these figures. For instance, those who had not participated in any sort of sport cited reasons such as poor health (35 per cent), lack of time (32 per cent), and a lack of interest (17 per cent). We have heard them all before, as they reappear in survey after survey. On the face of it, it seems difficult to analyse any short-term impact that the Games could have had. The report, once again, highlights a number of social concerns relating to participation in sport in Scotland.

This is a sentiment shared by the Scottish government in its post-Games report. The prevailing view is that a large sporting event does not necessarily increase participation in sport. Although no one expected a dramatic change in participation results immediately, it seems as though legacy promises have fizzled out. Promises made have led to disappointment, and legacy officials continue to stress that they have programmes in place which will have an effect in the longer term.

Plans such as the Physical Activity Implementation Programme (PAIP) focuses on schools, particularly increasing participation in physical education. This is all part of the government’s strategy to try and change levels of sports participation within certain key groups, rather than developing a one-size-fits-all policy solution. Policies like these seem worthwhile, as they start to focus attention on the crux of the matter. Policymakers must use the games as a springboard to promote sport participation in Scotland.

Even though the results are disappointing, perhaps it is too soon to draw such conclusions. A year, surely, is not enough time to make a judgement on the long-term legacy of the games. Sure, data provides a snapshot, but tackling complex social issues relating to sports participation seems like something to be studied over decades, not years. The impact that the Games have had on attitudes towards sport, and government investment in sport, will not be distinguishable for quite some time. That said, and although it might be unfair to make this criticism, the people of Glasgow might be of the view that those who made grand statements about ‘legacy’ should have seized on the ‘buzz’ of the Games much more effectively than they did.