The Olympics! It’s been quite a journey. Well, at least in the metaphorical sense. Many of us have felt every bit a member of Team GB, sharing the highs and lows, while travelling no further than our own living rooms.
And this is my point. Are we satisfied being a nation of arm-chair athletes, or do the elite really inspire and encourage the rest of us to get up off the couch and down to our local pool/track/court? Do we really want to emulate our heroes even though we know glory will never truly be ours? Is taking part enough, or are we simply concerned with the glory of winning, at the highest level, albeit achieved vicariously?
The aim of the London Olympics was to leave a legacy for future generations, and following our most successful Olympics in over 100 years, it could be said the legacy has been achieved. But hang on a minute. Has it?
Does the Olympic ‘legacy’ engender a healthier, more active population, or simply contrive to spot potential talent for hot -house coaching and future medal success, while the rest of us head to the pub to cheer them on?
I think the strongbow advert speaks volumes about our ‘sporting culture’ the UK.
According to a study published in the BMJ, ‘There is a paucity of evidence to support the notion that hosting an Olympic games leads to an increased participation in physical or sporting activities for host countries.’ Seb Coe failed to mention that!!
Following 2012, reports were mixed with regards to sports participation. A study by Sport England, reported the number of people participating in sport actually fell in the year following the London Olympics.
We now have many female sporting role models. Over the last few days I’ve seen Laura Trott and the hockey girls’ being interviewed on BBC news. but while female participation is better than it used to be (when I began road riding in the 1990’s, hardly any girls raced, never mind won Olympic medals) there is still a huge gap between male and female participation in sport.
In the midst of our Olympic success in Rio, The much anticipated Obesity Report was published, stating that today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese, and WHO statistics suggest that if current trends continue, 70 million children will be obese or overweight by 2025.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the success of team GB is fantastic. I love the Olympics. I’ve screamed at the TV, wept at medal ceremonies and I have no interest in Hockey, but left a night out early so I could see the final. And although I’ve loved seeing this success, I’m not inspired to become a hockey player, track cyclist or hammer thrower. I love riding my mountain bike, a sport where we don’t excel, on the Olympic stage at least.
I’m proud that for such a small nation, Team GB have achieved so much. But I still struggle a little bit with the chasm between elite sporting success and our nation’s attitude towards activity.
I really believe that many of our medal winners genuinely want to inspire a nation. But is their Olympic success enough to create a cultural shift away from the pub and towards the sports field? Many will never have the talent or drive to achieve Olympic success. How do the winners inspire people to enjoy sport for sports sake and not just for pursuit of glory?
I’m keen to hear people’s thought on this. Do you think the funding provided for elite sports should be redirected to improving the health of a nation rather than the glory of a talented and select few?(There have been stories of funding being cut for popular, inner city sports such as basketball as we are unlikely to medal on the world stage).Or do we need to see changes in the media? Despite our support for team GB, the reality is that we exist in a celebrity culture that seems to value banal vanity. Are we over-estimating the effect that Olympic success has on the wider population. Will it help inspire the next generation of weekend warriors as well as career athletes? I really hope so.