Almost two years ago, the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University published a review of the worldwide evidence for physical activity and sport legacies, collected, collated and analysed for the Department of Health. This review showed that there are two processes by which large scale sporting events, such as the London 2012 Games, can influence participation.
The first process is called a ‘demonstration effect’, in which people are inspired by elite sport, sports people and sports events to participate themselves. But this inspiration is not universal. A demonstration effect can only inspire those who currently participate in sport to do so more often, or inspire those who have previously participated to participate again. What it categorically does not do is have any affect whatsoever on those who have never participated in sport.
The second process is called the ‘festival effect’. Here an event like the 2012 Games can create a strong desire to feel part of things, to actively celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic festival. The festival effect can target the least active, who have little or no previous interest in sport, but who get swept along with the atmosphere and can be encourage to participate in active community events. But because of their lack of sporting interest, the competitive aspects of sport do not motivate them to become involved.
Unfortunately, current policy focuses on SUPPLY (of facilities, fields and participation opportunities) rather than on the ways in which the above evidence-based processes can stimulate DEMAND. While a new SUPPLY of facilities and fields are likely to be well used, they are most likely to provide for people who already participate in sport to do so more often in a better environment. There is no evidence to suggest that a SUPPLY-side policy can stimulate DEMAND among people who don't play, and never have played, sport. Providing facilities for people who already play to play more often may be a legitimate policy goal, but we should be clear that people playing more often is not the same as more people playing.