Evidence for a Potential London 2012 Physical Activity Legacy: De-emphasise Sport and Promote the Festival

There is no evidence that previous Olympic and Paralympic Games have raised physical activity levels in adult populations. However, it may be premature to assume that this lack of previous evidence for an inherent effect is an indication that there is no potential to proactively harness the Games to generate a physical activity or sport legacy.  To this end, a policy-led systematic review, carried out by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (SPEAR) at Canterbury Christ Church University, and published this month in Perspectives in Public Health, examines the processes by which the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games might deliver a physical activity (as opposed to sport) legacy.

The review presents two key findings: first, that communities that are not positively engaged with hosting the 2012 Games in London are likely to be beyond the reach of any initiatives seeking to harness the Games to develop legacies in any area; second, major events such as London 2012 can, if promoted in the right way, generate a ‘festival effect’ that may have the potential to be harnessed to promote physical activity among the least active. The ‘festival effect’ derives from the promotion of the 2012 Games as a national festival that is bigger than and beyond sport, but that is also rooted in the lives of local and cultural communities, thus creating a strong desire to participate in some way in an event that is both nationally significant and locally or culturally relevant.

The implications of this review are that physical activity policy makers and professionals should seek to satisfy this desire to participate through providing physical activity (rather than sport) opportunities presented as fun community events or programmes. The key to generating a physical activity legacy among the least active adults through this process is to de-emphasise the sporting element of the 2012 Games and promote the festival element.

[the above is adapted from the abstract for “Developing a Physical Activity legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: A Policy-Led Systematic Review”, published in the March 2012 issue of Perspectives in Public Health click HERE to go to the paper]