Immediately following the Olympics, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that government funding to support Team GB athletes would increase up to the Rio 2016 Games. “The motto of these Games has been ‘Inspire a generation’. Nothing has been more inspirational than seeing our elite athletes win Gold this summer. There’s a direct link between elite success and participation in sport” he said.
This link between the inspiration of elite athletes and wider public participation in physical activity was a key claim made for the London Olympics from the start. The London 2012 Candidate file, part of the initial bid for the Games, stated that the Olympics would: “…inspire a new generation to greater sporting activity and achievement, helping to foster a healthy and active nation.”
Furthermore, the Government’s Legacy Action Plan published in 2008 promised that the Olympics would “transform the heart of East London” the home of the Olympics Park by “turning one of London’s most deprived areas into a world-class district for living, leisure, business and sport, with safe and sustainable neighbourhoods, new parkland, new homes, jobs, and social and leisure facilities for generations to come.”
So, what is the evidence regarding the impacts of large scale sporting effects on public participation in sport and area regeneration?
A review of research into the impact of mass sporting events on physical activity among the wider population by Murphy and Bauman (2007) suggested a lack of evidence for a public health benefit. A systematic review of the health and socioeconomic impacts of major multi-sport events published in 2010 by McCartney and colleagues found that few studies looked at health outcomes and concluded similarly: “The available evidence is not sufficient to confirm or refute expectations about the health or socioeconomic benefits for the host population of previous major multi-sport events.”
Sport is not the only way that London 2012 might affect health and wellbeing. Huge amounts of construction and regeneration in East London have already taken place or are planned. Yet the impacts of that are also uncertain. A review by Davies (2010) of sport and economic regeneration also highlighted that “…no comprehensive longitudinal post-event study has ever been undertaken on the economic regeneration impacts of the Olympic Games”.
The impacts of regeneration for London 2012 are being closely watched. A longitudinal study of the health and social impacts of the London Olympics upon families in East London is already underway. The Olympic Regeneration in East London (ORiEL) Study, led by Professor Steven Cummins at Queen Mary, University of London, is a five-year study, following approximately 1,800 school children and their parents in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Barking and Dagenham. It will assess their health and well-being over time. The results of this study should demonstrate whether claims that have been confidently made for the long term public benefits of the 2012 London Olympic games, and the regeneration accompanying them, prove to be true.