The number of people playing sport in England has fallen since the 2012 London Olympics, despite the Games' pledge to "inspire a generation."

Latest figures show 15.8 million people play sport or exercise at least once a week, a drop of 0.4% since 2012. 8,700 fewer people play sport or exercise once a week in 2016 compared to 2012.

Thus ran the headline from BBC News on the 16th of June (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36540017)

This, coupled with the previous bad news that fewer disabled people are participating in sport would seem to be of significant concern.

It is worth remembering that since 2005 1.7 million more people are playing sport or exercising on at least one occasion per week. But before we dismiss the BBC story as a mere blip in the delivery of the “Olympic Legacy” A few questions must surely be asked. Whilst it is great that more young people are engaged in Sport, why is it that people from black and ethnic minority and people from the poorest social demographics are showing the greatest decline in sports participation? (2.9% decline). Why is it that disabled people are participating less? It would be interesting to delve deeper into why places like Doncaster, in South Yorkshire, saw the biggest fall of any area in England, registering a decline of 13.2% whilst Oxford saw the biggest increase, of 14%. More detailed research is clearly required to find out what works and what does not in terms of maintaining or increasing participation.

Perhaps the biggest clue lies with the statement from Sport England that “in 2013/14 local authorities invested just over £1bn in sports projects, a fall of 27% compared to 2009/10”.

Many disabled people, people from economically deprived backgrounds and many black and ethnic minority people face far more barriers to participation than the general population. From our experience at Ad-Lib working with funded projects specifically targeting such populations, we have seen at first-hand how vital local authority (and other…dare I say EU!) funding is in terms of making a difference and helping community members overcome barriers to participation in sport and physical activity.

I have a feeling that whilst this is vital, more complex cultural and societal influences are at work in terms of health inequality. Prejudice, inappropriate activity offerings, sub-standard or inappropriate coaching, unfriendly fellow participants, poor access, cost, poor attitudes of sports and fitness staff may all be factors.

It is sad to think that so many people inspired to participate after the wonderful events of 2012 are now no longer doing so. We owe those people a duty to find out why and this is so and then take concrete, concerted and sustainable steps to do something to redress this situation.

In terms of the fitness industry, it is my belief that it is time it looked seriously at its offering and practices in terms of recruiting and retaining participants who are new to exercise …But that’s another blog!...

By Robin Gargrave (Co – Director and founder; Ad-Lib Training)

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