The guest post below from Andrew Adams , Senior Lecturer in Sports Management at Bournemouth University, and member of the GeoVation judging panel, explains why he’s interested in the latest GeoVation Challenge to encourage active lifestyles in Britain.
The summer of 2012 was a summer for the sport enthusiast. The summer of 2013 in contrast, with much good weather, was a summer for the sporting activist. The London Olympics were hosted successfully and contained much excitement for many. By 2013, any post-Olympic legacy, in a summer when the sun shone, should have seen some increase or at least maintenance of active participation in physical activity. Despite legacy becoming an overused word it is still unclear whether any great legacy has been left, but many were inspired by the sheer size and complexity of the event itself and certainly it provided notes of inspiration and enthusiasm, as well as a feel good factor, that aspirational challenges can be achieved if we organise and innovate as part of a longer-term plan.
Over the 12 month period following ‘London 2012’ at least five reports have been published that have variously assessed how well England has done in meeting the challenge of increasing and/or encouraging sport participation. The latest of these, from the House of Lords Select Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy (November 2013), made for mixed reading. The report ‘Keeping the flame alive: the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy’ stresses how the Games “exceeded expectations and confounded sceptics by giving the world a spectacular example of what the United Kingdom is capable of doing, delivering a major event to time and to budget”. However some more critical aspects of the report, which repeat and underline similar comments from other previous reports (e.g. Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2013; National Audit Office, 2012; Commission for a Sustainable London 2012), concern the notion of a London 2012 legacy which “promised nothing less than a healthier and more successful sporting nation, open for business, with more active, sustainable, fair and inclusive communities”.
Active lifestyles, where aspects of physical activity are built into our lives as routine elements, are really the key to health and active sport participation. In this sense we can talk of informal sport being a key driver in many people’s lives, for as many of us know, formal sport is often unachievable because of very real barriers such as lack of time. A recent report on sport participation in Denmark notes that running is the number one sporting activity and that 64% of Danish adults take part in sporting activity compared to 45% in the UK. The Danish report talks of ‘active adults’ rather than adults participating in sport and that the data tends to show than the Danes are generally more active consistently throughout their lives. My point is that over-focussing on competitive sport, is ultimately self-defeating and perhaps reinforces the perception that doing sporting activity and adopting an active lifestyle is a difficult and often unachievable choice. It really shouldn’t be a choice, but something that should be thought of as akin to a right or an entitlement as part of a good life.
Back in 2002, the government looked to Finland as the inspiration and basis for the development of a sport strategy and its targets to have 70% of adults active by 2020. This has proved unattainable for many reasons, in part because in the UK there is a tendency to focus on competitive sport participation as the key component of an active lifestyle.
As someone who has had a lifelong involvement in sport: from playing club level rugby from colts through to vets, to developing a running habit which has seen me take on 5 marathons to date (with a place at 2014 London marathon beckoning); to skiing on snow and water; to mountain climbing and walking – all done at what we might call a community sport level. I am an enthusiast for sporting activity being a part of everyone’s lifestyle. Moreover as someone who now teaches at a University I am keen to help students develop an understanding of what it is about sporting activity that is important, if not vital, for an individual, a community and/or a society to thrive in these days of global connectedness.
This emphasis on the potential for encouraging and incorporating physical activity into the everyday is reinforced when I read that the American Heart Foundation presents evidence that millions of children cannot run as fast or as far as their parents were able to at their age. Certainly in the UK physical activity is low; the ‘Move It’ report states what has become an accepted truth that ‘Levels of physical activity in the UK are in decline and sedentary lifestyles are increasingly becoming the norm. We face an epidemic of inactivity that is costing a fortune and threatens the health and wellbeing of millions’.
The current GeoVation Challenge to encourage active lifestyles is not only timely, but squares up to what is, and has been, a major challenge faced by successive UK governments and further raises the profile of physical activity as a component of how people lead their lives. I agree with the House of Lords Select Committee report that a ‘long term sustained legacy in participation will need real commitment to infrastructure, social as well as physical’. The fullness of the problems associated with encouraging physical activity may well mean that the ‘Challenge’ will not provide one single answer. However, the capacity to develop innovative responses may well allow us to think differently about how physical activity in the outdoors can be encouraged or enabled and contribute to developing more of an awareness of how people access outdoor space as part of any physical activity routine.