Monday, 22 April 2013

Did London 2012 ‘inspire a generation’?

‘Legacy’ is the word in the world of mega-sport event bidding, planning and marketing. Creating a sporting and/or physical activity legacy is an increasingly popular promise that hosts are willing to make. ‘Inspire a generation’ was the slogan of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was a tagline to a Games that committed to a sporting and physical activity legacy for children and young people in the UK.

The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games is promising similar outcomes – “inspiring Scots to be more physically active” and children and young people are key targets (see for example today's press: 'Stars hail focus on children at 2014 Games)

This is an ambitious – and some would say naïve – promise. Repeated evaluations and appraisals of mega-events demonstrate no or, at best, very limited impact on physical activity. Yet it remains a key aspiration with sports programmes and initiatives developed by organising bodies to ‘inspire’. Much focus is on provision and infrastructure in these plans: having the right structures in place to engage young people, whether that is community facilities like Scotland’s community sports hubs or school sport structures like Active Schools to support participation.

Very little – if any – attention is paid to the informal, intimate, everyday processes of family and peer relationships that encourage or discourage participation. It seems likely that the key to participation with any longevity or enthusiasm lies within these networks of relationships rather than within a one-off observation of world-beating athletic achievement through the medium of TV.

A few months after London 2012, I received funding from the Carnegie Trust and Moray House School of Education to examine these processes in an exploratory study with young people in the North West of England and in an inner city area of Scotland. I was keen not to deny the potential for sport experienced through television to produce an emotional response – having sat through Mo Farah’s Olympic gold moments with tears in my eyes. I also recognised that sport is often watched collectively with family and friends and so was likely to form part of the relational context of how young people consumed, perceived and responded to the Games.

So, what have I discovered so far, eight months after the Games and four months after starting fieldwork? Certainly the 23 young people in the study group have a strong recollection of the Games, even if they were not really interested in sport at the outset.

Most recalled key (mostly British) successes and many commented on how they watched events with their family and friends. They talked about their families’ general enthusiasm for the Games and sport and physical activity and related this to their own activities.

The ‘sportier’ young people were those who waxed most lyrically about the Olympics and they seemed to emanate from ‘sportier’ or more physically active families.

The challenge in analysis is to mine the data for how everyday practice (watching TV with family members or friends) interacted with the legacy message of ‘inspiration’ and what effect, if any, this had on perception, intention or sporting action in young peoples’ lives. Was the ‘inspire a generation’ slogan just that or is there something more substantial in there than just blanket social marketing and a hashtag?

Find out more about this research on 7 May at the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships informal seminar. Places are funded and free to participants but there are limited places. Book now

Liz is speaking at CRFR's 3-day International Conference during the Time and Generations session on Day 1, 10 June, Edinburgh

Liz Such is a lecturer in leisure and sport policy at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked in the field of policy research inside and outside the UK government for over ten years and is currently a Beltane Parliamentary Engagement Fellow at the Scottish Parliament on a ‘sit less and walk more’ project. Follow Liz on Twitter: @lizzysuch

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