The Select Committee report titled 'Keeping the flame alive: the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy' published on 18th November makes interesting reading if only because it confirms what a lot of people feared before the London 2012 Olympics were even awarded to the city.
There will be arguments over costs and national benefits until the cows come home, the feelgood factor around the country was immense during the Olympics and whilst that doesn't help reduce the overall cost to the country there are still somethings worth more than money (aren't there?). Anyway the part of the report that I jumped to immediately was the section dealing with the Sporting Participation part of the legacy - paragraphs 109 onwards.
The good thing about the report is that it looks backwards at the 2010 legacy action plan, compares it with the latest available figures (mainly for England and June 2013) and summarises the impact of the 2012 Olympics on grass roots sport participation. I don't think the impact of hosting the Olympics can be underestimated and it is quite important to get the balance right when assessing its impact between what was thought it could deliver and what it has and may deliver in the future in terms of numbers of participants.
It is quite clear locally, and this is purely anecdotal and not scientific in any way, that there was a fairly sizable ground swell (to use the appropriate jargon) of people taking part in sport for pleasure. These tended to be, based on their appearance and ability with the various activities, people who, like me a few years ago, had become lapsed sportsmen and women. What however was also encouraging was that there were also many people who were engaging in sporting activity for the first time or those for whom sport had been seen as something you could only do if you could afford it. As with many things however it is all relative, something can be seen as a luxury simply as an excuse not to do it and the relative costs of an hour or two in the gym compared with the price of a takeaway or a packet of cigarettes shows that often it is a matter of choice rather than a matter of cost.
Anyway back to the report and paragraphs 113 and 114 are good news:
Sport England, the body responsible for sporting participation in England, told us that "the early signs are promising", with 1.4 million more people playing sport than was the case in 2005 at the point when the bid was won.
"Analysis of overall participation levels since 2005 shows a steady upward trend. The initial figure of 13.9 million people (34.2% of the population) for the period October 2005/6 had increased to record levels by October 2011/12, when it reached 15.5 million (36.0%)—1.6 million more people playing sport. The period between October 2010/11 and October 2011/12 saw a significant increase of 753,600 people, with the majority of that growth (578,500) driven by women. The most recent figures, released in June 2013, showed that most, but not all, of that growth has been sustained. The current level of 15.3 million means that 533,000 of the 753,600 gained have been retained. While it was disappointing to see the slight dip in figures, it was not unexpected due the exceptionally cold weather in January and March. There is confidence among many sports that figures are already showing signs of recovery, suggesting that the dip in figures is temporary, and the longer term upward trend will continue."
As the report alludes to in passing we had the wettest winter in fifty years followed by the coldest spring in an equally long period of time which saw numbers drop - as anybody will tell you even the crappiest night on TV will suddenly prove to be more alluring when it's snowing or raining outside.
Cycling, the success of Team GB at the Olympics building on the success of the Tour De France win of Bradley and continuing success of Cav saw a huge rise in the numbers of people taking up cycling - just look at the results of Halford's as an example, and the year on year growth means we will probably rival China for the number of cyclists within my lifetime (or possibly not).
The recommendations of the report and the conclusions drawn are key to the report, without them the report is a waste of time and effort on behalf of all those who took part in its compilation. Just to pick out a couple, "We note that economic benefits which might have arisen from the Games are disproportionately weighted towards southern England. The scale of difference goes beyond that which might reasonably be expected to occur as a result of the Games taking place in and around London". This is interesting for two reasons, firstly the growing feeling among economists that London is outgrowing the UK in terms of subsidies, influence and financial assistance and secondly because prior to the Games there was an almost evangelical insistence that the country outside of London would benefit from the Games.
One other recommendation which I think also looks at the picture beyond the Games is this "We recommend that the methods used to recruit and train volunteers for London 2012 should be applied more widely; the Games provided an impressive example of what can be done to inspire volunteers. The lessons learned from this process should be built upon to support future events". Isn't that key to the success or failure of the 'big society' or has that idea been consigned to the rubbish bin of David Cameron P.R stunts?