The Government’s sporting legacy: participation and safety

If you were between the ages of 15 and 16, then reading this article would constitute part of the 4.8 hours you spend online each day, according to a study released by Childwise.

Alongside your near five hours of online activity, you’d also probably spend at least a couple of hours watching television. For the first time, young people consume more online content than television. But, when seven to 15 year olds are also online for more than three hours a day, it also serves as a stark reminder that young people are not particularly physically active or engaged in sport.

The legacy of the 2012 Olympics has always been a contentious subject. Despite the memories of Super Saturday, questions have been asked whether the sight of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford taking gold has led to more people participating in sport or being active. So the announcement of a new government strategy for sport by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch at the end of last year was particularly welcome.

The really significant change was that Sport England has been charged with encouraging participation amongst children as young as five, rather than 14 as had previously been the case. Given that approximately a third of children leaving primary school are considered overweight or obese (according to the annual National Child Measurement Programme), and the issue is most prevalent in deprived communities, there were very good reasons for such a change.

An overlooked part of the Government’s strategy was ensuring sports or physical activity are undertaken safely. And this is likely to have a significant impact on numerous governing bodies, let alone individual clubs, societies and community groups.

With year’s Six Nations kicking off over the weekend, few rugby fans will forget the vivid images of first George North then Mike Brown falling prone to the Twickenham turf in recent years, the victims of impacts that left them with concussion. Football fans will recall the furore when Hugo Lloris was left on the football pitch after taking a blow to the head. And there are countless other examples in sports ranging from netball to hockey to Taekwando.

There are of course countless ways in which participants can incur injury in sport, but head injuries have been the subject of much focus in recent years. In American Football, it’s been a focus for far longer – and this year even sees the release of a Will Smith film on the subject. To their credit, many governing bodies have taken swift steps to introduce protocols to protect participants, whether these are immediate assessments or steps that must be followed before anyone can be part of the team again.

With the Government’s renewed push for increased participation in sport and efforts to ensure we’re more active at a time when obesity levels are at an all-time high, governing bodies will need to engage with policymakers, but not just to increase up-take of their sports and activities. They will also need to consult and demonstrate safety procedures are in place at every level from grass roots to professional.

The Government will likely continue to seek a sporting legacy, but that won’t just be about the number of people being active. It’ll also be about safe participation.