London 2012 breaks promise to get Britons active
Britons may be watching lots of Olympic athletes this summer but
they sure aren’t moving more themselves.
When London was awarded the 2012 Summer Olympics seven years
ago, officials promised they would get 2 million more people
physically active in time for the opening ceremonies.
But when the torch is lit July 27, the government will not only
have failed, it will have backed away from its pledge entirely.
Last year, the U.K. quietly dropped its aim to get 1 million more
Britons into sports; the pledge to get another 1 million people
more active through things like biking or walking to work has also
Some experts lamented the missed opportunity.
”Olympic sports are seen as elite and not part of everyday
life,” said Adrian Bauman of the University of Sydney in
Australia. ”Having the Olympics doesn’t translate into more
physical activity unless there is a strong infrastructure to get
Britain’s strategy was based largely on providing free school
sports programs for children. While numbers grew in the first few
years, they have since flat lined, according to national surveys.
As the government cut spending amid Europe’s debt crisis, it also
slashed sports programs for adults, including free swimming for
With a population of about 60 million, Britain is western
Europe’s fattest country. Soccer is wildly popular, but Britons are
more likely to cheer on their favorite teams from the local pub
rather than emulating them on the pitch.
Olympics secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government was looking
for other ways to measure people’s activity levels and insisted it
was still working with local sports clubs to boost participation. A
government spokesman called the original target ”arbitrary.”
”The Olympics do inspire people, but there is no evidence there
are increased physical activity levels afterwards,” said Bill
Kohl, director of the physical activity epidemiology program at the
University of Texas School of Public Health. ”Most people realize
they will never be (track star) Usain Bolt.”
On Wednesday, Kohl authored a paper that labeled low levels of
physical activity worldwide a ”pandemic.” It was published in the
Lancet medical journal.
Another study concluded being a couch potato was as potentially
lethal as smoking or being obese. Researchers estimated that a lack
of physical activity causes about 1 in 10 deaths worldwide and is
responsible for about 7 percent of type 2 diabetes cases and 10
percent of breast cancer and colon cancer cases.
”For the individual, it is certainly more dangerous to smoke
than to be physically inactive,” Kohl said. ”But on a population
level, the impact of physical inactivity is equal to smoking.”
Critics have slammed London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe for his
failure to deliver on organizers’ physical activity pledge.
”We are way off target,” said Mike Weed, director of the
Centre for Sport, Physical Education and Activity Research at
Canterbury Christ Church University. Based on current numbers, he
said the promise to get 2 million more people active wouldn’t
happen until about 2035.
No host country of the Olympics has ever been able to convert
enthusiasm for the games into a sporty population.
Weed said elite Olympians weren’t the best role models for
average Britons and cited a much less athletic example: chunky
London mayor Boris Johnson, who has introduced a popular bike
rental system in the British capital.
”If you see somebody in Lycra at the Olympics on a 10,000-pound
($15,600) bike, that says this is not for you,” Weed said. ”But
if you see Boris Johnson in a suit riding along on an obviously
unsporty bike, the message is that if he can do it, anyone