Edition number 58; dateline 10 December 2012
Hanging out the bunting? Not just yet.
In the langourous period between the last issue of The Leisure Review and this there have been two news stories that should have sent shock waves through the sport, leisure and culture sector. Both should be cause for grave concern for anyone who still claims to have a role that includes some responsibility for leadership of this sector and both may well be seen in years to come to have been the death knell for leisure. That one was greeted in some quarters with press releases and celebrations while the other drew barely a comment is perhaps indicative of the problems we face.
The story seen in some quarters as cause for celebration and congratulation was the Sport England participation figures, which showed an Olympics-inspired bounce. Even while the media department of the government’s sports development agency was counting the column inches devoted to the story in the national press and converting this figure into notional advertising expenditure equivalents (believe me, they will have done this; or paid a media agency to do it), one of our three readers expressed mild surprise when it was suggested that The Leisure Review was not quite ready to hang out the bunting. Were we likely to express an alternative perspective on these figures? We were; or rather more accurately, we did. A quick look at The Leisure Review’s May editorial reveals the startling prediction that hosting the Olympic Games will have an impact on participation figures. I am surprised we didn’t get a Sport England grant to start celebrating right away; we would certainly have applied for it if prompted.
But it is easy to be cynical, which is what makes me wonder why more people do not give it a go. It has been a very long year and the seemingly endless months of shouting at the radio whenever a government minister opens his mouth (and it is almost always a man; it is almost always a rich man; it is almost always a rich man who was privately educated and is displaying ill-concealed contempt for anyone who does not happen to be like him) have taken their toll on my reserves of bonhomie and positivity. So, when someone was innocent enough to be intrigued by the prospect of some dissent amid the apparent general acceptance of rising participation numbers being evidence of just how jolly effective our Olympic legacy initiatives had been, it was all I could do to remain civil in my response.
Sport England announced that a sizeable spike in the number of people participating in sport during 2012 was evidence that Olympic legacy initiatives were effective and it seems to have been widely accepted as a fair point made by the people who should know. However, within The Leisure Review office this has been widely accepted as bullshit. Of course growth in participation is welcome and we all want more people being more active more often but this should have been embraced and relentlessly pursued as a once-in-a-century opportunity to transform participation, which is what we were promised, rather than a desperate attempt to claim credit for the unavoidable impact of 24-hour-a-day saturation coverage for sport across every BBC platform and non-BBC media outlet known to man. We should count ourselves lucky that this was a festival of sport. When Delia Smith uses a particular ingredient on BBC2 it changes the shopping habits of the population. Put plenty of origami on television and sales of coloured paper would go through the roof. Run Trainspotting and Withnail and I on telly all day every day for a month with accompanying daily specials in the printed media and guess what would happen to the retail figures for alcohol, illegal drugs and second-hand Jaguars.
If only those who have responsibility for the nation’s health and wellbeing, or those with responsibility with overseeing the Olympian budgets, or those who were given responsibility for securing a sporting legacy had been given some notice that the world’s biggest sporting event was going to happen in the UK. Surely they would have been able to make some sort of arrangements to use the world’s biggest sporting event taking place in one of the world’s biggest, most diverse and vibrant cities to ensure that there was some sort of impact on sporting participation levels. But we should be grateful that some people noticed the Games were on anyway and were sufficiently, if temporarily, motivated to go outside to walk or cycle about a bit, where they were captured on a Sport England spreadsheet and classified as engaged in sport.
Meanwhile the news that Newcastle city council is planning to axe its entire culture budget seems to have gone almost unnoticed beyond a few brief news stories and some serious head shaking across the sport, leisure and culture sector. It was certainly unremarked upon by a newly chartered professional body that purports to represent the interests of its members in the “sport and physical activity” sector. Asked by The Leisure Review whether they had made a statement on developments in Newcastle, they said they had not. Asked whether they would like to, they took several days to refer the matter to someone within the professional body’s regional structure before letting us know that no comment was deemed necessary as the proposals were only under consideration at the present time. And therefore, presumably, nothing to worry about.
Perhaps they too have been buoyed by the Sport England figures and see their own remit as so sport-tastic, shorn as it has been of any interest in parks, the arts or any other aspect of the nation’s cultural pursuits, that their members will escape the effects of such budgetary scything. They may be right. Or perhaps they are just too panicked, too stupid or too busy trying to justify their own expensive existence to realise that this represents the start of the process explained not too long ago (see World of Leisure passim) by the leader of Birmingham city council, the death of local government in all but name, where local authorities are able only to deliver the services mandated by central government, leaving every other aspect of their council tax payers’ lives untouched and unexplored. Meanwhile NICE, the steadfastly acronymically named National Institute for Clinical Excellence, issues a report that says walking and cycling for short journeys should be made the norm in the interests of a viable health service and the national health. And by whom should such an essential and radical initiative be delivered? Local authorities, of course.
So no, we won’t be hanging out the legacy bunting just yet, if it’s all the same to you.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial