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Grass roots participation in sport

One of the intended outcomes of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 is that people from a variety of abilities and backgrounds will feel motivated to take up some form of sporting or fitness activity. Indeed, this has been the first occasion on which hopes for a legacy of this kind have been explicitly expressed in the original bid for the Games. The aim is that two million more Britons will become involved in sport after 2012. As Lord Coe told sport organisations at a conference given by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR):

'winning the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games represents the single biggest opportunity in our lifetime to transform sport and participation in sport in the UK forever…We have a unique opportunity that we must not squander to increase participation in sport, at community and grass roots levels as well as elite levels; from the school playground to the winner's podium'
Sebastian Coe, 2006

However, research undertaken in 2009 for the NHS has thrown doubt upon whether the Games alone – or government exhortations - can stimulate greater involvement in sport. The bibliography accompanying this page lists materials in the Library’s collection which trace the history of national and local policy-making in the fitness arena, and which look at the reasons why people in general, and certain groups in particular, are resistant to such initiatives.


Ideas about the role of sport in promoting social inclusion and the costs – both social and economic - of obesity and sedentary lifestyles haves driven a great deal of government sponsored research into the development of community sport and exercise, research which predates by some decades the awarding of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to London. Barrie Houlihan and Anita White have traced the history of such initiatives and stress the difficulty of untangling the threads of national,  regional and local sport policies, suggesting that even the term ‘sports development’ is 'surprisingly difficult to define'. As we will see, more complexity resides in the gearing of policy towards a diverse community, and in the choice of strategies which will prove most effective. Notwithstanding, the Games in London 2012 is regarded by government and its various agencies as an ideal opportunity both to highlight the crucial issues surrounding health and fitness and to encourage participation in sport. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is making every effort to ensure that the opportunity is not wasted. As The Guardian reported on 26 July 2009, a sports ‘legacy tzar’ was being appointed to ensure that the message is heard and acted upon.

Targeting potential exercisers

Traditionally, the archetypal exerciser has been a young, professional, white male; and although the fitness boom of the 1980s has altered this profile to a certain extent, the archetype remains broadly the same. Certain groups, particularly women belonging to some ethnic minorities, continue to be resistant to sports participation, and a number of studies have looked at this issue and those involving other groups which have proved similarly hard to reach. There is a paucity of evidence on the effects of previous Games on sports participation, but London 2012 is expected to generate much more research interest in this area. Among the questions which will be investigated is the ways in which the policies of local authorities can be integrated into the broader government vision, especially in a time of financial stringency.

Promoting sports participation: what’s online now

Latest SportEngland research

Sport unlimited
Sport England

Free swimming programme and data
Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Streetgames project
Sport England

Reports sponsored by Sport England on why people take up sport

Interrogate the Office of National Statistics database for sports participation data

What drives a good experience of sport?
Sport England’s commissioned research papers on the topic of encouraging participation.

Global recommendations on physical activity for health.
World Health Organisation

Active people survey
Sport England

Paper on the Sport for All policy and the impact of the Sydney Olympics on participation from the University of Technology, Sydney (PDF 38KB) PDF file

A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base for Developing a Physical Activity and Health Legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games
Department of Health

'Games tsar to ensure legacy of London 2012 Olympics'
The Guardian

Help us to provide a research legacy for the London Olympics

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Research articles

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.

Encouraging participation in sport: a bibliography of British Library resources (PDF 120KB) PDF file

Social sciences at the British Library

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