From host city to ac­tive city

How much of an im­pact do the Olympics have on in­creased sports par­tic­i­pa­tion?

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - LIFE - JILL BARKER

When it comes to the de­bate around host­ing the Olympic Games, not all talk cen­tres on the eco­nomics of hold­ing the event. Po­ten­tial host cities also en­gage in dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing the so­cial im­pact of the Games, in­clud­ing the the­ory that watch­ing ath­letes com­pete at the high­est level mo­ti­vates peo­ple to do the same.

But more than re­cruit­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of Olympians and in­creas­ing the num­ber of peo­ple play­ing or­ga­nized sports, the pledge to turn Olympic-qual­ity in­stal­la­tions into recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties once the Games are over is an ex­am­ple of a legacy geared to­ward cre­at­ing more ac­tive and healthy com­mu­ni­ties.

Lon­don was one of the first cities to pub­licly pledge a boost in sports par­tic­i­pa­tion if the Olympic flame was raised on its soil. Se­bas­tian Coe, politi­cian, for­mer Bri­tish Olympian and leader of the pro Olympic move­ment for the 2012 Lon­don Games, stated that “big Bri­tish mo­ments in sport have to have a con­ver­sion rate.” He went on to sug­gest that “the real chal­lenge for our gov­ern­ing bod­ies and for sport more broadly is: How many peo­ple can you get into the sport off the back of that great mo­ment?”

Dis­course around the 2010 Van­cou­ver Games was sim­i­lar. Promised le­ga­cies in­cluded more peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in new sport pro­grams, im­proved fund­ing for pro­vin­cial sport or­ga­ni­za­tions, ad­di­tional sup­port for high-per­for­mance ath­letes striv­ing to reach the na­tional team level, bet­ter-qual­ity youth sum­mer camps in arts, sports and recre­ation, and im­proved sport and recre­ation pro­grams for Abo­rig­i­nal youth or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Yet de­spite re­peated as­sur­ances by politi­cians and Olympic bid sup­port­ers, post-Olympic anal­y­sis of the ef­fects of host­ing on lo­cal sports par­tic­i­pa­tion is sur­pris­ingly scarce, with only a hand­ful of stud­ies ex­am­in­ing the var­i­ous met­rics re­lated to host­ing the Games.

The stats are tough to mea­sure and com­pare be­tween Games, due to a lack of con­sis­tency in re­port­ing struc­tures, but the con­sen­sus is that most cities see a small boost in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and sports par­tic­i­pa­tion dur­ing the years lead­ing up to the Games and for a short pe­riod there­after, though there’s a ques­tion as to whether more peo­ple are ex­er­cis­ing or whether an al­ready ac­tive pop­u­la­tion was in­spired to be­come more ac­tive.

In Canada, at least, it would be hard to ar­gue that sports such as women’s hockey and curl­ing haven’t ben­e­fited from Olympic ex­po­sure. But it’s just as easy to point out that ringette has seen num­bers de­crease, as girls across the coun­try switched al­le­giances af­ter watch­ing the Cana­dian women’s hockey team win four con­sec­u­tive gold medals.

One of the lessons learned from Olympic-host­ing ef­forts is that if in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion is a goal of hold­ing high-pro­file sport­ing events, it takes a con­certed plan — not just talk — to lever­age the en­ergy, com­mit­ment and suc­cess show­cased by elite ath­letes.

Van­cou­ver put forth a num­ber of mea­sures in­tended to pro­mote grass­roots par­tic­i­pa­tion, in­clud­ing the build­ing of new sports fa­cil­i­ties de­signed to be used long af­ter the Games ended. The city ben­e­fited from new and re­fur­bished skat­ing, hockey and curl­ing rinks, as well as new play­grounds built to ac­com­mo­date chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties. And the city of Rich­mond, B.C., got a new fit­ness and recre­ation cen­tre, a holdover from the speed­skat­ing oval used dur­ing the 2010 Games.

Another im­por­tant legacy of the Van­cou­ver Games is the im­pact on sports for dis­abled ath­letes. Seventy-three schools and 27,500 stu­dents lis­tened to in­spi­ra­tional talks by Par­a­lympic ath­letes and tried out Par­a­lympic equip­ment. And when polled, 32 to 40 per cent of Cana­di­ans felt the 2010 Games had in­creased their aware­ness and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of am­a­teur win­ter sports, their knowl­edge of sports for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and their over­all ac­cep­tance of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

Then, of course, there is the ef­fect of the Olympics on the ath­letes of the host coun­try. Cana­dian ath­letes won a na­tional high of 26 medals at the Van­cou­ver Games. Our Par­a­lympic ath­letes also posted record-break­ing re­sults, earn­ing 19 medals.

So as valu­able as it is to wit­ness Cana­dian mo­ments like Alexan­dre Bilodeau shar­ing his gold medal with his brother, and Jon Mont­gomery cel­e­brat­ing gold by walk­ing through Whistler drink­ing beer from a pitcher, cities wish­ing to hold Olympic Games need to pro­mote and de­liver on the prom­ise to make their ci­ti­zens more ac­tive.


Alexan­dre Bilodeau cel­e­brates his gold medal win at the men’s mogul at Cy­press Moun­tain in Van­cou­ver, B.C., on Fe­bru­ary 14, 2010, at the 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympic Win­ter Games.

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