UK’s sport minister denies London 2012 failed in aim to inspire more to exercise

The UK’s minister for sport, Nigel Huddleston, has denied that London 2012 failed to deliver on its legacy of increased physical activity and suggested falling levels might have been even worse without the experience of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Huddleston is currently conducting a tour of Tokyo where he has paid tribute to ParalympicGB athletes, including new record gold medal winner Dame Sarah Storey. “She’s just one of many that we can truly call role models,” he said.

“We can all be really proud of what the athletes have achieved particularly those with disabilities that we’re seeing at the Paralympics,” Huddleston told the Guardian. “We rightly put them on a pedestal and they inspire future generations. There’s a direct and immediate link between sporting success and medals success and enthusiasm about sport and with overall physical activity and wellbeing.”

“Inspire a generation” was the key legacy message of London 2012, but a number of studies have shown levels of physical activity continuing to drop among adults in the years since. Sport England’s Active Lives study showed that the number of adults aged 16+ who were active for 30-149 minutes a week fell from 5,482,500 in 2015 to 5,338,500 in May of 2020 and 5,225,300 by last November. The same criteria applied to people with a single disability saw a fall from 13.1% being active in 2015 to 12.6% in 2020.

Asked about the decline in levels of physical activity since London 2012, Huddleston said: “I think it’s quite difficult to draw direct links and correlations on these things. You can use some metrics but we also know there are people who are now competing here in Tokyo who were inspired specifically because of the role models they saw in London.

“I think it would be a bit unfair to say there were complete missed opportunities there – there weren’t. We have anecdotal evidence that they did have a strong and lasting impact. There’s a lot of other forces at work here as well. The big question is, were it not for the Olympics at 2012 would activity levels and health and wellbeing be even worse? I suspect it might well have been.”

Huddleston said that a direct link between elite sporting events and public interest can be shown by increased Google searches around events. “In the Olympics for example we saw a huge surge in BMX and we saw a huge surge in taekwondo,” he said.

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Research this year by the Activity Alliance, who campaign for disability inclusion within sport, found that disabled people remain twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people, with 44% of disabled people interviewed saying they did not have the opportunity to be as active as they want to.

Huddleston, however, said he believed a new Sport England strategy to help people with disabilities become more active, We Are Undefeatable, would help bridge the gap between Paralympic stars and daily reality: “I work very closely with [Sport England chief executive] Tim Hollingsworth and the team there and I think what they’re doing, particularly targeting people with disabilities and other groups that are underrepresented, [is] what we expect and require them to do and they do it very well.”


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