Glasgow 2014: Games alone won’t boost exercise

INCREASING physical activity levels in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games is the most challenging part of the Glasgow 2014 legacy and is not guaranteed, a conference has heard.

Commonwealth Games organisers have said they are keen to ensure this summer's event encourages an increase in people taking part in exercise. Picture: Alistair Devine

Paul Zealey, head of engagement and legacy at Glasgow 2014, said they were in a “very good position” at the moment in working to make sure people were encouraged to take more exercise as part of the ongoing impact of the Games.

But he said while the prospects for a legacy on activity were good, they were not guaranteed and it would take many years to prove there has been an impact on the population.

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The Scottish Physical Activity and Health Alliance conference at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium also heard that efforts to boost the nation’s activity as a result of the London 2012 Olympics had failed as organisers had assumed that the spectacular of the event alone would encourage people to exercise more.

Mr Zealey said that an ambitious series of programmes around trying to maximise the impact of the Glasgow games had been under way for many years.

“Legacy is always a difficult word and for some people what happens after the event is a bit cross your fingers and hope for the best,” he said.

“We prefer to talk about how people are benefiting now and in the run up to the Games from the investment and how the wider impact of that can be measured.”

The legacy from the games also includes factors such as how Scotland is presented to the world in terms of future events as well as economic benefits from areas such as regeneration of parts of the city, Mr Zealey said.

“The physical activity legacy is probably the most challenging of those,” he added.

“For all of those areas there are measures that have been agreed about how we track those over a long-term period and that is important.

“The proof of the physical activity is always going to be a lot longer to realise. Where we are now is talking about are the prospects good, have the seeds been sown and is there a groundswell not just of political will and public opinion but also the mechanisms to ensure that those good intentions do realise in longer term life changes?”

Mr Zealey said the evidence for improvements in physical activity would be monitored over 20 years.

But he said there were encouraging signs already with membership fo amateur sports clubs in Glasgow increasing 50 per cent in the last three years and a doubling in the number of volunteer coaches.

“In terms of where we are positioned, we are in the best possible place to maximise that legacy, but we absolutely can’t be complacent that it will be automatic. There needs to be continued attention to making sure all the excellent measures that are under way continue to be delivered to ensure we realise what might be possible,” Mr Zealey said.

Also speaking at the conference, Professor Mike Weed from Canterbury Christ Church University said the organisers of the London Olympics had been less successful in increasing physical activity levels than they had hoped.

Prof Weed, a professor of sport in society, said evidence showed that holding an event like the Olympics or Commonwealth Games on its own was not enough to boost the nation’s health without other strategies to support it.

“They do have the potential to support other interventions to increase physical activity, health and sport,” Prof Weed said.

“Those interventions might be supported by the Games and the political will that comes with them bringing more resources into the sector, or by opportunities being taken to use themes from the games as part of social marketing campaigns to get people doing more physical activity.”

Prof Weed said London 2012 was probably the first major games to say it was going to try to achieve a physical activity and sport legacy, but it had major failings in trying to achieve that.

“There was a political assumption and within the organising committee itself that the Games themselves would act as the intervention, and would increase demand,” he said.

“Probably because of that most of the investment was in facilities and training coaches, but there was virtually no investment that focussed on demand, such as campaigns to get people involved.”