Tagged / elite sport

Fit for nothing: where it all went wrong for Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games legacy

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By Lynda Challis, Bournemouth University

“Our vision is to host a successful, safe and secure Games that deliver a lasting legacy for the whole of Scotland, and to maximise the opportunities in the run up to, during, and after the Games.”

This was the promise made by the Scottish government to the Commonwealth in 2014. In the 12 days of competition that followed, the city of Glasgow achieved a “hero-like status”, Team Scotland achieved its biggest-ever medal haul of 53 medals, and the games recorded the highest number of tickets sold for a sporting event in Scottish history.

Minister for sport Aileen Campbell hailed the event as a huge success by announcing that Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games was the largest sporting and cultural event ever held in Scotland and had changed the lives of thousands of people.

The message from the host nation was clear: the games were not just about showcasing elite athletes, but about delivering a legacy that would provide a flourishing economy, celebrate cultural diversity, embrace sustainable living, and create a more physically active nation. But four years on, not all those ambitions have been achieved.

Getting a nation off the couch

The games were considered a golden opportunity for Scotland to harness the power of sport to motivate a sedentary nation. A ten-year implementation plan was launched in 2014 to tackle physical inactivity across Scotland as well as myriad other initiatives to support communities in improving the local sporting infrastructure.

Two and a half years after the games, an interim report by the Scottish parliament’s Health and Sport Committee was undertaken to assess the progress made in increasing physical activity levels across Scotland.

The report concluded that there was no evidence of an active legacy being achievable. More alarmingly, any evidence of a relationship between the hosting of a major sporting event and raising the host nation’s physical activity levels was inconclusive.

This raises serious questions as to why such an ambitious legacy aim was included in the first place given the likelihood of failure. It could be that the Scottish government included the aim of increasing participation within its legacy pledge as a desperate attempt to address Scotland’s poor health profile, one of the worst in Europe.

Glasgow’s east end, the main site of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, is considered one of the poorest urban areas in Europe. Chris Perkins/Flickr, CC BY-SA

A final evaluation report on the impact of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games published by the Scottish government days before the opening ceremony of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games highlighted the harsh reality that the active legacy programme had not “resulted in a step change in population levels of physical activity in Scotland”.

In fact, the GoWell East study that tracked participant levels within the surrounding area of Glasgow found that overall rates had actually declined, with just over 53% achieving the recommended physical activity levels in 2016, compared to 62% in 2012.

However, the east end community surrounding the main games site is one of the most deprived areas in Scotland, with some of the worst statistics in Europe for child poverty, health, crime, and alcohol and drug abuse. This could account for the declines in physical activity levels in the east end of Glasgow as the underlying reasons behind social inequalities in sports participation is poverty – not having the income to spend on sport.

Policy fail

But Glasgow is not alone. Other nations hosting major sporting events have failed to capitalise on the perception that a sprinkling of magic over a big sports event will motivate a population to become active. Data that tracked participation levels of Australians before, during and after the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games found they had declined, due – ironically – to Australians spending more time watching sport on TV than taking part themselves.

Undoubtedly, many nations believe that elite sporting success and the hosting of major sporting events on home turf can encourage mass involvement, and in turn create an active nation. An example of this is London’s 2012 Olympic Games, which promised to “do something no other Olympic Games host nation had done before”: inspire a new generation of young people to get involved, get active and take part in sport. This bold statement from the UK government has since been questioned, because in fact, no previous games had even attempted to leverage improved physical activity as a legacy outcome.

Despite their glossy success, London’s Olympics also failed to improve rates of participation in sport. PA, CC BY-SA

It became abundantly clear post-London 2012 that the Olympic Legacy promise had failed to come to fruition with figures showing no more young people taking part in sport than before the games. As has been argued elsewhere, there is still a lack of robust evidence to suggest that the presumed trickle-down effect of hosting a major sporting event can trigger an increase in physical activity.

Big spend but no return

The failure of London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 to create and inspire a nation to get active is not really surprising. For more than 40 years, community sports policy in Britain has been plagued by failings to meet physical activity performance indicators set by governments.

This could be down to a variety of factors including: poor policy analysis to inform future policy-making decisions; overambitious or naïve participation targets; inadequate resources to deliver long-term programmes; and changes in direction leading to ambiguity regarding who is responsible for delivery.

Given these issues, it is understandable that grass-roots sport policies and major sporting events have failed to encourage more people to get active. Future government policy on community sport needs to have an all-party group commitment, that is evidence-based to ensure objectives are realistic. It needs to have a long-term plan and be adequately funded to ensure that there are real and lasting results.

In the end, we have to face a difficult truth: governments continue to invest in costly elite sport and big extravagant sporting events that come at the expense of community sport.

Lynda Challis, Academic in Sports Development, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Vicious cycle: the ‘troublemakers’ tackling sexism in elite sport – republished from The Conversation

British Cycling has delivered some of the UK’s most stunning sporting triumphs over the past decade. But success has brought scrutiny – alongside parliamentary committee hearings about mysterious jiffy bags and reports of a slack approach to governance has been a relentless undercurrent of stories and testimony about sexism in the sport. The Conversation

Most memorably perhaps, Jess Varnish went public with allegations against British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton in 2016. She claimed he had dropped her from the squad and told her “to go and have a baby”. He denied saying this.

Two years before this, gaining less public attention, Nicole Cooke documented with meticulous detail the sexism encountered throughout her international cycling career in her autobiography The Breakaway. And in evidence given to a Select Committee hearing, the road race gold medal winner from the Beijing Olympics said she had been branded a troublemaker. Both Cooke, and track cycling star
Victoria Pendleton have spoken out in support of Varnish’s integrity and against the culture that became established in their sport.


That stack of evidence will only grow now that former road world champion and London Olympics silver medalist, Lizzie Armistead has raised the issue in her upcoming autobiography Steadfast. She includes the uncomfortable admission that she was perceived as the “plaything” of male cyclists at a party when she was a 19-year-old hopeful.

Perhaps more tellingly, however, you can also feel her reluctance to tackle the issue of sexism and a desire to set apart sporting achievement from that context. In an interview with the Guardian, she said:

I want to be world champion again, and that is the best way for me to represent my sport. Win it fiercely, win it impressively and excitingly. The equivalent man isn’t sat at every interview defending his sex, so I don’t feel that’s what I have to do.

This is a critical point about what it means to be a successful female athlete and to publicly tell a story of sexism in your sport.

Post-feminist sport

Western contemporary culture has become defined in part by so-called “post-feminism”. We can best describe this as a kind of popular feminism where the idea has emerged of the “pretty and powerful” woman. Perhaps the iconic moment in the construction of this archetype came with the 1990s pop group The Spice Girls. The concept they popularised of “girl power” usefully illustrates the overemphasis on individual women’s so-called “empowerment”.

In recent years, post-feminism has been linked to an increase in the visibility of female athletes in the sporting media. Female athletes are often (self-) represented as strong and resistant to gendered limitations. This reinforces their seemingly abundant opportunities for liberation and upward mobility in elite competitive sport.

And so post-feminism demands that successful high-profile female athletes embody the normative signifiers of heterosexual femininity and competitive advantage. Many do – and their achievements as both “pretty and powerful” are hailed by post-feminism as proof of equal opportunity in western societies as well as in elite competitive sport.

For critical feminists, the warning is that when individual women “can have it all” we are not actually combating systemic gender inequalities. This is because the idea and actuality obscure the subtle, lived reality of everyday sexism. The idea that women can have it all ends up reassuring people that feminism is no longer necessary. Problems are turned into stories about conflict between individuals, a tactic used to disparage feminism and to silence voices that divulge details of discrimination and abuse. All the while, the faults in the system go unaddressed.

We can argue that elite female athletes are offered freedoms and individual choice at a cost – to their own integrity and to a broader, collective feminist politics. Such a process promotes individual choice, causing us to overlook the practices and cultures that propel the systems of gender inequality in sport. British Cycling has emerged as a useful reminder of this dynamic and, equally, those who are speaking up are a useful reminder that so-called “troublemakers” are exactly what is needed to challenge it.

Risk and reward

There is a cost. There are considerable cultural expectations for female athletes to fulfil the “pretty and powerful” post-feminist ideal. Athletes who break these conventions are taking a personal and professional risk. At the very least, they may limit their post-career marketability.

In her autobiography, Cooke challenged post-feminist sentiments. Instead, she drew from a more traditional feminism to offer a critique of how the structures of elite competitive sport treat women athletes as not equal to their male counterparts. Cooke, we suggest, is an unusual voice of active feminism in sport. Her autobiography can be viewed as a political intervention to break the cycle of silence surrounding sexism and an important model for how to deal with gender trouble in sport. Her example may well have paved the way for Varnish, Pendleton and Armistead to speak out.

Feminism’s dilemma really lies in the popularity of post-feminist ideas among women and girls who incorporate them into their sporting experience. We should be aware that feminist advocates and role models might be as unpopular with young women as they are with some men. The “pretty and powerful” post-feminist success story is more palatable and less troublesome.

If Cooke’s story had gained the traction it deserved, then we might not have been so surprised by the allegations from Varnish. Cycling – and women’s sport more broadly – would benefit from a conscious awareness of the post-feminist filters through which we all view it. Such awareness might ensure that women who do speak out about sexism are not drowned out or dismissed as individual troublemakers.

Carly Stewart, Senior Academic in Sociology of Sport, Bournemouth University and Jayne Caudwell, Associate Professor Leisure Cultures, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.