The Games are here - will the legacy live on?

25th July 2014 at 01:00
Costly sporting events often fall at the last hurdle by failing to make a lasting impact. Henry Hepburn talks to the people making sure that Glasgow's Commonwealth Games race over the finishing line

The biggest sporting event ever to take place on Scottish soil is finally here. Nearly seven years after Glasgow won the right to host the Commonwealth Games, a 12-day whirlwind of sporting drama is consuming the nation.

But what happens after the athletes leave and the excitement subsides? Legacy, that feel-good but rather nebulous word, has been bandied about endlessly in the run-up to the Games, much as it was before the 2012 London Olympics.

A lasting impact is notoriously hard to achieve. Time and again, talk of legacy has, with hindsight, been viewed as a balm that only temporarily soothed doubts about the huge expense of hosting an international, multi-sport event.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, high environmental standards were crucial to the bidding process but were toned down to coax in the private sector. Similarly, at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, a promise of social housing did not come to fruition.

Very little research has considered the impact of the Commonwealth Games on sport participation, but after the Games in Manchester in 2002 and Melbourne in 2006, small declines were recorded. Research after the London Olympics showed that sports clubs in England felt that support to build a grass-roots legacy had been lacking. And no one appears to have any idea if education programmes work, because compelling research in this area does not exist.

These examples all feature in the Scottish government's pre-Games report, which was published in April. Today, TESS speaks to four key figures dealing with the Glasgow 2014 legacy, and asks them why things will be different this time.

The sports minister

Shona Robison, minister for the Commonwealth Games and sport, can rattle through all sorts of impressive-sounding figures connected with Glasgow 2014: 30,000 jobs created, 50 national legacy programmes leading to 5,000 jobs or training places, and a "skills legacy" fund to help 2,500 young people into work.

The Games have "made us all focus on the importance of sport and physical activity in a way that wouldn't have happened without [it] as a catalyst", Robison says. But it should be as much about unemployed teenagers as sports fans, she argues, adding: "It was really important that we reach people who might not otherwise have been reached by the Games."

She hopes, too, that Scotland's many football obsessives will broaden their horizons and that there will be a " sports that people may see on the telly". Figures will soon be released showing an impressive increase in physical activity levels, she adds, and community sport is being prioritised like never before. Architects designing new schools are building in separate doors through which the public can access facilities.

Scotland appears finally to have moved on from a decade of fretting over whether pupils do enough PE. The focus is now on quality, with "PE lead officers" assigned to local authorities to improve standards. Robison also highlights the growing influence of the Better Movers and Thinkers scheme, in which children work on rhythm, balance and movement before learning skills specific to certain sports.

Figures for 2012 show that only 45 per cent of girls aged 13-15 reached the recommended level of physical activity. Despite such concerning statistics, in the past the Scottish Parliament has been accused of not taking sport seriously enough. Now, Robison says, it has become a "huge political priority because of the financial commitment" of the Games, which will cost more than half a billion pounds.

The government report concludes that, having worked seriously on legacy since 2009, Scotland should be able to expect "tangible results". Reports in 2015, 2017 and 2019 will assess the accuracy of that prediction.

The education programme boss

Major sporting events are usually accompanied by education programmes, but the legacy report finds almost no evidence that they work.

Glasgow 2014's programme, Game On Scotland, is attracting a lot of attention, however. It has become "by far the most popular part of the Education Scotland website", says development officer Klaus Mayer; the target of 15,000 resource downloads has been exceeded, with more than 80,000 to date.

"I think the key to success was listening to what practitioners wanted," Mayer says. For example, teachers asked for sports stars to visit their schools, so it was arranged for 100 athletes to do just that. Education Scotland oversees the programme, ensuring that teachers can see the relevance to Curriculum for Excellence.

The athletes' village contains 9,000 pieces of pupil artwork. For Mayer, this symbolises the close affinity children will have with the Games, something that other global sporting events have not managed to produce.

"The legacy journey has already begun, even before the Games began," he says. "That's one of the key differences from London 2012. We had always planned that young people would be connected from the word go."

One of Mayer's favourite events has been the Cluster Commonwealth Games held by Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline (winner of the international category at the recent UK-wide TES Schools Awards). This occasion brought together older pupils and children from neighbouring primaries, and included medal ceremonies, rousing national anthems and hundreds of balloons being released into the sky. As well as sporting prowess, pupils demonstrated in-depth knowledge of health and biometrics. "We were always keen that the message went beyond sport," Mayer explains.

The education director

Venues for the London Olympics were "bubble-wrapped", recalls Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna. Access was denied to the public before and after the Games. She compares this with venues such as Glasgow's Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, which have been open to children from the start.

"It looks and feels completely different in Glasgow," she adds. "These Games are not about the visitors - they're actually for the people who live here."

Glasgow 2014 has added impetus to existing practice in Glasgow schools, McKenna argues. The Games have allowed every school to be twinned with a Commonwealth country, but British Council research shows that a global perspective was already deeply embedded in education.

"We don't just do this sort of thing on a Tuesday afternoon - it's part and parcel," McKenna says.

Glasgow schools held their own baton relay, with pupils encouraged to find the most creative ways of getting it from one school to another. For example, Camstradden Primary School, twinned with the Falkland Islands, paraded the baton in front of penguins at Edinburgh Zoo.

The city council has bought 6,000 tickets to hand out to people who may otherwise not make it to the Games, McKenna adds. Children's residential units are among those to benefit, while many teachers are giving up holiday time to accompany groups of pupils to events.

A survey of young people who were involved in activities connected with the London Olympics found that a large proportion felt more engaged with their community afterwards. And in Glasgow, a huge effort has been made to involve the city's East End - the heartland of the Games - where there are a number of building projects, new jobs and apprenticeships.

"There's a stronger sense of belonging among people [in Glasgow] and that the Games are part of them," McKenna says.

The national sports chief

SportScotland chief executive Stewart Harris believes that the Games have simply ramped up initiatives that were already in place even before Glasgow was chosen as host city.

The first Active Schools coordinators - a national band of more than 400 sports coaches who organise activities before, during and after school - began work in 1996 in two pilot projects. There has been at least one coordinator for every school cluster in Scotland since 2004, and earlier this month SportScotland announced funding to keep the scheme going until 2019.

"The education system has to be my priority," says Harris, who highlights the increase in the number of Active Schools sessions: from 4.5 million to 5.1 million between 2011 and 2012. The coordinators build links between sports clubs and schools, which is "a massive thing for us", he adds.

More than increased participation levels, Harris wants to see cultural change. Scotland should follow the example of countries such as Sweden, he believes, where most families belong to a community sports club.

Last August, TESS revealed the findings of a 15-month SportScotland survey, which found that outside teaching hours school sports facilities sat empty most of the time ("Winner's cup or wooden spoon for sports facilities?", 16 August 2013). In the worst example, primary school sports fields were used for only 4.8 per cent of the holiday period.

"We're really changing how the school estate is used in Scotland," Harris argues. Community sports hubs, launched two years ago, can involve dozens of sports clubs coming together to share facilities - usually those of a school - through a joint management group that includes the headteacher.

"The difference is that they're working together," Harris says. "Local people are making decisions, organising themselves and doing things for themselves - it's right in the heart of the community."

There are already 131 hubs. In the long term, Harris hopes that one will exist for each of Scotland's 360-plus state secondaries. And Glasgow 2014 could be the lever to make this happen: "The Games have really opened up a door to a very strong conversation with all 32 authorities," Harris says.


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