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London didn’t deliver its goal, but we won’t make same mistake with the Commonwealth Games

It’s been ten years since London 2012. Ten years ago, the country was excited by the likes of Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, Nicola Adams and Sir Chris Hoy, who won gold to a packed house.

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were fueled by a sense of optimism and anticipation, and I’m not sure Britain has experienced a time of celebration and connection through sport since then.

But the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which kick off this week, give us yet another national moment to catch up. It is also a time of reflection.

About what we’ve learned from the legacy of 2012 — and how we’re applying those lessons now. In 2012, I was the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association.

It was remarkable to witness the transformation of public interest in disabled sports and with it their perception of what is possible.

The London 2012 platform created opportunities never before seen for our athletes, as well as increased investment.

It's been 10 years since the nation was excited by Sir Chris Hoy and many other athletes

It’s been 10 years since the nation was excited by Sir Chris Hoy and many other athletes

Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds (pictured) and Nicola Adams all won gold in London 2012

Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds (pictured) and Nicola Adams all won gold in London 2012

And both Games gave a boost to sports infrastructure, giving people more opportunities to be active.

Sport England, where I am now CEO, ran a program in which more than 2,200 facilities were improved, 370 playing fields were protected and deprived areas restored.

But one of the key questions from 2012 is: has it made us a more active country? Since we won the hosting rights in 2005 and started working on the legacy of the Commonwealth, the number of active people has increased significantly.

Commonwealth Games provide an opportunity to reframe the legacy of a major sporting event

Commonwealth Games provide an opportunity to reframe the legacy of a major sporting event

The Active People Survey shows that between 2005 and 2016, the number of people who exercise at least once a week in Britain increased by 1.9 million.

In 2015, Sport England introduced a new survey, Active Lives, designed to measure the number of people meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s new guidelines for physical activity.

Between 2015 and 2019, Active Lives showed that until the start of the pandemic, the number of active people continued to rise, with the number of people who practiced at least 150 minutes of sport and exercise per week increasing by 1.1 million.

The problem is, this growth has been anything but universal in our communities, and the inequalities that existed in 2012 have persisted. But we now know the reason for that – and, more importantly, how to go about it.

The 2012 evidence shows that organizing major events alone is not enough to bring about long-term change in national behavior.

Jake Jarman has won a gold medal for England at the 2022 Games in the Men's Floor exercise

Jake Jarman has won a gold medal for England at the 2022 Games in the Men’s Floor exercise

You create a legacy for a big event by working hard to provide the right opportunities. It requires time, patience and a deep understanding of the barriers an individual or community may face.

It takes more than building beautiful facilities or watching incredible athletes and assuming that people will get active after that.

Above all, it requires sports organizations like ours to remove the obstacles that we know exist, especially when they are particularly high for groups such as the disabled, diverse communities and people from disadvantaged areas.

Sport England’s research shows that wealth and activity level are closely linked. The richer you are, the more active you are likely to be.

Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth wants to provide resources to those who need help

Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth wants to provide resources to those who need help

That’s why our 10-year Uniting the Movement strategy is focused on addressing persistent inequalities in activity levels.

It focuses on providing resources and support to those who need more help to be active. Our approach to the Commonwealth Games is the same.

We have invested £35 million in Birmingham 2022, with a priority of creating inclusive and affordable local opportunities for people to become active.

We do this by partnering with grassroots organizations who know the barriers to getting active – and how to overcome them.

Birmingham 2022 offers us an opportunity to re-imagine what the legacy of a major sporting event could and should be.

This means, first and foremost, addressing known inequalities to make it easier for everyone in society to participate in the grassroots.

It was Tanni-Grey Thompson who said ‘Everyone has the right to be a mess in sport’, and while I love seeing our very best athletes perform on the biggest stages, I would love nothing more than to see the everyday competitor flourish . That’s what a true legacy should deliver.

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