London has done well in the latest Active People in Sport Survey
Since the government starting measuring participation in sport through the APS survey in 2005/06 athletics has been the fastest growing major sport and in the recently published APS6 now stands third in the overall list with 2.0 million people participating once a week for 30 minutes behind Swimming 2.8m and Football 2.2m.
Since the last survey was done Athletics has increased its numbers by 82,400 of which just over 45,000 have been in London. Since the first APS survey the participation rate in London measured this way has increased from 5.0% to 6.0% of the population compared with the national average of 4.6% now. So, it looks like participation has and continues to grow strongly in London. Athletics overall has grown from 1.4m to 2.0m since 2005/06 in the APS Survey.
It is worth saying how the APS survey works and what the numbers mean. It is based on a national telephone survey that asks a large sample of people in England about how often they have participated in various sports in the past 30 days. The latest survey was based on 163,000 respondents.
Clearly the composition of the 2.0m should be understood as well. England Athletics has around 120,000 members registered for competition through its Affiliation scheme. So the larger number includes mainly non England Athletics members. The survey also only covers 16 years and older. For context England Athletics has estimated that around 1.1m of the 2m are leisure runners, another three quarters of a million compete in some way on the road or cross country/fell with the balance involved in Track & Field Athletics in some way.
So what does it all mean? England has seen some growth in its affiliated numbers in recent times – maybe by 10,000 or so over 3 years. The big growth has come in broader athletics. So does that mean it has got nothing to do with us?
Clearly in London we can point to some very specific examples of how we have increased participation – our Run! project for Inner city boroughs has achieved over 60,000 participants in its first year under Rhian Horlock and Bob Smith, and the Run England networks have increased materially under the management of Natalie Kavanagh-Clarke. Park Run is also increasing in popularity under its management.
In my view this is all good and the London Council has worked towards achieving these things alongside the Mayor and GLA. But at the same time I still see that the traditional sport – our great clubs – has not benefited as much as it should from this increase in the wider popularity of athletics.
The issue here remains finance and infrastructure. The sport has not created nearly enough “examined” (ie have to pass something rather than just turn up) coaches despite the significant resource allocated to this area at England and UKA. We continue to have no proper volunteer recruitment strategies. Most clubs have very low revenue bases preventing them from paying even basic expenses to officials/coaches/administrators.
Interestingly the application of resource in a limited way within the Network system has begun to show some benefits in my view. Where we have also been able to attract external funding – as in the Run! project - significant progress has been possible in a very short time.
I am afraid that I am not going to end here with “the answer”. I am really pleased with what is being achieved in London. We have the most integrated strategy in England here, which has allowed us to contribute to the wider popularity of athletics (clearly having the Games helps a little bit as well).
But having shown we can do the things that traditionally athletics has not attempted we in London now need to work out how to benefit from this in our Track& Field and Road clubs. These are ultimately the most fertile areas for developing and passing on the knowledge and skills to convert the participant numbers to something with lasting benefit.