The London Olympics were meant to leave us a legacy of greater public participation in sport. But the coming cuts may kill that offby David Goldblatt / September 22, 2010 / Leave a comment
A recent report from Sheffield Hallam University found that the English spend over £17bn a year on sport— nearly 3 per cent of all consumer spending. The study, “The Economic Value of Sport in England,” also estimated that 441,000 people are in sports-related employment, or just under 2 per cent of the workforce. Sport, therefore, is a small but not inconsiderable economic sector and one whose current fortunes parallel the course of the wider economy.
In the most successful parts of the sporting private sector, things continue to look rosy. The Premiership appears to be recession-proof—there has as yet been no real drop in the numbers of fans willing to shell out for subscriptions, season tickets and merchandising. Wages continue to rise and foreign billionaires keep buying part of the action. In the midst of the global financial crisis, the Premiership negotiated its best-ever television deal, while the bankruptcy of Portsmouth was passed off as an isolated folly rather than a structural problem. There are still some institutions whose financial arrangements are unsavoury: Liverpool and Manchester United for example. (See Sam Knight’s article “A new age of fan power?”) Sharp rises in interest rates and big drops in consumer spending may yet drive their owners to the wall, and take a slew of smaller clubs in the lower divisions with them. The situation of Scottish football—mired in debt, internationally uncompetitive, dependent on a small domestic market and going nowhere—is perhaps closer to the predicament of the rest of the economy.
Things are different in the public sector, which is braced for gigantic cuts. Its biggest sporting project is, of course, the London 2012 Olympics. While small savings can still be made, the money has been largely spent, the commitments have been made and the party will be over by the time the precipitous drop in public expenditure kicks in. Indeed, given how little money there is, the legacy of the Olympics (in both infrastructure and inspiration) has become the centrepiece of what sports policy is left. As sports minister Hugh Robertson said: “Delivering a legacy from 2012 is one of my top priorities. I want people of all ages and abilities to have opportunities to take part in all kinds of sport.”
So where are the cuts going to come from? And how will the government be able to meet its participation pledge? Beyond the worlds of super-commercialised professional sport…