PtG Article 10.10.2014

Vancouver Olympics did not increase sports participation in Canada

Politicians and sport leaders around the globe often argue that major sporting events have a positive effect on mass participation. A new study underlines that it is a myth.

Even though there is growing evidence showing that there is no general correspondence between the hosting of sports events and mass participation, the myth about elite sport’s positive effect on mass participation is often portrayed as evident in the media or by politicians.

However, a new study by Cora Craig and Adrian Bauman from Australia and Canada respectively, refutes this correlation when it comes to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Through an analysis of participation in organised sports supplemented by objective measurements of so-called pedometers, the researchers find no progress among Canadian children between the ages 5 to 19. The level of activity is unchanged. There is no measurable ‘trickle down-effect’ of the Olympics.

The idea of raising the level of physical activity was one of the primary legacies lined up ahead of the Vancouver Games. The only changes that the scientists find in the level of physical activity can be assigned to the seasonal deflections in participation patterns.

Media exposure and improved facilities did not create measurable results

According to the authors of the paper, published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the results are surprising in the light of the high media exposure of the Vancouver Games. TV coverage alone was markedly bigger than during the 2006 Games in Turin and reached 99% of Canadians.

Besides, infrastructure dedicated to physical activity was built and programs aimed directly at increasing sports participation were initiated.

In the study, the authors discuss the possible reasons behind the missing trickle down-effect and point to a ‘ceiling effect’, where a high level of activity before the Olympics makes it difficult to enhance activity levels further. However, not even in Canadian regions with a relatively low level of physical activity among children, effects can be found.

The authors of the study also call attention to the fact that there have been long-range physical activity programmes running in Canada, and that this in itself has raised the level of physical activity making a possible extra effect caused by the Olympics difficult to measure.

Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that a large sporting event such as the Olympics does not have any apparent effect on mass participation in sports nor on the physical activity in the population and that claims of the opposite should be dismissed.

On the contrary, it will take considerably wider and more comprehensive governmental initiatives if an Olympic effect in relation to physical activity is to be achieved, the authors conclude.

More information

Craig, C. & Bauman, A.: 'The impact of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on population level physical activity and sport participation among Canadian children and adolescents: population based study'. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11.Published online on 3 September 2014.