Alex Oliver and Lawrence Wykes write: As the wave of Olympic test events comes to a close in London, it seemed a good moment to think about the other half of the sports equation – participation by people who just get involved for fun. As it happens, we recently brought together a number of cross-sector experts from different disciplines for a sports roundtable, to try to answer one question: as a society how can we get more people physically active?

Staggeringly, almost half of us in the UK don’t participate in any form of regular exercise. Men are more active than women and participation levels vary significantly by region, often with a worrying correlation to deprivation.

All the experts who participated in the roundtable, in one way or another, had an interest in getting this missing half of the population more active.

So what was their view? Well, the point was quickly made that the missing half weren’t just missing from sport – they were missing from the room. At The Futures Company we’ve done a lot of research for sports clients over the years, and in the course of this research we’ve learned that any plan to get people more active has to be co-created with the audience it is intended to benefit.

And this brings us to the s-word. A key theme that came through in the discussions and one which is mirrored in our own research is that for some people a word like ‘sport’ can itself be a barrier to participation.

But when we talk about getting people active, we don’t just mean formalised sports, of the kind promoted by the National Governing Bodies and lined up for the Olympics.  Increasing the population’s physical activity can also mean getting parents off the park bench to run around and play with the kids, or cycling to the station instead of driving. Whatever  we want people to do, we need to make sure we don’t put them off before we even start with the language we use. This again means getting to know the people you’re engaging

If we want to have a long-term impact on participation we have to plan for tomorrow and act today.  Our experts round the table  agreed that above all sport needs to be fun, accessible and normal – something for everyone and anyone.  People need to feel that they can take part regardless of what they wear, where they live, who and what size they are.  So what new ways can we find to involve people in ‘sport’ in a way that works for them – in schools, in parks, in streets and at the sports events themselves?

The image at the top of this post is a still from the T-mobile ‘Life’s for Sharing’ dancing at Liverpool Street Station website, and is used with thanks.

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