The Public Value of Sport: Are we moving into the second half of the Game following a successful London 2012?


We cannot but admire the way in which the London 2012 Olympics has been organized, executed and embraced by Team GB in what promises to be the most successful Olympics ever.  Lord Moynihan said yesterday, there needs to be a step-change which would see greater funding of school sports and facilities so that children inspired by Team GB could become successful future Olympians and that more government action is needed.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, interviewed on BBC news this morning (Monday 6th August) agreed with the call from Lord Moynihan for change but argued that steps had already been undertaken to encourage the next generation of athletes.  To what extent is ‘success’ being measured?  The number of medals – which is moving impressively upwards as Team GB remain comfortably in third position in the medal table – is one important measure of performance but it is not the most important outcome.  What Lord Moynihan is calling for is the support for the legacy of the Olympics, which needs to take the long-term view.

I go back to some qualitative research that I was involved in with my colleague Jay Wiggan in 2007/08.   We were asked to explore the concept of public value in the delivery of sport services by the organisation Sport England (SE) in the North West, supported by North West Culture.

The purpose was to explore how a public value approach could inform measurement of the wider social, economic and physical benefits of sport. At the commencement of the research SEs objectives were tied to a government interest in the wider overall impact of sport on society, beyond its role in elite level sporting success.   Following the award of the 2012 Olympic games to London, SE’s objectives shifted towards ‘sport for sports sake’ and concentrated on fostering elite success.  Given that one objective of the Olympics is leave an enduring community legacy, our research paper argued that – despite the shift in focus – public value still provides potential for public leadership to reconcile the goals of multiple stakeholders, including funding bodies and local citizens and representatives.

In 2004, Sport England set out its key aim:

 To change the culture of sport and physical activity in England in order to increase participation across all social groups leading to improvements in health and other social and economic benefits and providing the basis for progression into higher levels of performance. (Sport England 2004)

There was also a clear understanding as to how the public service delivery chain supported the transformation from policy to delivery and a framework for strategic leadership for sport through the combination of strategic leadership (from Sport England) through to county sports partnerships and school sports partnerships was evident.

Through a detailed schedule of interviews and focus groups with a cross cutting range of stakeholders, we explored the potential to create a public value vision moving from ‘sport for sports sake’ and more towards ‘sport for the greater good’.

We argued that the funding priorities and general economic constraints of 2007 meant that a concern with the wider impacts of sport might have been given a ‘red card’.  The DCMS at the time agreed to lead on just one shared Public Service Agreement (PSA 22).  The agreement was to ‘Deliver a successful olympic games and paralympics games with a sustainable legacy and get more children and young people taking part in high quality PE and sport’ (HM Treasury (2007) Pre-Budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review).

We raised a key question for debate;  to what extent was the public prepared to ‘give-up’ the greater good (of community sports) and agree that efforts should focus on delivering an excellent London 2012 Olympics?  It was at least encouraging that a significant community legacy accompanied this, although as the House of Commons, select committee on Culture Media and Sport pointed out in 2007, this is something that previous nations have found difficult to achieve.

We said that it was a game of ‘two halves’ in which the first half focuses on 2012 with the second half concerned with its legacy.

The research showed that many stakeholders even when working within the performance agenda that prevailed in Sport England prior to the 2007 Spending Review wanted to move the end focus of sport further toward improving social and economic well being.  We said that a public value approach would provide an opportunity for public leadership to mediate and develop the expectations and views of government, the public and other stakeholders.  Performance measures, priorities and their appropriateness to achieving sporting excellence are important. The development of a community legacy post 2012 within the existing political and economic constraints are just as important to ensure continuing success in the future.

We argued that SE should avoid scoring an ‘own goal’ by taking the wrong route in the delivery of sport or deciding which route to take based on a ‘penalty shoot-out’.  Those taking the penalty may hit the target but miss the point.    The first half seems to be progressing very well as we move into the final week of London 2012.  As we said, it is a game of two halves and attention should shift to the second half, which is that of delivering a publicly valued legacy whilst also ensuring that 2012 is the success that the nation supports.


Brookes, Stephen and Wiggan, Jay(2009)’Reflecting the Public Value of Sport’,Public Management Review,11:4,401 — 420

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