Sports Facilities

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Survey: People Care More About Venues than Olympic Glory

8 Mar, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Study Suggests Communities Believe it is More Important to Have Facilities for Kids and Adults than to See National Athletes Standing on the Podium in an International Arena

While the sports business world has always been aware of the interest in the Olympics, it’s apparent people know where it all begins. A new survey, taken by the British firm Pro Bono Economics, has revealed most people would rather have access to sports facilities that would enable more participation in sports, than medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

According to an article in Inside The Games, the British public noted it would rather see government sports funding channeled into more community sports and recreation centers, making entrance fees lower and funding more school and municipal playing fields.

So what can America learn from this? Plenty. There have been plenty of studies on this side of the pond, showing the benefits of sports, including not only physical fitness but avoidance of depression, better success with goal-setting and an improved ability to deal with life’s problems. So – no arguments against sports participation.

Doubt, however, inevitably creeps in when cities start talking about guaranteed returns on sports facilities. Pensacola County, for example, was on the cautious side when it shared information on the purported benefits of a new sports complex. And city commissioners agreed, recommending the formation of a steering committee to discuss the matter. In fact one of the city’s county commissioners, Doug Underhill, noted that economic development programs don’t always follow a “Field of Dreams” script.

“One of the things we make a mistake so often in this county is the ‘If we build it, they will come’ mentality,” said Underhill. "Those words scare me more than anything. … That has left us high and dry many times.”

It wouldn’t be the first time cities had asked for more guidance when it comes to construction; after all, following the recession, which left many office parks and homes vacant, cities were understandably concerned about construction projects that promised to be a panacea.

But according to the British study as chronicled in Inside The Games, that thinking has been – while not eclipsed, perhaps simply modified – by the thought of the long-term benefits of having sports venues in the community. And in a separate survey of leading experts from sport, economics, health and the media, no respondents blamed the poor take-up of sports on any failure of Olympic athletes to inspire the nation.

“Instead of obsessing about who is the next England football manager, let’s spend that energy creating places for people to play sport near their homes,” noted Simon Kuper, co-author of Soccernomics and a columnist for the Financial Times. “It would be a strategy to increase national health, happiness and sense of community, to fight crime, and maybe even to improve the England football team.”

UK Sport, however, believes Olympic and Paralympic success can be a catalyst in inspiring people to take up more sport.

“Investment in grass roots and community sport in this country, quite rightly, is much greater than in high performance," said UK Sport chairman, Rod Carr.

However, the balance of spending funds to develop sports facilities at a local level, vs. investment in elite athlete training is often a catch-22, particularly at the time of the Olympics. Public resentment tends to build when there are fewer medals; however, parents are equally resentful if they cannot find a venue nearby that will allow their children to pursue programs in the sports in which they have expressed an interest.

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