Will our golden summer bring about lasting change?

Shamik Das reports on post-Games polling on the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics from Channel Four and the British Future think tank.


Today’s London parade of Olympic and Paralympic athletes is the final act of the great British sporting summer.

The symbolic extinguishing of the Paralympic flame signalled a return to normal life at Sunday night’s closing ceremony, yet most people think the spirit of 2012 will have a lasting effect on British society, according to polling taken since the Games on the meaning of 2012 by the identity think-tank British Future, and on how the Paralympics has shifted attitudes towards disability, by broadcaster Channel Four.

The British Future report, “Team GB” (pdf), shows two-thirds of people were surprised by how much the Olympics brought Britain together – and most now think this will bring about lasting change: 58% think there will be a lasting positive impact, while 15% disagree; 82% think the Olympic summer has made us prouder to be British; 78% believe it will increase how much sport people participate in; and 50% say levels of volunteering will increase.

A minority of 22% think events like the Jubilee and the Olympics are a distraction from the real issues facing the country, while 70% think they are important because they bring people together.

While there was a little bit of political controversy over Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, the public did not see it as contentious or polarising – with 66% agreeing it represented the best of traditional and modern Britain, and 11% disagreeing. (Many of the rest would have not been among the 27 million people who saw the ceremony).

Asked to identify which Olympic athletes’ achievements made them proudest to be British, the public chose Jessica Ennis (50%) and Mo Farah (43%) ahead of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and a raft of other contenders.

Seventy five per cent say that the Olympics have shown Britain to be a confident multi-ethnic society, while only 7% disagree. The think-tank’s analysis of the making of Team GB shows more than one in three of the Team GB medals won in London reflected the positive contribution from three generations of immigration and integration since London last hosted the Games in 1948.

Three-quarters of people also say they support all Team GB athletes equally, including those born abroad, while 13% support athletes born here more. This may help to explain why the “Plastic Brit” attacks on some Team GB athletes became rather muted during the Olympics and seemed to disappear entirely during the Paralympics.

Further “legacy” polling for Paralympic broadcaster Channel Four lends credence to the view expressed by Sebastian Coe at the closing ceremony of the Paralympics that “we will never look again at sport in the same way, and we will never again look at disability in the same way”.

Two thirds of viewers (68%) felt the coverage of the Paralympics has had a favourable impact on their perceptions of disabled sport, and a broadly similar proportion (65%) said it had positively impacted their impression of disabled people more generally. Half (50%) of those who had seen the Games said this is the first Paralympics they have ever watched – and 69% said this is the first time they have ever made an effort to watch the Paralympics.

Sixty seven per cent said they watched more than they expected to, with almost as many (64%) agreeing the Paralympics is as good as the Olympics. This rose to 79% among those who had watched Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics.

The British Future “Team GB” report questions the assumption that the spirit of the Games is bound to be a very shortlived phenonemon, pointing out the argument is often being made by those who were pessimistic about Britain successfully delivering the Olympics, or the public beyond London responding to the Games, in the first place.

The report says sports governors and broadcasters could work together to ensure that women’s sport gest a much higher profile. Strikingly, 62% think the BBC should show as much women’s sport as men’s sport, and 9% disagree.

As has long been reported by Left Foot Forward, media coverage of women’s sport is poor to non-existant. The proportion of coverage is around 5% outside of the Olympics or other major events, according to the Women’s Sport Fitness Foundation, which campaigns to increase female participation in sport, so there would seem to be plenty of room to move in that general direction.

Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, writes in “Team GB”:

“Let’s treasure the BBC, the institution which can still, in this age of the ipod and the ipad, bind tens of millions of us into national moments that we share. And let’s seek from it a real public service commitment to building proactively audiences for women’s sport so that it is not just in primetime once evey four years, but can help schools and sports clubs to inspire our daughters too with sporting heroines to emulate.

“So let’s bring back Grandstand on Saturdays (and Superstars too).”

The end of the golden summer is universally hailed by the newspaper front-pages today, building on much positive coverage of the stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, but also of the stories of tye unsung contributions of many torch-carriers and Olympic Games Maker volunteers. Sixty three per cent of people think the media focus too much on the negative aspects of British society; 12% disagree.

But, with much pre-skirmishing going on as Lord Levenson prepares to report on the culture and ethics of the press, it remains to be seen how long the spirit of 2012 lasts in the newspapers themselves.

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