by Atul Hatwal
With 100 days to go until the Olympics, new figures uncovered by Labour Uncut reveal how public support for the games is slipping while participation in sport amongst 16-24 year olds is falling.
In 2011, the numbers who were either opposed or indifferent to the games rose from 33% to 36% compared to 2010/11, while the numbers backing the Olympics dropped from 66% to 63%.
The fall in public support is the first to be registered since 2008/9 and means that more than a third of the country no longer backs the games.
Any drop in public support will worry the government which has committed hundreds of millions of pounds in officials’ time and marketing resources to promoting the games to the public.
Public support was critical to London winning the games when it topped 70% and the government will be vulnerable to charges that their stewardship of the Olympics since 2010 has seen support steadily leach away.
Among those who back the games, one of the main reasons given is the anticipated benefit for the country’s health. 26% of those who are strongly supportive of the games cite either the positive impact on promoting fitness or the benefit of the games for children as the reason for their backing.
However, the latest survey figures also reveal that participation in sport among 16-24 year olds has fallen by 4% since 2009/10. The period of decline coincides almost exactly with the arrival of David Cameron’s government in May 2010.
The political stakes for the government could not be higher. Lord Coe recently said that the Olympics would “enthuse a new generation” while the prime minister stated, “the Olympics will revitalise local sport in Britain for generations to come.”
But at the start of their term in office, the Tory-led government cut £165 million of ring-fenced funding for schools and earlier this year they abandoned a target of getting one million more people in to sport.
The latest survey figures indicate that the government’s cuts agenda is starting to take its toll on public engagement with the Olympics and the first signs of panic are evident in Whitehall: at the end of last year, David Cameron summarily doubled the budget for the opening ceremony from £40m to £81m with sources in LOCOG, the London 2012 Organising Committee, suggesting that more funding increases are likely as the games draw nearer.
How David Cameron will tackle falling public support and extra Olympic funding requests while maintaining his budget forecasts remains unclear, but his political judgement and ability to manage major projects, are already, once again, under question .
Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut