The Olympic Games’ Legacy: What does it mean for sport in Scotland? by JennTreacy

Jenn Treacy is a final year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. Her PhD is an investigation into curricular sports programmes and positive youth development in a Scottish context. In this blog, she offers a critical analysis of UK sports development initiatives and in doing so, highlights the developmental and grass-roots approach adopted in Scotland.


The Olympics in Rio were deemed a very successful Olympic campaign for Team GB. It marked the first Olympics in history that a previous host nation was more successful in the following Olympic games. It was inevitable that increased media and research attention would be drawn toward the success of these games, and in particular, the funding figures for the event.

Since 2012, Team GB adopted a funding structure to support their ‘world class programmes’; controversially, only sports that were considered to be favourable for the medal table were included. In what Josh Halliday from the Guardian [1) called a ‘brutal but effective’ scheme, sports that did not meet their 2012 medal targets, such as wrestling and volleyball, saw their funding cut completely while sports such as cycling and gymnastics have seen a significant increase in their funding since 2012[2].

Team GB was able convincingly to challenge academic research that suggests that host nations never extend their medal success beyond their host games[3]. According to the UK Sport website from 2012-2016 the UK government, in conjunction with the National Lottery, provided over £274 million in funding for select elite sports[4]. With 27 gold medals in Rio 2016, it appears that the UK government spent approximately £4.1million per gold medal.  Therefore, it seems that the selective funding scheme, rewarding success and elite performance, was key to overcoming the ‘ex-host’ effect: a fate that has befallen all previous host countries.


These figures and the improved medal success rate again ask the question, whom and what is sport for? There have been critics of this funding scheme, especially at grassroots level. In reality, the ‘inspirational’ effect to undertake sport after witnessing Olympic success is considered a ‘fallacy’ by several researchers and reviews on the topic. For example, Mahtani et al. (2012) found little evidence to support the claim that hosting the Olympic games or Olympic success has had any positive impact on the uptake of physical or sporting activities[5].

In his 2012 opinion piece, Peter Wilby of The Guardian[6] presented some very thought-provoking statistics regarding the London 2012 Olympic games. First he dismantled the statement proclaimed at the opening ceremonies that ‘[sport] is for everyone’; with what he claiming that, nearly a quarter of Team GB athletes in 2012 were educated at fee-paying schools (attended by only 7% of the British population). In fact, as he put it, the two most favoured medal sports, sailing and equestrian, require moneyed backgrounds to even participate. Wilby presented one exception to this ‘class’ system of sport at the Olympics, football. Although Wilby did not provide any exact figures, his statement claiming that football “remains almost entirely dominated by state school alumni at the top level” is compelling. Interestingly, Team GB failed to field either a men’s or a women’s football team at Rio 2016.

David Cameron, in 2012, claimed that the dominance of medal winners from fee-paying schools was a result in the ‘failure’ of state schools to encourage sporting excellence[7} This statement, although controversial, leads the ‘home’ nations to consider just what their sporting priorities may be and whether or not their funding structures and programme organisation match these priorities?

Although included as a home nation in Team GB, ‘sport’ in Scotland has taken a slightly different approach than the performance-driven UK Sport. This key difference can be clearly seen when comparing funding strategies. Scotland takes a sport-for-all approach, focusing on health-promoting behaviours associated with sport participation (e.g. LMSMA strategy[8]). SportScotland has committed its new funding structure to ‘widening participation’ for all sports and in particular for women’s and disability sport[9]. For example, SportScotland has committed £5.3 million alone to developing girls’ participation in football through partnerships with the SFA.

Commitment to grassroots and school-sport funding, is an essential starting point for providing positive outcomes through sport. In addition to working to alleviate the financial barriers to sport participation, programmes supported by SportScotland, such as the ‘Schools Of’ programme, help to encourage participation through provision during the timetabled school day[10]. Studies such as the PASS study[11] found that time to participate in sport, with growing pressures on schoolwork and social commitments after school time were major barriers to physical activity participation for adolescence.

“We see a Scotland where sport is a way of life, where sport is at the heart of Scottish society and has a positive impact on you and your community”00488070



Scotland’s policy approaches have specifically shied away from the elite-sport approaches found in other parts of the UK[12].  Possibly because while this ‘brutal but effective’ funding scheme targeting elite sport performance has increased the UK’s Olympic goal medal account and perhaps the UK’s ‘elite sport prestige’, it does little to encourage participation at grassroots level, arguably the type of participation that produces positive developmental outcomes[13].  It is essential to begin to speculate on how this increased focus on elite-sport performance and performance-driven funding schemes will address national improvement indicators across the UK. Looking at Scotland’s national indicators[14], increasing the Gold medal count does not make the list; however, ‘increasing physical activity’ and ‘improving mental wellbeing’ do.


[1] Halliday, J. (2016 August 15) ‘Brutal but effective’: why Team GB has won so many Olympic medals. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[2] UK Sport (2016). Historical funding figures. Retrieved from

[3] Contreras, J. & Corvalan, A. (2014). Olympic Games: No legacy for sports. Economics Letters, 122(2), 268-271. doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2013.12.006

[4] UK Sport (2015). Current funding figures. Retrieved from

[5] Mahtani, K., Protheroe, J., Slight, S., Demarzo, M., Blakeman, T., Barton, C., … Roberts, N. (2013). Can the London 2012 Olympics “inspire a generation” to do more physical or sporting activities? An overview of systematic reviews. BMJ Open, 3(1), e002058–e002058. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002058

[6] Wilby, P. (2012, August 1). Aside from football, sport in Britain is still a game for the elite. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[7] Hope, C. (2012, July 5). London 2012 Olympics: David Cameron says too many top British athletes went to public school. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

[8] Scottish Executive (2003b). Let’s Make Scotland More Active. Retrieved from

[9]] SportScotland (2016) Raising the Bar: Corporate Plan 2015-2019. Retrieved from

[10] Scottish Football Association (2015) School of Football Brochure 2015/16. Retrieved from

[11] Inchley, J., Kirby, J., & Currie, C. (2008). Physical activity among adolescents in Scotland: Final Report of the PASS Study. Retrieved from Edinburgh:

[12] Reid, F. (2012). Increasing sports participation in Scotland: are voluntary sports clubs the answer? International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 4(2), 221-241. doi:10.1080/19406940.2012.662691

[13] Fraser-Thomas, J., Côté, J., & Deakin, J. (2005). Youth sport programs: an avenue to foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 10(1), 19-40. doi:10.1080/1740898042000334890

[14] Scottish Government (2016) National Indicators. Retrieved from

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