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Dr Kamal R Mahtani and colleagues examine if there is an increased participation in physical or sporting activities following an Olympic or Paralympic games.

Dr Kamal Ram Mahtani
Dr Kamal Ram Mahtani

Can the London 2012 Olympics ‘inspire a generation’ to do more physical or sporting activities? An overview of systematic reviews

Despite the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) hoping for a legacy effect from hosting the London 2012 Olympics, a new review reveals little evidence for any increased uptake of sporting or physical activity in the long term.

The group of authors behind this review were brought together from the UK, Australia, USA, and Brazil as part of The Brisbane Initiative, an International programme based at The University of Oxford, aimed specifically at fostering future leaders in primary care research.

The review systematically searched for evidence in the scientific literature as well as public literature through Google and the International Olympic Committee websites. Over 800 potential studies were reviewed. Of these only two pieces of evidence met the criteria for inclusion in the final review. Both
referred to data collected after previous Olympic Games such as the 1992 Barcelona games, 2000 Sydney games and 2008 Beijing games.

Both studies reported little evidence for an automatic increased uptake of sporting activity following the hosting of a summer Olympic Games event. In particular, the evidence for a "trickle down" effect was mixed, with some evidence for short-term impact but little in the long-term.

One of the included studies suggested a mixed impact on public perceptions of sporting activity. With some evidence of a positive impact but also drew reference to evidence of a negative impact with the potential of elite sporting success deterring individual participation because of a perceived competence gap.

There was also little evidence for other health benefits such as changes in hospital admissions, suicides rates and drug use which were all cited in one study.

The study was led by Dr Kamal R. Mahtani, a GP and an Academic Clinical Lecturer at The Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford. The study is published in the BMJOpen journal.

Dr Mahtani said "With obesity levels rising globally, there has never been a better time to encourage more participation in sporting activity following the success of London 2012. However our review shows little evidence for an automatic uptake. So for stakeholders, such as LOCOG, to truly fulfil their goal of a lasting sporting legacy they are going to have to put into place new initiatives to turn any short term benefits into long term ones. They should also commission high quality studies to record this data, and only then will we know if the London 2012 Olympics have left a true sporting legacy."

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