Following a frustrating day at the Rio Olympics for Team GB yesterday with disappointments in fencing and judo, Britain awoke this morning to the news we had all been waiting for – our first Team GB Gold. While I’m not so committed as to set my alarm for 2:30am to watch it, seeing Adam Peaty receive his medal this morning started to bring back the excitement we all felt during the 2012 Olympics.
And reading about Peaty’s background (and his #OlympicNan) in the Guardian this morning, it struck me how our sporting successes are often a strange combination of serendipity and pure hard work. For those of you that haven’t read about Peaty’s rise to Olympic gold (and the piece can be found here), he began swimming to overcome a fear of water so bad that it made bath time difficult. Once the bug had bitten, his mum would drive him to training at 4am and then take him back in the evening, despite the fact she had an ‘aversion to driving’.
As well as having huge admiration to this level of commitment from the whole family when just getting my 7-year-old to one swimming lesson a week is a monumental achievement, this got me thinking. What if he hadn’t had a phobia of water? Or if his mum didn’t have a car? Or if she couldn’t get up and take him to training every day at 4am? While Sport England promised to provide £493million in grassroots funding between 2013 and 2017, are we still missing out on potential Olympic athletes who don’t have access to this funding or can’t spare the time for the huge level of commitment required?
In our soon to be released Future of Sport research, we found that 56% of Brits feel there is not enough funding for grassroots sport in the UK and a similar proportion (53%) feel the same about youth sport. In part of our research, we also heard from a mum in Manchester who said:
“My son was a very good golfer, when he was about 12, he played off five…but I was a single mum…he could have lessons until he was 18 quite cheaply but then it became out of our price range. He did all the jobs he could do to buy the clubs and everything, we all helped as much as we could but at the end of the day he could never take it any further because I couldn’t afford to do it for him.”
And of course, it’s not only the Olympic athletes we may be missing out on but also the whole host of personal and local benefits that can come from an involvement in sport, which was evident across the whole of Britain in our research.
Given these very authentic and strong emotional and local associations, it’s not surprising that brands and advertisers want to be linked to sporting events and, to a lesser extent, to grassroots funding, with brands like Pepsi and Sainsbury’s encouraging children to get moving and get involved in sports. And it’s often these areas that allow a brand to really resonate with its audiences – as often without their involvement, the event really would fall through. And that’s a powerful connection to have.