ACCESS to sport in the county is much improved because of the London Olympics, according to Oxfordshire Sports Partnership (OSP) managing director Chris Freeman.
He said London 2012 has helped to inject more funding and create more projects aimed at getting people active.
He said: “The legacy is what you make of it and we’ve been proactive and successful in making bids for funding.
“At the end of the day it’s about getting people to be more sporty and active for their own health.
“There’s going to be a certain amount of drop off after a major event no matter what you do but it’s about doing the best you can.
“The Olympics has pushed sport up the political and media agenda – one of the reasons was to make it embedded in society. There’s so many more opportunities available than there used to be and it’s certainly a better place than it was 10 years ago.”
The partnership, set up by Oxford City Council in 2004, works with councils, schools and sports organisations to increase participation in sport.
- ENTHUSIASM: Ian Warland, above, with the Commonwealth Games baton
It has received about £200,000 from Sport England in legacy-based funding each year since 2009, while in 2013/14 it also helped to secure £450,000 for county projects.
This included £262,000 from Sport England’s Inclusive Sport fund to encourage more than 1,000 people with mental health issues to take up more sport over the next three years.
There are also two projects at Oxford Brookes University costing £275,000 to get less active students and less mobile youngsters into sport.
This included creating a gym with specialist equipment and personal trainers to help rehabilitation and increase confidence, as well as for co-ordinators to lead new sports sessions like cycling, canoeing and climbing.
About 30,000 county youngsters also take part each year in the Sainsbury’s School Games, set up in 2011. These include an opening ceremony and children competing in 95 competitions across 20 sports.
And through the National Lottery-backed Sportivate programme, about 3,000 people, aged 11 to 25, have also taken part in a series of between six and eight taster sessions since 2012.
The partnership is set to launch a new Paralympic legacy charity with the Oxfordshire Community Foundation in the coming months with the aim of increasing disabled participation.
Mr Freeman hopes it will raise about £50,000 per year from other charities and grants to which it would not normally have access.
But not all are convinced about the Games’ legacy.
Oxford City Athletics Club’s junior section head coach Ian Warland, who carried the Olympic torch in Oxford two years ago, anticipates that the current Glasgow Commonwealth Games could whip up more enthusiasm. He said: “In the two months after London 2012 I saw about 200 more athletes – predominantly children – come along to the track. That was good but obviously we didn’t get another 30 coaches to handle that number of people.
“Although it got people to want to do new sports it didn’t provide the funding to support it so the infrastructure couldn’t handle it.
“After those few months the numbers went back down to what we had before the Olympics.
“It’s like how you can’t get a tennis court in Oxford when Wimbledon is on but after it finishes everything goes back to normal. I’m expecting to see more children turn up now that the Commonwealth Games are on.”
‘The best Wednesdays I’ve spent’
THE Paralympic spirit inspired disabled people into sport, said Mark Lee, who has cerebral palsy.
He plays boccia – a form of bowls designed for people with physical disabilities – each week at Witney’s Windrush Leisure Centre in a club set up by West Oxfordshire District Council after London 2012.
Mr Lee was also one of seven who took part in a set of six weekly archery taster sessions at the West Oxfordshire Early Intervention Hub in Witan Way.
They are subsidised by the council as part of its aim to offer new sporting opportunities for disabled people and helps them join mainstream clubs.
South African Mr Lee, 53, of Wadard’s Meadow in Witney, said fellow countryman Oscar Pistorius proved the inspiration after watching him at London 2012, despite his subsequent trial over the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The ‘Blade Runner’ competed in the mainstream men’s 400m and 4x400m relay, as well as winning gold medals in the same disciplines at Paralympic level.
Mr Lee said: “It’s only in the last 18 months I’ve got involved in any sporting activity.
“The archery sessions have been the best six Wednesdays I’ve spent.
“The Paralympics has been a driving force behind getting people interested and it certainly opened my eyes. I know Oscar Pistorius is not a name anyone wants to mention but he made you think ‘wow’.
“I’ve spent my whole life fighting against a disability and didn’t like to be labelled along with other people as paraplegic.
“It’s a social outlet and beats sitting at home on the computer.”
Jenny Bennett, the council’s leisure development officer, said: “A lot of people with disabilities don’t feel confident about being able to join a club prior to these activities.
“The archery group has absolutely loved it because they can compete in a sporting activity on equal ground.”
‘Without proper facilities you can’t go anywhere’
INVESTMENT in facilities is a major issue for indoor sports like basketball, says Oxford City Hoops head coach Frank Marulanda.
The 400-member club had to leave a former postal sorting office at Oxford Business Park in Garsington Road, Cowley, when its lease expired in January.
It has since had to travel around Oxfordshire, Swindon and Aylesbury as UK Sport pulled the plug on its national £7m basketball funding in February.
Mr Marulanda said: “Facilities are what make you grow and without them you can’t go anywhere.
“In Oxford it was extremely exciting during the Games but once that died down it was about what happened next.”
It enjoyed a 30 per cent increase in membership in the six months after the Games.
He said: “The Olympics by itself didn’t do anything other than make it a big advert for sports but we have to pick it up from there to try fulfil it.
“The Olympic legacy is the inspiration and excitement that comes from the huge event, but we have to grab two hands and make something of it.”
It needs to raise £90,000 each year through subscription fees, sponsorship and fundraising.
But it only gets up to £8,000 each year in grants from organisations like Sport England and England Basketball and this can only be for work in schools.
Mr Marulanda said: “It helps but it’s not enough. Effectively you ask coaches to volunteer their time or pay for their expenses.
“England’s junior basketball teams have moved up through the rankings but that’s not due to funding because there’s been next to nothing from the Olympics – it’s because of the work on the ground.”
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