Labour has accused the Conservatives of squandering the London 2012 Olympic legacy by slashing grassroots sport funding by nearly half since coming to power.
The party said that during the final year when Labour was in government, it spent more than £1bn on sport and recreation facilities during the financial year ending in 2010.
Adjusted with inflation to £1.24bn in today’s money, that figure means the £657m spent by the Conservative administration in 2019/20 marked a real-terms drop of more than 47%, they say.
Ministers have also cut local government funding for maintaining swimming pools, parks and other leisure facilities, and the number of PE teachers has fallen, according to Labour.
The warning came as Great Britain stood in sixth place on the medals leader board for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with a particularly strong showing in the swimming and diving pools.
Shadow sport minister Alison McGovern said: “Team GB have performed brilliantly in these games so far and our athletes are fantastic ambassadors for our country – brave and determined, pushing the boundaries, winning medals and breaking records.
“Sadly, the Olympics legacy that should have been built on from 2012 onwards – not in medals, but in a country that puts health, physical and mental, first – is not there. That is because of the actions of the Tory government from 2010 onwards. A Labour government is urgently needed to meet the country’s ambition for sport and fitness.”
Labour pointed to the Tory cut in funding for free swimming and the dropping of a target to increase sporting participation by two million – policies brought in under New Labour – as examples of the legacy of the London Games being put at risk.
A recent parliamentary question showed under the Tories, the number of PE teachers is down from 26,005 in 2011 to 23,513 in 2020.
Cutbacks to council budgets in England have also had a wide-ranging impact on grassroots sport, Labour said, as local authorities are responsible for the upkeep of a third of swimming pools, 31% of grass pitches, 13% of sports halls and almost a fifth of health and fitness facilities.
MPs were told in June that many local authority sport facilities were so neglected during lockdown that they were unusable when lockdown ended. School closures also meant lots of gyms and pitches could not be used by individuals or clubs.
Participation also plummeted because of the pandemic. According to the latest figures it is estimated that 36.8% of adults in England were insufficiently active – a figure 9% above the world average determined by the World Health Organization.
Dr Esther van Sluijs, of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research, told MPs on the sport select committee the potential impact of lockdowns on people’s activity levels, health and wellbeing “will not only have a significant influence on later morbidity and mortality but also have an impact on people’s ability to restart their physical activity after the pandemic, as they will have likely lost their levels of fitness. They might have increased weight and will have established sedentary habits that are really difficult to overcome. A lot of these factors are barriers to increasing physical activity.”
The cross-party group of MPs called on the government and Sport England to renew their efforts to encourage people back into sport to pre-empt any further drops in participation during the most recent lockdown.
They recommend the government initiate a sporting equivalent of the “eat out to help out” campaign, entitled “work out to help out, to incentivise volunteers and participants to get involved, participate in organised sport and support the sporting infrastructure, both in England and across the UK.
Labour said it will use its Children’s Recovery Plan to support physical activity in schools by using their facilities to deliver a range of before and after-school clubs and activities, including sport.
It is also calling for sport to be put at the heart of a post-pandemic education recovery, citing the example of its own national education recovery plan.
A government spokesman said: “We are backing councils with record funding and have increased their core spending power in England by 4.6% in cash terms to £51.3bn this financial year.
“We have also worked with Sport England on its 10-year strategy to drive up activity levels and improve people’s physical and mental health.
“This is alongside prioritising sport and physical activity during the pandemic and working closely with Sport England, UK Sport and the National Lottery to provide £1bn to ensure the survival of grassroots, elite and leisure sectors.”
Officials pointed to the success of Team GB in Tokyo, arguing it was a reflection of investment over the past decade by central government.