By Nick Rusling CEO Human Race, UK’s leading mass participation sports events company, and Trustee of the Herne Hill Velodrome Trust
We are currently in the middle of the most intriguing era of the history of sport and how we shape out on the other side remains to be seen – the traditional model of sports star, viewers, media and sponsorship remains in force with power struggles across the board. Fortunately, however, my world in the sport’s industry is firmly centred around participation, and not just 22 people, but tens of millions of people (of non-superstar status – at least to the outside world) who sweat it out, often in the solitude of their own company, in order achieve their own goals and objectives – this is the world of mass participation sport.
This is a world that is going from strength to strength. This is a world of sport that is taking responsibility for itself and delivering against a wonderful range of social objectives. Governments, the press, venues and cities are beginning to wake up to their own responsibilities and supporting an area of sport that is growing by the day.
My overriding feeling after the 2012 Olympics was that we are all now responsible for the legacy. LOCOG did their bit, and then some, and now it is our turn. Governing bodies and the Government can’t do it on their own. Parents, schools, teachers, charities, event organisers, clubs – we can, and have to all do our bit. Legacy has to be the power of the collective. There is currently too much looking in a different direction when it comes to the ‘L’ word. Time to look at yourself.
Sports need role models for sure but they are precarious by their nature. Not in my world. In my world, I am surrounded by role models every weekend as I watch 1,000s of people cross the finish line at one of the triathlons, cycling, running or open water swimming events Human Race (my company) delivers. These are people who touch and inspire everyone around them simply by crossing a finish line. The power of a mass participation events to encourage people to take on a challenge they didn’t think they could achieve, to beat a personal best, to beat a friend or colleague or simply to finish is unrivalled in sport. They are the legacy.
Mass participation events bring out the best in Britain, in much the same way the Olympics did. Volunteers standing and cheering in the cold and rain, millions of pounds being raised for good causes (this doesn’t happen all over the world – I have tried in many other countries and Britain has something special), spectators cheering on strangers, participants making friends with other participants and helping them around. This is sport at its best.
Mass participation sport is now big business. Sponsors are realising that it offers a more tangible and wholesome passion than many traditional sponsorship outlets.
Corporates and brands are seeing the value in participating, competing and sweating with clients rather playing golf or having lunch. “As good as 10 FA Cup Finals” was the comment of one significant Captain of Industry as he hugged a client after being beaten in a triathlon they trained for and took part in together.
Companies are realising the impact an association with mass participation events can have on staff, through health and wellbeing as well as a positive CSR impact through employee fund raising. However, the start point for mass participation is at the grass routes, as with all sport. The schools, the clubs, the charity events and others are all critical to a healthy sports industry.
As I have said, the legacy is a collective responsibility and mass participation is the true embodiment of the word; in my view.