Four years after the London Olympics and the promise of a ‘sporting legacy’ new figures reveal thousands of sports facilities have closed across Britain

More than 2,500 sports facilities including athletics tracks, playing fields, tennis courts and swimming pools have disappeared across Britain over the last four years, despite billions of pounds spent on the London Olympics and a promise to create a legacy of sporting activity for the nation at grassroots level.

Our original research is based on the location of businesses logged by the Ordnance Survey. Overall, the data reveals there are currently 78,270 sporting facilities in Britain — a drop of 2,672 compared to 2012 when the total figure stood at to 80,942.

Whilst Team GB had their best track and field performance in a generation at the 2012 London Olympics, the research indicates the number of athletics facilities has dropped by 15% in the four years since, to a current figure of 529.

Swimming is still the most popular sport in Britain — with 2.5 million taking part each week inspired by the likes of double bronze medallist Rebecca Adlington. However, the statistics show there are 278 less swimming pools than in 2012. And despite Britain’s Andy Murray scooping the gold medal at the London Olympics in the same year he won Wimbledon, the number of tennis facilities nationwide fell by 1,729 over the same period.

The decline varies from region to region. Following medal successes for a number of Yorkshire athletes — including the Games’ poster girl Jessica Ennis-Hill, triathlete Alistair Brownlee and cyclist Lizzie Armitstead — the county would have finished twelfth in London 2012 medal table if regarded as an independent country.

However, our original research shows Yorkshire and the Humber recorded the biggest fall in the number of sporting facilities over the last four years, with an overall decrease of 7% since 2012, including 386 fewer sports grounds, stadia and pitches.

The South East of England also recorded a sharp decline, with 606 fewer sports facilities in key Olympic sporting categories than in 2012.

Despite a 3% drop in the total number of sporting facilities across Britain since 2012, the Mapmechanics study reveals that within that figure there are now 2,226 more gymnasiums, sports halls and leisure centres — a rise of 29%, while four new velodromes have opened, thanks to the success of British cyclists including Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, and the subsequent boom in the popularity of British cycling.

The data also shows rises in the numbers of riding schools and water sports facilities. 

“These figures provide a barometer of the level of sporting facilities across Britain at grassroots level and show a mixed picture. Of the eleven regions across the country, only Scotland has recorded a rise overall in numbers since 2012,” said David Cockrell, Director of Mapmechanics.

“But while there has been a fall overall in the total number of sporting facilities fuelled mainly by the decline in athletics tracks, sports pitches, swimming pools and tennis courts, there are now more gymnasiums, leisure centres, riding schools and water sports facilities than four years ago,” he added. 

The drop in the number of some sporting facilities may be in part down to demand. The number of people aged 16 and above taking part in sport at least once a week has slumped by 400,000 since 2012, according to figures from the Local Government Association last year. They showed that, in 2014-2015, 15.5 million took part in sport in England, down from 15.9 million in 2011-12.

In 2008, then-Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said the aim of the Games was to get more people active and inspire young people through sport. She later admitted that the legacy of the games had not worked.