Aims: There is no evidence that previous Olympic Games have raised physical activity levels in adult populations. However, it may be premature to assume that this lack of previous evidence for an inherent effect is an indication that there is no potential to proactively harness the Games to generate a physical activity or sport legacy. Given that the political goal of achieving a physical activity legacy had already been set, the policy-led aim of this systematic review was to examine the processes by which the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games might deliver a physical activity (as opposed to sport) legacy.
Methods: Searches were conducted on five databases: SPORTS DISCUS, CINAHL, PsychLNFO, MEDLINE and Web of Knowledge.
Results: There are two key findings: first, that communities that are not positively engaged with hosting the 2012 Games in London are likely to be beyond the reach of any initiatives seeking to harness the Games to develop legacies in any area; second, major events such as London 2012 can, if promoted in the right way, generate a 'festival effect' that may have the potential to be harnessed to promote physical activity among the least active. The 'festival effect' derives from the promotion of the 2012 Games as a national festival that is bigger than and beyond sport, but that is also rooted in the lives of local and cultural communities, thus creating a strong desire to participate in some way in an event that is both nationally significant and locally or culturally relevant.
Conclusions: Physical activity policy makers and professionals should seek to satisfy this desire to participate through providing physical activity (rather than sport) opportunities presented as fun community events or programmes. The key to generating a physical activity legacy among the least active adults through this process is to de-emphasise the sporting element of the 2012 Games and promote the festival element.