Ministers sought to dig themselves out of an allotment-sized hole on Friday to fend off accusations they are including gardening among activities to measure the sporting legacy of the 2012 Olympics.
Gardening, dancing and active conservation – which amounts to such things as the organised picking-up of litter – have been added to a list that will enable the government to determine through a survey how many adults in the UK take part in sporting or physical activity.
The original hope of ministers was that becoming 2012 host city would spur a national outpouring of sporting endeavour – or as Tessa Jowell, Olympics minister, put it, generating “a nation of the sports mad, not the spectating mad”.
To sow the seeds, she set a target in 2007 of getting 2m more adults involved in sport by 2012, hoping that Britain would follow the lead set by China whose hosting of the Beijing Games inspired “gyms being built on every street corner”.
Last year, the target was reduced when the department for culture, media and sport said it would seek to involve 1m more in sporting activity while the health department would encourage an additional 1m to be more physically active.
Walking was the main physical activity the government sought to promote for those less inclined to engage in sport. Now it wants to add gardening.
Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat shadow Olympic minister, said ministers were desperate to justify the £9.3bn cost of the Games.
“Unless it turns out there are secret plans to introduce mowing the lawn and bulb planting as Olympic events, then we’ll have to assume that the government is watering down targets because it knows they can’t be met,” he said.
“We’ve had 10 years of ministers talking about tackling obesity and raising sports participation, but they’ve totally failed to get Britain active.
If the government is serious about getting people into sport then it needs to stop selling off playing fields and boost funding for community sports clubs.”
A spokesman for Ms Jowell said: “The important thing is that the Olympics inspire people to get more active.
“For some that means sport, but for others it means activities like walking more or cycling to work. As anyone mowing the lawn this weekend will tell you, gardening is a lot more active than sitting in front of the TV.”