The London 2012 Olympics begin in exactly 3 years time today. Even though it still seems like some way off, it only feels like yesterday when London was awarded the games and that was back in 2005, so things really are getting close now. I still find it amazing that the Olympics will actually be taking place on my own doorstep.
As someone who lives in Stratford East London, I’m lucky enough to see the Olympic site everyday on my way to work. It’s really exciting to see the stadium and surrounding area slowly develop.
As it's exactly 3 years before the start of the Games there’s a been a whole load of media coverage today, and as usual there’s been huge focus on what sort of legacy the games will bring.
When it comes to the Olympics I’m definitely one of the optimists. It’s an incredible once in lifetime opportunity for the city of London and the whole of the country to stage such an event.
I found it quite annoying during the Beijing games last year when some people constantly moaned that we could never match what the Chinese had done, and that we would struggle to put on a decent show particularly in the current economic climate.
I could never understand why we even bothered trying to compare ourselves with the Chinese. We’re not a totalitarian government that can spend 30 billion on the Games whilst totally ignoring the views of the tax paying population. I have every confidence that we will put on a great and spectacular show that will be unique to us, and different from recent Olympics such as Beijing, Athens, and Sydney.
Then there’s the issue of costs. Of course spending up to 9.3 billion pounds on two weeks of sporting events is incredibly expensive, but this is why producing a significant and successful legacy to the Games is so important. If we get the legacy right then the costs should be worth it.
My own personal views is that the Olympics must produce a legacy whereby more of the population are encouraged and inspired to take up and participate in sporting activities particularly at a grass roots level, this is something which Sport England is responsible for.
Critics are already claiming that since London was awarded the games the numbers of people taking up sporting activity has hardly increased, and the Games are therefore already failing to achieve one of the key objectives set out when London won the bid in 2005.
For me a legacy is something that occurs after the event so I don’t think we should be too critical when the Games haven’t even taken place yet. Surely the best time to judge should be 3 to 4 years after the event.
From a public health perspective, increasing the numbers of people taking part in some form of sporting activity can only be a good thing in terms of tackling rising obesity levels in this country, and other health problems caused due to poor diet and lifestyle. Surely we would save money in terms of the amount of money needed by the NHS to tackle such problems.
In addition to this, participating in sports, teaches children and young adults important life skills and disciplines, which can be transferred into everyday life. I think that in the past particularly in schools, competing in sports has been dismissed as something that isn’t really that serious or worthwhile, in comparison to academic studies; but many of the skills and attributes needed to become successful in any sport are the same attributes required for people to make a success of their own lives.
The other main area in terms of the Olympic legacy is that of the venues, especially the main Olympic stadium. I’m all in favour of reducing the size of the stadium after the Games so that it can be used for something else, as the last thing we want is a ‘White Elephant’ This is what happened with the Millennium Dome before it was re-branded as the 02 Arena.
The Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell is now saying that the Olympic Park could become a tourist venue after 2012, but I can’t think of what type of attraction could be put in place in order to draw in tourists. As a major world city London already has a host of attractions for people to visit. It will take something quite major to get people to visit the area again after the Games.
Today I read reports that perhaps the stadium wouldn’t be reduced in size at all. Instead it could be used as part of any successful World Cup bid for 2018. We’ve already got enough football grounds as it is for a World Cup, and London has got Wembley and Arsenal’s Emirates stadium which have capacities of over 60,000.
One idea that I heard which I thought was totally unrealistic was that the stadium could be used to hold sporting events such as cricket, with big 20/20 games and the Ashes being potential events.
You may very well get over 50,000 people watching the Ashes in this country, but we only play Australia once every 4 years. would a Test series against the likes of New Zealand or Sri Lanka attract seriously huge crowds? I don’t think so. I think we should just stick to the original plan of reducing the stadium size down to about 20-25,000 seats for a major athletics stadium.
I’m still very optimistic about things, but it does seem that there is no real consensus on what a successful legacy should look like or how we will achieve it. I think the best thing is to try and keep our objectives realistic and within budget and hopefully we can avoid any future disappointments.