It felt a bit anti-climatic didn’t it? By the time it was announced, West Ham’s win over Tottenham hardly seemed like news anymore, it had been so widely leaked. The nation breathed a sigh of relief, the track would remain in the Olympic Stadium and the legacy was safe.
Only it isn’t. That whole West Ham verses Tottenham thing was a smokescreen, the legacy is far from safe and no one, least of all the media seem to care.
Let’s rewind to the days before the announcement that the 2012 Games would come to London and look at what was being described as ‘Legacy’ by the London team.
Previous Games had promised that what they built would provide a legacy for future generations, that the buildings they created would somehow, magically inspire future generations. Unfortunately, as the London team, the Government and many others pointed out, this had not been the case. They pointed at Barcelona and Sydney and told us that London would learn from their mistakes. They told us that relying on buildings to motivate did not work and that Stratford would not become home to such ‘white elephants’.
That is why the stadium legacy promised to the IOC as part of London’s bid was one of athletics legacy not of a building legacy. It was one of a reduced capacity (25,000 seats) stadium, home to athletics. Not a stadium at which athletics is very much the junior partner and which will host a minimal amount of athletics competition and little (if any) training due to its newly found commitments to football, music, cricket and a whole host of other attractions.
But what of legacy?
The London team were selling a legacy built on far more than a building when they won the right to host the Games, so what was it they were selling?
The principle strand of legacy was not one of erecting buildings in which to watch sport, it was one of inspiring people to take up sport. And even if West Ham and Newham Council find a way to make the athletics track at the Stratford Stadium accessible to coaches and athletes, their clubs and local schools on a regular, daily basis the surface of the promised legacy has not even been scratched.
Much has been made of West Ham’s laudable desire to allow ‘community usage’ of the Stadium and to keep it ‘in the community’. But which community exactly? How accessible is Stratford from Sheffield or Cardiff or Dundee? How many communities across the UK have no or poor athletics facilities while the Lea Valley Athletics Centre and the Olympic Stadium sit barely six miles apart?
Which community was legacy promised to and what was that legacy?
Perhaps the best place to find the answer and to establish what was promised is to view the video the London 2012 team put together for their presentation to the IOC, the presentation which was used to argue for London getting the Games.
“Our aim is to inspire young people across Britain and the world to take up sport”. Those words were said by Sue Barker who presented the video. Not just football and athletics in Newham and Stratford but across Britain and the world.
The video urged the IOC’s members to; “Choose London and inspire young people to choose Olympic Sport”.
Tony Blair appeared promising the IOC that his Government and all opposition parties backed the London bid 100%. “It is the nation’s bid” Blair told them.
Blair went on; “our vision is to see millions more young people in Britain and across the world participating in sport and improving their lives as a result of that participation.”
It got repetitive but the point was made; the legacy that 2012 was offering wasn’t one of bricks and mortar, it was one of inspiring people to take up sport.
And so what of that Legacy?
Unlike many European countries sport in the UK does not benefit from statutory protection*. Many local facilities, local clubs and local sports development have no guarantee of a future especially during a time of financial hardship where it is the non-statutory requirements local authorities will cut.
Planning for the development of sport in the UK is laughable, equating to little more than having a dream and then crossing your fingers. Successive Governments have thrown a succession of initiatives at the issue while it’s agency in England, Sport England, has never yet been left alone long enough by Ministers to see to a conclusion any of the three-year plans Government has required of it (to deliver Government agenda, not to develop sport).
What of legacy? Thanks to the bid video we know we had a vision, we know what we wanted to achieve but what of the strategy to deliver that vision?
What of legacy? Well, we have a stadium with an athletics track. Thank God for that, the future of sport in the UK can sleep safely tonight!
(*Playing fields benefit from a requirement of Sport England to act as a statutory consultee on planning applications that affect them)
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011