OLYMPIC LEGACY REPORT IS RIGHT – BUT FOR THE WRONG REASONS

24 05 2011

The Centre for Social Justice suggest the Olympic Legacy promise was little more than a sales pitch

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have long questioned the lack of any strategy for delivering the promised 2012 legacy of more people participating in sport. Now, a new report is warning, “the legacy promise will come in time to be viewed as a highly effective sales pitch that was never fully realised.”

The Centre for Social Justice have today published a report damning the promised Olympic legacy as little more than a sales pitch and suggesting that it was never possible to deliver that promise.

However, while I agree with the sentiment of the report I find myself disagreeing with the claim that the promised legacy was impossible to deliver. It is probably more palatable to believe that than it is the alternatives that either we never tried or that those tasked with the job were simply not up to it.

Whether we call it an Olympic legacy or whether we call it the benefits of sound sports development planning is irrelevant. It is true that the opportunity to put such planning in place with the benefit of the Olympics placing sport into the front of minds up and down the country has likely been missed. However, that does not mean that it is too late to begin adopting the principles that have been absent and start better developing sport both for its own sake  and for the purpose of social benefit.

The sad truth is that for modern day sports managers whether they are at the DCMS, Sport England or with governing bodies, a good sound bite will always trump a good strategy. It has reached such proportions that it appears possible they actually do not know the difference.

Last year, after promising his government had a strategy for the development of sport, Hugh Robertson was asked to “show us your strategy
Minister.” We still wait and Robertson has not returned to that debate.

He was present for the launch of ‘Places People Play’ frequently presented as a strategy for developing grass-roots sport but in reality little more than a collection of initiatives given spin and a brand name.

It is a game the previous government also played, not just with sport but with any number of issues. In place of sound planning, create an initiative; what Robertson damned as ‘initiativeitis’ before then continuing its use in sport.

For many of the managers filling roles in sport, it has never been any different. To them, this is how you ‘develop’ sport. Many are ‘generalists’
employing generalist skills to the specific specialism of creating strategy. The result is that while many of those strategies sound good at the press
conference they fail to deliver. They announce to the world what they seek to achieve without considering how. Then quietly they fall from use and within another couple of years there is another press conference, another announcement and another ‘strategy’ doomed to the same demise.

It is no use looking for blame; the sorry truth is that there is little likelihood of anyone being to blame. They are operating in a blind spot, where
they assume a level of knowledge based on a ‘this is how we do things’ approach which everyone else is also employing.

Good managers should be able to say, “this is not my specialism.” They should know the difference between management and leadership. Good managers ask for help from the experts in order to do things better next time, in order to seek continual improvement.

The management of sport, from Minister down, unfortunately views the maintaining of a mediocre status quo as the pathway to success and, until they change, it is not just the promised Olympic legacy which will go undelivered – it is the development of sport to its full potential within society.

Further reading:

‘More Than a Game’ – The Olympic legacy report from the Centre for Social Justice

Centre for Social Justice press release re ‘More Than a Game’

‘The Difference Between What’s Possible and What’s Probable: Why the Centre for Social Justice is Wrong on Olympic Legacy’ by Prof. Mike Weed

Previous Cowan Global blogs of relevance:

Initiative-it is – A Welcome End?’- 26 May 2010

Initiative-it is Returns Before It Had Even Left’ – 29 June 2010

Is It Initiative-it is? The Minister Says Not’ – 15 July 2010

The Public Funding Of Sport And A Legacy From 2012’ – 31 October 2010

Sports Strategy Still Absent While Initiative-it is Continues Unchecked’ – 18 December 2010

Legacy Or Smokescreen?’ – 31 January 2011

Now The Stadium Is Decided Can We Please Debate The Legacy?’ – 13 February 2011

‘The Clock Finally Stops For The Promised Legacy’ – 3 April 2011

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

info@cowanglobal.net

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7 responses

25 05 2011
Yvonne Parker

Another great article Jim and once again you hit the nail on the head.

It never ceases to amaze me how many of the top bods in sport rotate around the top jobs while those of us at the grass roots are told that they will get it right this time. At my club we stopped listening long ago.

26 05 2011
Sarah Juggins

Hi Jim, like many of your articles this hits the nail on the head – not just for the Olympic legacy, but actually for sports development at any level – too many initiatives, little long-term strategy.
The one positive I would put on the actual Olympic development itself is the dedication and vision of the architect and design team behind the venues themselves. I have recently heard both the project sponsor (John Hopkins) and second-in-charge (Selina Mason) talk about the build, the vision for the future and the effect upon the local community and if (and this is a big if) the borough’s involved support the plans then this could have a great effect upon that part of the east end.
I think that there will be two fantastic sporting events at the Olympic Park, then that side of the legacy will drift way, but the social and economic effect upon the east end could be a lasting legacy.

26 05 2011
cowanglobal

Hi Sarah and thank you.

I agree that there will undoubtedly be legacies of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, some deliberate, some accidental. The buildings legacy, the environmental legacy and the local community legacy are examples. However I keep coming back to the theme of the bid, the promise that was made to the nation and to the world and the trust that was therefore placed in our ability to deliver. Sadly the legacy which was promised and not delivered is the one we may well be judged on.

27 05 2011
Leigh

The word ‘Legacy’ is brilliant. It has managed to become everyone’s excuse for things that don’t go as planned, their poison chalice, their way of evolving their sport… and in most cases, the magicians ‘sleight of hand trick’ that confuses, bamboozles and ultimately, buys time.

It always seemed to me to be the word that is misunderstood, misinterpreted and one that can be used to argue a point from every conceivable angle. To fully achieve a legacy in any situation (not just sport) requires the commitment, enthusiasm, in some cases money, but most of all a clear, coordinated strategy and TIME, to turn an idea into a reality.

With change of Government, leading to a change of Minister & priorities, grassroots sport being pulled from pillar to post & with the reduction in funding, is it any wonder that sport never gets a chance to settle into a plan of action?

I don’t think many would argue there are some excellent managers in grass roots sport today, but I don’t also think many would argue there are some who are not so good. Until the industry begins to look outside the ‘family’ for managers and different lines of thinking, the domestic landscape will not improve, or have the ability to change the dysfunctional course it is on.

There is also the post 2013 funding reduction that will surely come to fruition. How sports mange to maintain their programmes in that environment, let alone develop new ones, should be a real cause of concern.

2 06 2011
cowanglobal

Hi Leigh,

Thank you for taking the time to comment. You raise some great points.

I agree the word legacy has been used in a sleight of hand way, applied to many different areas where undoubtedly genuine legacy will remain. But I keep coming back to the promised legacy, the one that is silently being forgotten about by those who made the promise in the first place.

You are of course right about genuine legacy requiring strategy and time. Time is something we had when the promise was made and the bid was successful. While there is less time now, there is always time to start doing things better/properly. As for the strategy? Still we wait.

The change in government might have been an issue had the previous administration actually started the process. Unfortunately they didn’t and the current lot have just continued the failed policy of initiativeitis. A shame because it was an opportunity for them to differentiate themselves from their predecessors which they failed to take up. Also, let’s not forget that when the promise was made at the bid stage a key part was all party agreement and support for the promised legacy, something focused on by Tony Blair in the bid video.

I think that there are many managers with great potential in sport, who could become excellent. That is not the same thing as being excellent yet. They are held back by the way things are done, the ‘this is how it has always been done’ and ‘this is how we did it last time’ mentally rife in many areas of British life. The current generation have never known any different and assume such practice is good. One of the by-products has been stagnant thinking in/use of strategy. You are right that sport needs to make better use of outside knowledge; that is not outside sport necessarily; there is much knowledge outside what you call ‘the family’ and what many consider ‘the faces that fit’.

As for the likely post 2013 cuts in funding; does anything highlight the above like the sparsity of planning to prepare for and counter this?

2 06 2011
Indigo

@cowanglobal – define “environmental legacy”, please. In Greenwich Park, we are looking at 10 per cent plus of the trees damaged (and no commitment to replace any that die as a result of LOCOG’s activities) and a track through the rare acid grasslands that will never grow acid grasses again without extensive management (about 8 tonnes of elemental sulphur, separate mowing and removing of clippings) for YEARS. It is a scandal.

More than £42 million spent on the equestrian venue, and there is no sporting legacy whatsoever from the equestrian events, neither locally nor for the equestrian community in the UK.

2 06 2011
cowanglobal

Hi Indigo,

The environmental legacy to which I refer is that defined by LOCOG; things such as renewable energy and the excellent use of recycled materials in building the Olympic Park. Perhaps the point you raise suggests that they have failed to deliver parts of that area of legacy too? It is not my specialist area and therefore would be inappropriate for me to raise. I am sure you and others will be doing so.

The second point you make, the lack of any sporting legacy whatsoever from the equestrian events does tie in with and highlight the theme of this and previous blogs. However, I must ask, what have the Equestrianism NGBs done to plan their part of the participation strategy? I suspect about the same as DCMS, Sport England and most NGBs. That is, little to nothing.

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