“Choose London today and you send a clear message to the youth of the world: more than ever, the Olympic Games are for you.” These were the words uttered by Lord Coe on July 6 2005, as the UK surprisingly defeated a strong French bid by 54 votes to 50. Following three consecutive failed bids, the games were returning to British shores for the first time since 1948. An integral reason for this was the issue of legacy. In an impassioned speech to secure the Olympics, Lord Coe promised that the games would inspire young people from all over the world to “get off their sofas and get active.” The ambitious plans also included the target that by 2013 1 million more people would be playing sport at least three times a week.
Fast forward five years and there are huge question marks surrounding this so called legacy. On December 17th 2010, Sport England released figures that suggested that despite huge investment, participation in 19 leading sports have declined. Only four sports – athletics, cycling, netball and mountaineering have shown an increase in participation since 2007. Add to this the decision of the coalition government to cut £162m worth of funding to school sports and Lord Coe’s claims become more suspect.
In response to these shortcomings, Sport England have acknowledged that the poor results in sports such as football, tennis and swimming are disappointing, however they hope to turn the tide with their ‘People, Places, Play’ strategy. This hopes to channel an additional £135m into a variety of schemes to upgrade and invest in facilities, recruit more people to lead sporting activities and encourage participation through community projects and national campaigns across the country.
Thus, the jury remains out on hopes of a legacy. It’s all well and good to provide fantastic facilities but what’s more important is the people playing sport. Millions spent on expensive facilities will go to waste unless people participate. According to Sport England, £25m has been spent on tennis, however how many free public tennis courts are readily available across England? Unless you are a member of a private club, facilities are few and far between. The reality is that if we continue to spend on extravagant facilities then only those who already participate in sport will continue to do so. How can we hope to encourage those who are not already engaged? The cost of the London Aquatic Centre has tripled to £214m, however I question whether the funds needed for such an extravagant facility would be better served in building hundreds of community swimming pools across the capital.
Sport England however, remain confident that targets will be met. The effects of the ‘People, Places, Play’ strategy has yet to be seen, however I for one am optimistic. What cannot be denied is that the beauty of the Olympics lies in the wider range of sports brought to the fore. People will get the change to try sports that they never had before as Britain gets swept up by Olympic euphoria. There is a lot of work to do prior to the games and I eagerly await what’s in store as the IOC hope to reach their goals.