The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio are just days away - the perfect opportunity for the Olympic doom-mongers and nay-sayers to start the bandwagon up again. Just a few days ago Richard Williams let fly in the Guardian with an item entitled "Why the London Olympics were a gigantic waste of time and money". It's worth a read, if you have the time, and there are some real issues highlighted in the article, but if you think in terms of cause and effect, then most of those issues cannot be attributed to the Olympics. There are some fundamental issues with the Olympic Games, largely to do with finance, sponsorship and brand protectionism. But Richard Williams' argument pinpoints trends in obesity, diabetes, lack of physical fitness and general unhappiness as attributable to a failure of the London 2012 legacy. Somehow, I fail to see that these failures can be directly related to the fact that London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. In each case, the root cause is much deeper that the Olympic Games. The various political and societal failures in addressing the requirement for a healthy lifestyle are deeply rooted, and although London 2012 set out to 'Inspire a Generation' placing these failures on its doorstep smacks of a cheap way of finding scapegoat.
Perhaps it is pure coincidence that British athletes and teams are enjoying a particularly successful period since 2012. In a Daily Telegraph article just a day or two after the Williams article, the success of British Athletes was being celebrated. But let's not forget that trying to quantify the benefits of a major sporting event is almost impossible. Here's a few thoughts on the London 2012 legacy that don't seem to have been overlooked in the Williams article.
The Gamesmakers and Ambassadors who were the face of London 2012 set a precedent that is being adopted for almost every major sporting event in the UK. They raised the profile of volunteering, in all shapes and forms, to a new level. Anybody with the available time and inclination can now find countless opportunities to contribute to a vast array of activities. Nor surprisingly, it's retired people who have the most time, and there are countless lives being enhanced by giving some of their time to volunteer, make new friends and to continue to contribute their skills, knowledge and expertise for as long as they want - the antidote to inactivity and loneliness.
The re-gereation of Stratford
The Olympic site was built on a virtual wasteland. Anyone who has visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park recently will have seen how this entire area has evolved and matured into an extensive and attractive city park, housing several major sporting venues, as well as providing extensive opportunities for pursuing individual activities such as walking, jogging, cycling within the park.
Broadening the scope of physical activities for children
The successes of British athletes and teams in the Olympic sports has driven a growing number of non-profit organisations to promote healthy and active lifestyles for children by engaging in sport. I've had the privilege of participating directly with a number of these organisations such as London Youth Rowing, the London Youth Games, Community Golf and the Saracens Sport Foundation, and have seen the impact that participation in sport has on people's lives. Additionally, the opportunities for the disabled, disadvantaged and elderly to engage in sport and physical activity is reaching new levels.
The final point, as so many people are aware, is the sheer pleasure and enjoyment that sport can bring to so many. Over the period of the 2012 Olympics, London rocked! If you meet anyone who attended any of the events, be prepared for a lengthy account of their 'I was there' experiences. And if they were there on 'Super Saturday', you'll need to pull up a chair! How do you put a price on that?
London 2012 set out to 'inspire a generation' - a impossible mission, but it still managed to inspire a vast number of people. The closing paragraph in the article states: "It’s all wonderful [British success]. Just don’t try to tell me that spending £9bn on hosting the Olympics had anything to do with it. Thanks to Boyle and the British winners of 65 medals, we were left with memories of a golden summer. But that was as far as it went." Well, I'm sorry Richard, but I think you're missing a few things there.