When the news broke that London had been chosen to host the 2012 Olympics, opinion amongst Londoners was polarised. Some saw this as a prestigious honour and opportunity to showcase London to the world; others saw it as a potential financial disaster. As more and more detail of the escalating costs became known, the pessimists seemed to be in the ascendancy. But on the other hand, as progress towards preparing all of the facilities was moving ahead of schedule and gaining positive feedback, the optimists could claim the higher ground. So where do I stand? As a sports enthusiast, and as an eternal optimist, you can guess?
A visit to the Olympic Park was therefore a great opportunity to get a first hand view of progress, and to asses whether optimism was justified. First of all, this link will take you to a set of photographs I took during the visit. As the photos show, progress with the main Olympic Stadium is well advanced, as is the landmark Aquatics Centre, Velodrome, indoor arenas and the Olympic Village, all of which are scattered around the vast Olympic Park. It was impossible to get close to the building work, for obvious reasons, but bearing in mind that there’s best part of 2 years to go, everything seemed to be on, or ahead of schedule. But the thing that struck me most was the general redevelopment of the whole area around the Olympic Park. The borough of Newham is in serious need of redevelopment, and stands to gain significantly through the legacy of the 2012 Olympics. As one of the poorest London boroughs, its difficult to see where any investment would have come from in the current economic climate to create jobs, improve housing stock, improve public transport and generally improve the quality of life in the borough. There’s a great chance that this is what the Olympics will do for Newham.
Its too early to say whether this opportunity will be realised, as the wheelings and dealings of the IOC has a checkered history. It is difficult to criticise the principles of the Olympic Games, but easy to criticise the practises of the IOC. However, Newham stands to gain through the principles and practise of the London bid, not the of IOC. It was always a gamble for London to bid for the games, but the bid was underpinned by a belief that short term investment can bring about long term gains by incorporating a strong commitment to the Olympic legacy into the bid. In September 2012, the London Olympics will be over, but hopefully that will signal a new and more prosperous era for Newham, a lasting legacy of the Olympic spirit.