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By Matthew Handley
Amidst the happy-clappy Union Flag waving frenzy that has been London 2012, the cocktail of panic and overwhelming cynicism that characterised the build-up to the Games was knocked back with a subtle wince, leaving everyone to get on with getting hammered on a sheer joy that has made everything unbearably exciting for the past fortnight.
But whilst the shortcomings of G4S never resulted in the apocalypse, and most venues were actually packed out, we mustn’t forget that much of the criticisms of the games in the build-up did not exclusively come from doom-mongers, or those looking to merely piss on our collective bonfire, but were based in legitimate concerns that hosting our third Olympic Games was going to be a waste of money, and that promises of an ‘Olympic Legacy’ would not be delivered on.
Whether or not these prophecies will come true won’t be revealed for a long time, and it’s incredibly difficult to quantify the economic cost or benefit of hosting an Olympic Games; for example measuring the boons of tourism is complicated, as one must consider the tourists scared away by the games as well as those enticed, and the different spending patterns of the relevant groups. But the ‘cost’ of the games shouldn’t just be considered in terms of figures on a balance sheet, but must also entail the more esoteric and unquantifiable benefits that hosting has brought, and will continue to bring.
The Olympic Legacy as outlined in London 2012’s bid document entailed five key aspects, aspects which today Sebastian Coe was appointed with the task of delivering upon by David Cameron. The first of these, to ‘Make the UK a world-leading sporting nation’, has already been achieved, with Team GB sitting on 28 gold medals, and third place in the medals table, going into the final day of competition. British athletes have continued their dominance in cycling and rowing, but have also expanded this excellence onto the track; Mo Farah’s double triumph makes him one of the greatest middle-distance runners in history, whilst Jessica Ennis can legitimately claim to be the world’s best female athlete. Our little island of 57 million people, took on the world, and did a mighty fine job of it.
The second promise was to ‘transform the heart of the East End of London’. On first glance this seems to have worked, as what was a few years ago a desolated strip a short distance from the notorious ‘murder mile’ is now a hipster paradise, whilst Shoreditch is one of London’s trendiest areas and is seeing increasing development. However, this shouldn’t be put down exclusively to the games, as the trends which have led to this upsurge were visible long before the bid was won in 2005. More worrying is the lack of engagement of the poorest of the poor, who were identified in a medium term report in 2010 as seeing an ‘indeterminate’ impact in terms of health and welfare, nutrition, community and school sports facilities, affordable housing, and volunteerism. Coe’s most difficult work should and must go into ensuring that the Games deliver for society’s worst off. His capacity to do this will go hand in hand with his deliverance on the third promise; to ‘inspire a generation of young people to take part in local volunteering, cultural, and physical activity’.
Whilst some have criticised the ‘flatpack’ nature of the Olympics, which will see venues such as the basketball arena taken apart, what we will undoubtedly see is more spaces and opportunities for young people to get involved in sport. More importantly the triumphs of Farah, Ennis, Hoy, Wiggins, Daley, Murray and more have already been absorbed into our collective cultural consciousness, and will offer the inspiration for so many in our country to attempt to emulate their new heroes. Last night I received a text from a friend who asked if the handball team we used to play for was still going, as having watched the Olympics he wanted to get back into it; that right there is your Olympic legacy.
The fourth promise was to the ‘Make the Olympic Park a blueprint for sustainable living’; once again, the emissions-friendliness of the Park will take some time to see. But what we can say at this stage is that the organisers are certainly talking a good game, with even the dismantled stadia to be recycled; seats from the Basketball arena will be reused at Silverstone for example. What can be said with certainty though is that promise 5 has already been delivered upon, and then some; to ‘Demonstrate the UK is a creative, inclusive, and welcoming place to live in, visit, and for business’. From the first moments of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, to the friendly foam-fingered volunteers, to that clichéd, but tangible, ‘buzz’ around the city, London 2012 has shown the world a city proud of its own identity, but welcoming and tolerant of others, and open to change. London 2012 has done itself, Britain, and the Olympic Games as an institution proud. And whilst much work must be done by Seb Coe to ensure that the Olympic Legacy delivered is a profound and desirable one, this amazing two weeks suggests that his task is most definitely an achievable one.
PHOTO// Jon Cunrow