'Legacy' is a voyage of discovery

As the dust settles on a summer of sporting triumphs at London 2012, how widespread will its impact be? On every front, there is good reason to be optimistic. By Russ Thorne

It’s been quite a summer. The individual and collective trials and triumphs of London 2012 will hopefully keep us all talking long into the winter months, while debates on ‘greatest Olympic/Paralympic moments will certainly roll into the new year. But all good things must come to an end, which begs the question: what now?

The word ‘legacy’ has been tossed around like a beach volleyball throughout the Games, along with the LOCOG mantra ‘inspire a generation’. As the events of London 2012 draw to a close, many are turning their attention to what those ideas actually mean in practice, and what the true legacy of the Games will be.

For some organisations the answer begins in East London, at the Olympic Park itself. As well as leaving its communications technology in place, Cisco, the network infrastructure supporter of the Games, is looking to develop innovation centres to promote new technological advances.

The company is also driving change through its British Innovation Gateway (BIG) Awards, which will see SMEs receive investment and mentoring to further improve their prospects. “This is a fantastic opportunity for businesses to get the help and support they need,” says Phil Smith, CEO, Cisco UK and Ireland. “By nurturing the growing businesses of tomorrow, we are helping to build a brilliant future for technology innovation in the UK.”

Regenerating and repurposing the Olympic Park extends beyond networks and business strategies to the very bricks, mortar and even water of the site.

Investment in passenger boats and improved waterways continues from private operators, while residential properties are getting a new life as the Village. “A key part of the Games Bid was to create a lasting residential legacy,” says Ralph Luck, director of property at the Olympic Delivery Authority. “The East Village will become a significant new community within London, surrounded by world-class sports venues, enviable shopping facilities and excellent transport links.”

As the sporting incarnation of the site gives way to other functions, one workforce departs as the developers move in. However, there is still an employment legacy for those moving on with the new skills they developed. HR services group Penna is working with LOCOG to place thousands of Olympic Games Makers in new roles, and according to CEO Gary Browning the Olympic legacy is definitely not just about the built environment. “These people are very much in demand. The new skills they have range from managing a multi-cultural audience to working in the decade’s most important, high-profile delivery team.”

Indeed, the 70,000 Games Makers were arguably one of the greatest successes of London 2012 and were widely praised throughout. Even with the Games over they can still contribute, as their high-profile roles may well inspire a new wave of voluntary workers across all manner of projects. Jez Langhorn, vice-president of people at- McDonald’s UK – the company which helped select and train the army of volunteers – certainly thinks so. “The global stage of London 2012 gave the Games Makers a chance to show volunteering at its best and inspire millions of people,” he says. “ Looking ahead, if we can keep a little of the Games Maker spirit ignited, then individuals, communities and businesses across the UK will benefit from their volunteering legacy.”

There was another phenomenon rivalling the Games Makers for the impact it had on the Games, though, and it was a collision of human emotion and technological advancement.

Social media, for better (collective celebrations) or worse (Twitter abuse towards athletes), has been a part of London 2012 in a way no one could have predicted in Beijing. “It enhanced the Olympic experience for millions and this should be celebrated and built on,” suggests Jamie Wynne-Morgan, managing director of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

Wynne-Morgan cautions that we’ve already seen the damage social media can do when mis-managed, but remains optimistic about the future. “Rio will be dramatically different from London. Will athletes be kitted out with Google glasses so we can see the race from their perspective? Who can say for sure, but the relationship between technology and sport is going to become more intertwined. The overall legacy is certainly a positive one and this will embraced by future Olympics.”

Whether or not we all watch the next 100m (or indeed the long jump) final via a motion sickness-inducing camera embedded in Usain Bolt’s shoe, the Games have the potential to create a lasting cultural legacy in other mediums besides the digital domain. The Cultural Olympiad has seen millions invested in museums, galleries, theatres and more – BP alone has committed almost £10m to arts partnerships.

“It’s about being more than just a ‘badge’ sponsor,” says Mike Sharrock, BP’s partnership director for London 2012, “it’s about working together to make not only the Games, but the legacy that it leaves, a success.”

John Worne, the British Council’s director of strategy, agrees. “ A truly great games has put UK people, culture and ‘can do’ attitude front and centre worldwide,” he says, drawing attention to projects like ‘International Inspiration’, which uses sport to improve the lives of young people around the world and has already reached 12 million children in 20 countries, as well as the UK. “We often say ‘to know us is to love us’,” he adds. “The Olympics have shown why.”

And what of inspiring a generation?

According to a MediaCom survey the Games have certainly caught young people’s attention, with more than half of 8-12 year-olds saying the Games have made them want to be more active and participate in more sports.

While Premiership footballers can’t be shifted from the top spot in terms of those idolised by boys, for girls it’s all about Jessica Ennis, Beth Tweddle and (unsurprisingly) Tom Daley.

“It’s really encouraging to see an increasing number of kids wanting to be professional athletes when they are older,” says Pauline Robson, director of real world insight at MediaCom. “A few years ago the results showed many children saying they wanted their job to involve being ‘famous’ for no reason, so this shift is really positive.”

There are other shifts that point to the varied legacy of the Games: a heightened awareness of the ecological impact, perhaps, evidenced by EDF’s real-time energy monitoring systems installed at all Olympic venues.

Or a growing awareness of the science, technology, maths and engineering (Stem) skills that underpinned the Games and the provided the tools allowing Paralympians to compete.

There’s also the prospect of an increased interest in sports of all kinds, from rowing – the British Rowing website jumped from 150 to 5,500 hits in one day – to handball, or perhaps beach volleyball, another hit of the Games. In another piece of legacy in action, some 4,000 tonnes of sand will leave the Olympic venues and go to sports facilities throughout London and the South East to help equip new courts and further participation in the sport, courtesy of LOCOG and Volleyball England.

Of course, be it technological, cultural or sporting, the exact legacy of the Olympics can’t be predicted yet as we’re still reliving the highlights.

For now, there can be little doubt about the scale of London 2012’s triumphs in and out of the sporting arena, and of the opportunities it has created for businesses, residents and budding athletes alike far into the future.

Even the sand gets a chance to inspire a generation.

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Cisco BIG Awards

The Olympic and Paralympic Games were a huge success. Thanks in no small part to all the hard work put in from everyone involved. Cisco put in a huge amount of effort and commitment too, viewing The Games as part of a bigger vision to help SMEs’ drive for technological innovation, and that’s why it has left all the equipment in the Olympic Park for SMEs to benefit from.

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