'The whole country would benefit,' says Redgrave

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The Independent Online

Sir Steve Redgrave was sitting in a rowing boat on the Thames when he was summoned to yesterday's Olympic announcement. Britain's most successful Olympic athlete, the man with five golds, was at the River and Rowing Museum to support Chris Hall and Richard Pullan's entry to October's Atlantic rowing race. Their 3,000-mile row will benefit Sir Steve's charitable trust in its quest to raise £5m to support children's charities.

The rowing knight is the athletes' front man for the British Olympic Association, one of the three stakeholders – along with the government and the mayor, Ken Livingstone – in the London bid for 2012. He approaches the prospect of landing the Olympics for Britain with crusader's zeal. "We can stage the best Olympics there have ever been if we are successful with the bid," he said yesterday. "We need the support of everyone in the country to achieve that."

The man who did not know what to do with himself after his fourth Olympic gold in Atlanta is much more focused after his fifth at Sydney. He wants the games in Britain, period. But he also has a clear idea of why he wants the games here, and the benefits he thinks they will bring to sport, the community and the country, quite apart from the regeneration of east London.

For a start, with the exception of Henley regatta, Redgrave's career was almost exclusively overseas. For this reason: "The best world championships I ever attended were in Nottingham." Those championships in 1986 brought back home the sport which had begun its medal revival in Los Angeles in 1984. "Competing in front of a home crowd is very, very special," he said.

Redgrave is acutely aware that it is important to bid while the site in the Docklands to Stratford area is earmarked for redevelopment. The scheme has to suit the developers, too. "Olympic stadiums are dead ducks afterwards," he said. "You can't use huge stadiums for their original purposes later. We need to address this and get it right. The main stadium should be linked with a football club. 80,000 seats is enough."

He also pointed out that timing is crucial, too. It is unlikely that Europe will have another chance to host the summer games for another dozen years at least. Yesterday's government announcement therefore came as a relief, because Redgrave thought it would seek to delay the bid to 2016, which would have been a disaster.

Redgrave sees building stadiums and putting on the games as only part of the legacy from hosting the games. He would like to see all sports become more competitive through a development programme inspired by the Olympics, which is what has happened in Australia through the state and national institutes of sport. He wants people to be encouraged to do sport and to see a steady stream of high-performance athletes developed as well. And he wants to see a reversal of the unhealthy society that he thinks the British have become.

"We've lost a very big element of after-school sport and education," he said, "and the government's argument is always that there is still as much sport in schools as there has always been, but life outside school has changed. Very rarely do people walk to school. Kicking a football about and cycling about does not happen now – we don't allow our kids to do it. We should address this on the back of the Olympic Games."

Benefits may accrue to Britain as a whole from fun and games in Stratford. Redgrave said: "Teams from big countries need training bases nearer the Olympic venue." Existing facilities all over the place can be tarted up to host them and benefit their communities at the same time. "This would be a benefit for the country as whole, not just London, but we have to be extremely switched on to it. We're so close to Europe that others will do the same and get the spin-off if we don't do it. But places like Belfast and Manchester and Scotland are close to Stratford through City Airport."

If the world's most accomplished oarsman has anything to do with it, London will be at the start on time and have its nose in front after the first five strokes.