Exclusive interview with Hugh Robertson on Olympics legacy: Minister ‘delighted’– but facilities are still closing

‘No other host nation has ever increased the number of people participating’

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The Independent Online

Legacy was the Olympic buzzword that has become a dirty word, the dark cloud of pervading cynicism hovering behind the summer sun now beaming over the pending anniversary celebrations. Is there actually a legacy, and if so what exactly is it?

Many have serious doubts, myself included, but the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, certainly hasn’t. “People are naturally interested in what may be going wrong rather than what is going right,” he argues. “But if you told me a year ago we would be where we are now I would have been surprised and delighted.

“No other nation has ever increased the money for Olympic and Paralympics after a home Games. No other home nation has ever increased the number of people participating. I know there was a fall-off in the last figures but even allowing for that we still have an extra 1.4 million playing sport.

“In terms of legacy, at the beginning of the year we had two key things that needed sorting – the future of the Olympic stadium and Olympic Park [where all eight permanent venues have tenancies] and school sport. Both are now in a much better place.

“There have never been more major sports events coming to this country. And in the teeth of the recession we have managed to find another £150 million investment in school sport. It is an extraordinarily compelling package.”

Of course, it is Robertson’s job to push the Government line, and while I agree with much of what he and Lord Coe claim in terms of the benefit to national psyche – better than any previous host city – my concern is that the much-trumpeted Olympic feelgood factor has not filtered down beyond elite sport anything like as much as it is claimed.

While we have a high-performance system that is now among the best in the world, Baroness Sue Campbell, the former chair of UK Sport, which distributes Government and Lottery money to elite athletes, suggests that in other areas – such as grass-roots sport, volunteering and women’s participation in exercise – Britain has not secured the legacy it could, and she is right.

Swimming pools and playing fields are still closing, and how embarrassing was it that Sheffield’s Don Valley, Britain’s second largest athletics arena and alma mater of one of Team GB’s 2012 icons, Jessica Ennis, brought in the bulldozers almost before the Olympic flame had been extinguished.

Olympic euphoria certainly has not bequeathed goodwill to a host of local councils who, often under the guise of Government cuts, make shameful decisions harmful to participation sport.

Like the burghers of Merton, south London, where the sale of a public sports hall to a private school left Olympic medallist Ray Stevens without a home for his popular judo club which regularly attracts disabled or disadvantaged kids.

So far Olympics Legacy is a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts. But we certainly haven’t cracked it yet.