Will we capitalise on our Olympic triumph?
Only after several years will we really be able to judge these Olympics
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday, covering Sarah Cassidy’s maternity leave. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 12 August 2012
Having had their most successful games in more than a century, will Britain's athletes ever witness the likes of Super Saturday again? The record medal haul was enough to turn any team's head, but you only need to look at Australia's dismal performance in London to see how quickly a host nation's medal boost can lose its va-va-voom.
As the six-time gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy points out, success in elite sport costs money – and if Team GB is to have another Games as medal-laden as 2012 it will require serious cash. "Fifteen years ago Lottery funding came in and it was the catalyst for the team's success," Sir Chris said. The British Olympic Association, which has enjoyed £250m of Lottery and public money since London won the right to stage the Olympics, warned last week that funding was "absolutely critical" to Team GB's victories.
David Cameron has said extra money from the National Lottery will go to elite sport so that the country avoids having an Aussie-style medal meltdown, but it remains to be seen how reliable that promise is.
White elephant or West Ham's wonder? The fate of the stadium and the Olympic Park and many of the buildings within it will be a key measure of the legacy. The organisers are anxious it remains a venue for great times rather than the ghost towns some of its predecessors have become. The park itself will undergo a major makeover with a great part of it given over to a massive wild public garden and gig venue. Renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, it will reopen in 2013. Zaha Hadid's curvaceous aquatic centre will open up as a training centre. The Pringle-shaped velodrome will remain open to athletes, clubs and local people, while handball's Copper Box will become London's third biggest indoor arena for music and other cultural events. Temporary structures such as the basketball arena will be dismantled and sold on, with Brazil looking the likeliest buyers.
The future of the stadium which may or may not become home to West Ham football club has been dogged by controversy which has so far seen only lawyers stand on the podium. Games organisers insist we will not need to hold our breath for long before the winner is revealed.
The London boroughs
Seb Coe insists that 75p of every pound spent on delivering the Games has gone into redeveloping east London. This isn't immediately obvious if one takes a short walk away from the immediate vicinity of the park. The obvious benefit for locals will be improved transport links. Getting to and from east London used to be an Olympian feat. The simple addition of Javelin trains from St Pancras to Stratford will make citizens to the east feel less like Robinson Crusoe.
The vast Westfield shopping centre has brought thousands of new jobs. Housing will also benefit. Once the flags have been taken down and the last athlete has left the gym, the Olympic Village will be redeveloped to provide 8,000 much-needed homes for east Londoners. Half of the housing will be affordable and will stand alongside a new health centre, nursery and school as part of a broader development which will be known as East Village.
'Inspire a generation'
It was the motto that won London the Games. According to Seb Coe's impassioned speech in Singapore, London 2012 was supposed to inspire young and old to get into sport. But with school playing fields sold off in the past few decades and targets of at least two hours of school sport a week abandoned, the sporting legacy for children looks shakier than Mayor Boris on a zip wire.
The pledge to get a million more adults active was also central to London's bid. Again there are few signs of any changes in adult behaviour yet, other than television viewing figures suggesting lots of people triumphing in the couch potato stakes. Recent statistics from Sport England in the build-up to Games suggested the number of active people is flatlining or even declining in some sports.
This weekend 5,000 local sports clubs will open their doors to encourage new recruits. The problem, however, isn't just one of finding people willing to take part. With waiting lists at many sports clubs lengthening, there is also an urgent need to increase the amount of coaching and facilities available.
Mood of the nation
What a difference a year makes. Last August, with the country reeling from riots, the police service licking its wounds and a double-dip recession adding insult to injury, a grimace was more commonplace than a grin. Now a very different mood has transformed the country. London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, predicted it well. "I think the Geiger counter of Olympo-mania is going to go zoink," he said, to a pre-Games audience in Hyde Park.
Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, described London as "a city partying". Nor is it just London celebrating. Team GB's scores of medallists have come from across Britain, with Yorkshire higher in the medal table than Australia. It is not an easily measurable quality, but one fortnight seems to have transformed Britain into a happier, more confident place. The question is whether it will last.
It is lucky the Games have provided a much-needed shot in the arm of the nation's morale because the chances of them bringing serious economic benefit are as likely as Eric the Eel winning gold. Britain's economy has continued to perform dismally – shrinking by 0.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2012 at a time when it was expected to pick up. Olympic sponsor Lloyds TSB suggested the "happiness effect" of the games could boost GDP by as much as £16.5bn, but others are more sceptical.
The sport economist Stefan Szymanski is foremost among them. "I have always said that the Olympics would be good fun. That's the point – the Brits are paying for a big party, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't think that holding the party will make you rich."
Businesses in the rest of the country, indeed the rest of the capital, have reported a decline in footfall, with restaurants and retail shops squealing loudest. The Games may have attracted as many as 100,000 foreign visitors to London – more than in previous Olympics – but that number is still below the estimated 300,000 who would be expected in a typical year.
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