Leading article: A puny Olympic legacy

The idea that the Games would help to turn the tide against obesity was always suspect

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The Olympic Games, for which the torch has been carried during this weekend's Diamond Jubilee, will probably be a great festival of pre-emptive whingeing followed by people having a surprisingly good time. We have been in training for seven years and have high hopes of winning a record number of medals in complaining about the Olympics. Yet, when the Games start in 54 days' time, most people, we confidently predict, will enjoy the show that Britain puts on to the world.

Yes, we know that the Games will cost more than the original bid. Quite a lot more. But, since the present budget was set at a realistic level in 2007, it has been held steady, and, as far as we can tell, the management of the project has been exemplary for a public sector venture.

Yes, we know that the Olympic ideal of amateur endeavour has been compromised by the emphasis on corporate sponsorship. But that is one way of reducing the cost to British taxpayers – and it is a saving well worth making.

Yes, the organisers have been heavy-handed with copyright, imposing petty restrictions on the informal use of the five-ring symbol, for example, but that is, to some extent, part of the deal with sponsors.

And, yes, there have been problems with tickets and public transport, and the inevitable disruptions of big-event preparation. But, on the whole, the Olympics have been well organised and, if we were not British, we would have every expectation of the Games going smoothly.

When it comes to it, few of the cavils will matter. The Games will be a celebration of national pride, of international sporting excellence, and, in the Paralympic Games, of the diversity of personal achievement. The spectacle, the competitive spirit and thrills of winning and losing will take over. The twisted tower of Anish Kapoor's strange imagination might even become a popular landmark.

We hope that the Games will inspire a cohort of young people to take up sport. This was one of the promises of London's bid to host the Olympics – that it would leave a legacy of enthusiasm for sport and greater participation in it. As we report today, however, this is the one aspect of the preparation for the Games that really has fallen short of expectations. Participation in most sports has fallen in recent years. The prospect of the Olympics has not yet prompted an increase in the number of children wanting to try new sports, and the Government has short-sightedly cut back on some of the opportunities for them to do so. Where public money has been spent, it has too often been "commandeered by advertising gurus and PR executives", as Michael Calvin argues in his column today. So, when a successful Games does fire the imagination of young people, it is less likely to be harnessed.

Calvin's view is blunt: "The Games will not produce leaner, fitter children." Perhaps it was naive to imagine that they would. There is certainly a big difference between supporting elite athletes, at which this country is getting better, and encouraging mass participation and general fitness, at which we are not.

The Olympics may well provide two weeks of fine spectacle, at the venues and on television, and its legacy of urban renewal in east London will be welcome. But the idea that it would prompt a renaissance in mass-participation sports and help to turn the tide against obesity was always suspect. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport – to give him his full title while he still has it – told this newspaper in 2010 that he had "real concerns about the lack of a sporting legacy for the whole country". After the fun and games, that is the one doubt that will endure.

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