When the last firework exploded in the sky over London and the Houses Of Parliament were lit up with the Union Flag we began the hard part of the London 2012 Games – guaranteeing the legacy. Those tidying up this morning in the sunshine at a deserted Olympic Park, punctuated the clang of scaffolding being removed and the faint whiff of gunpowder, will have a more immediate experience of the wakeup call we all face. The top tier of the Olympic stadium will be removed as well as whole venues for other sports. Horse Guards Parade, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park, Eton Dorney and Weymouth are restored to the destinations they were before with only a few alterations. The circus is on its way to Rio.
We have had euphoria before – the death of Diana, Royal Weddings, occasionally during football tournaments, the Ashes, Wimbledon and Jubilee celebrations – but they have all proved to be fleeting. There is undoubtedly a national mood, a complex broth of pride, ambition, satisfaction of a job well done and underlying happiness, but can this be turned into something more meaningful. A sporting town like Ashbourne is surely a weathervane for the success of the Olympic and Paralympic dream.
The basic slogan of the Olympics and Paralympics was Inspire A Generation. There has undoubtedly been good signs of this. In Ashbourne and in other towns across the country thousands took to the streets to watch a Torch go by. Many from Ashbourne will have made their way to watch events at the Games themselves. There was a clear switch from apathy for some. When the events started to be televised and competition began, those who hadn’t applied for tickets picked up the telephone and tried on-line to be part of it. I know from personal experience that children were inspired to try an event for the first time. The test for this will be the Games in Rio and in 2020 where, without inspiration it will be incredibly difficult to come close to the success. Not only will the Olympic presence have left our shores but two other nations are likely to be inspired to lift their game by it. History does not look favourable: of the last five Olympic hosts not one has matched the medal haul of the Games they hosted in the subsequent Games. There are some obvious reasons, funding being the main one. A huge amount of money has been pushed into UK sport via the lottery and the preparation for the Games. Although there will be more athletes inspired the money will not increase and will probably be cut. Unless commercial sponsors step forward we will have more participants but fewer elite athletes (which would still be a positive outcome).
And what of the wider legacy? While tackling obesity and seeing sporting success is great there must surely be a wider legacy up for grabs in the way that we see ourselves and the way we approach the future as a country. If we need inspiration we need only look at the next hosts of the Olympics. In the late 1980s and early 1990s Brazil was in economic meltdown. The currency was so weak and inflation so rampant that the newspapers published the exchange rate twice daily so that people could keep up. A new plan launched in 1994 put the country on a stable footing and it has now surpassed the UK in GDP terms. We have had a brief holiday from worrying about the recession and, thankfully, from stressing about the budget for hosting the Games.
Sebastian Coe hinted at the changes that could be underway – the way that we look at ourselves and the way we view disabled people. I could add a few more – the way we view the role of sport, the way we view our armed forces and the Union Flag, and how broadcasters cover minority and local sports.
The floats going through the capital will be the last piece of triumphant celebration which will be briefly reignited by the New Years Honours list and the highlights films at Christmas. The legacy, if it is to follow through, will need to be strong enough to overcome shortage of funds and unfavourable legislation. Government has delivered its part of the project. It is now handed across to a loose coalition of schools, sports clubs, volunteers, sponsors, and local authorities to carry forward the spirit of the Games.
My dream scenario would be a legacy where the queues to get an appointment at the local GP is replaced by a queue out of the door at the leisure centre to get in the Circuits class or the gym. As a result of the demand and economic boom, spare land in the town is designated for new sporting facilities – even a sporting stadium, rather than just 400 new homes without facilities.