The first anniversary of the London Olympics has revived memories of the thrilling moments that so captivated the nation in the summer of 2012. Appropriately, the main stadium in Stratford staged a meeting in front of capacity crowds, celebrating the achievements of those athletes in both the Olympics and Paralympics, whose feats will long be recalled by those either fortunate enough have been there or who witnessed the events on TV.
Meanwhile, this summer there has been a host of events across the country to re-live the festive spirit of 12 months ago and to encourage future participation, either as competitors or as volunteers – or both.
However, this anniversary is also a suitable moment for a stocktaking of what has been achieved, is now being achieved or – it’s hoped will be achieved – as the legacy from the Games.
The House of Lords’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee has recently launched an inquiry to assess the benefits from staging the Olympics. It has to consider the validity of the words of Dr Jacques Rogge, who retires in September as President of the International Olympic Committee. He said after the 2012 Games: ”London has raised the bar on how to deliver a lasting legacy. This great historical city has created a legacy blueprint for future Games hosts.”
Certainly this seems true in literally concrete terms, with the main venues in the Olympic Park having a sustainable after-life, a process accelerated by further details announced in June by West Ham United FC of how the main stadium will be used for both football and athletics.
The bid for the London Olympics was founded on the slogan “Inspiring a Generation”. So has this happened? Figures from Sport England released in June show that 15.3 million people are playing sport at least once a week, with good progress among young people. In the period December 2012 to mid-April 2013, 1.4 million more males and females were taking part compared with when London won the Games in 2005. Among national governing bodies, there’s widespread recognition that the Games have acted as a massive stimulus to participation. In rowing, for instance, there has been a rise of 30,000 people taking part since before the London Olympics, when 58,000 were involved. In judo, another success story of the Games, membership of the British Judo Association has risen by 13 per cent, while in triathlon, record numbers are taking part in competitions. The number of amateur officials has also risen with 11,747 new ‘Sports Makers’ having been recruited.
But the picture is not unblemished. The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, whose funds have been used to help youngsters with vital things such as physiotherapy, has had its funding cut by UK Sport, which prefers to see the money go to the national governing bodies.
Then there is severance of the School Sport Co-ordinators Scheme, with the £150m being given to the headteacher, instead of being ring-fenced. Anecdotally, this seems to have had a deleterious effect. As Seb Coe said: ”If you leave 18,000 headteachers to decide how to spend this money, some will make great choices and I think many might not.”
John Goodbody has covered 11 successive Olympic Games for the Sunday Times and specialises in sports commentary