The Olympics: Legacy… what legacy?

Over this past weekend, you may have watched the Sainsburys Anniversary Games. Some of our successful athletes including Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis- Hill, did battle with other superstars from across the world at the Olympic Stadium. It served as a timely reminder of what our original Olympics bid involved and the intention of a Legacy Games.

As we all know, the Olympics was a roaring success; a third place in the medals table for Team GB, world class venues and world class volunteers, helped made the games a spectacle for the country to be proud.

To coincide with the Anniversary games, a BBC sponsored survey, in conjunction with ComRes, asked the public their opinion on the Olympics legacy. Over two thirds of the population agreed that it was value for money, and nearly three quarters wanted to see the Olympics again in their lifetime. The results have been a resounding success.

It is pertinent to compare this upbeat poll with one conducted by ComRes and ITV, before the games began. In this survey, 71% believed the Olympics would not benefit the lives of people in their area, 61% only thought it would benefit London and 47% believed that it would not be value for money.

These marked changes in opinion have highlighted the excellent impact the event made and the strong work in a continuing legacy to be felt by all. These results are even more interesting, because of the continued economic stagnation, real wage decreases, increased unemployment and a reduction in welfare caused by damaging austerity cuts. Reducing confidence and minimising happiness.

The sceptic in me sees these results as anomalies, seriously benefitting from the glow of success we have been encountering in sport over the past year and negating the cost, sporting legacy and its core focus on the South East.

It is very difficult to judge the value of happiness to the economy. However, one example, regularly used by the Office of National Statistics and economists, is the importance placed on consumer confidence. It is utilised to indicate whether consumers are spending, and if managers feel confident about their prospects. They are clearly a very subjective method of determining anything of scientific value, but given their widespread use, it is hard to argue with their results.

Prior to the Olympics, the sporting legacy was determined to be amongst the highest priorities for the government. Further results from the ComRes 2013 poll were not quite so positive, 56% of respondents said the Olympics had no impact on sports facilities in their local area and over 280,000 people ages 26+ play less regular sport, every week.

For all of the positive PR spun surrounding the legacy, these statistics show much more must be done. As a recent report by the National Audit Office has shown, over 58% of adults are overweight or obese, and healthy eating and more exercise should be at the top of the UKs priorities.

Harriet Harman, the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, and Stephen Twigg, Shadow Education Secretary, in a recent Telegraph article on 31 July 2013, wrote that the Coalition have ‘’squandered the Olympic legacy’’. At a time when much more should be done to encourage sport and exercise across all age groups, we are sleeping walking into a health epidemic.

The Labour promise of a minimum two-hour per week sports target, for all pupils in England and Wales, was scrapped in 2012. Following from the Conservative political desire to decentralise curriculums, and give Headteachers more power to decide what they teach. With Education Secretary, Michael Gove, having sold over twenty school fields since 2010, the youth sporting legacy appears not to be a Tory priority.

The physical and economic impact of the Olympics was always going to be local to the London area. Again this was demonstrated in the poll, which showed 67% thought it had no impact on their local economy and 69% believed it had no impact on their local public services. The facilities were focused in London because of logistical necessity, and the entire focus was to regenerate an area of the country that has suffered from above average rates of poverty and a lack of investment.

From the economics perspective, The UK Trade and Investment and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, has declared that the benefit to the British economy from a 2012 games has been £10bn. This has seriously dented the critic’s and libertarian argument, against the taxpayer funded £9.3bn for a glorified sporting event.

All of the venues have found new owners and uses. The first venue to be reopened is the Copper Box, now home to the London’s only professional basketball team. This will be managed by the not-for-profit, social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited and reopened on the 27 July.

It is still astonishing that the goodwill felt across the country has continued over a year later, and shows how beneficial a UK World Cup could potentially be, given the huge football support and stadium infrastructure already available. Given the lack of a legacy in both Athens and Beijing, and more likely than not, in Sochi in 2014. The previous Labour government can be commended for their excellent work in bringing this global event to the UK and pushing hard for the economic and sporting legacy.

So given the public satisfaction with this global event, can we suggest that the legacy is complete? In the opinion of this writer, the question is a fallacy. Any question one asks surrounding an Olympic legacy, has to be placed in the context of the games, and the reasons why we bid in the first place.

From a reputation perspective, the UK jumped two places in the FutureBrand Country Index to 11, and a deprived area of London has undergone a massive reconstruction. In an era of austerity and sweeping Tory led, public service cuts. The warm glow of an event, which engaged the world, and highlighted the UK as a leader of business and culture, should be taken advantage of, for as long as possible. No matter what partisan arguments are made, it’s been a wonderful ride and bring on the UK World Cup 20XX.

Follow me on Twitter at: @mjcouts


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