In December each year I post a set of photographs that sum-up the year for me. It started many years ago, before cameras on phones were commonplace, because it struck me how differently pictures taken on a phone represented the year in comparison to those on a traditional camera (which only ever gets taken when you think you’ll need one). If you look back at the pictures from the end of 2012 you’ll see a collection that features the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or London 2012 as I knew it.
On Friday night, I imagine quite late London time, the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (Rio 2016) will take place at the Maracanã Stadium and Rio de Janeiro will have the honour of hosting the most recent games. As memories of London fade, perhaps only appearing in words like mine – when I summed up the feeling of being there for the opening ceremony rehearsals – the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema will be the newest images of the Olympics, replacing in the mind, perhaps, images of the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. Time, then, to wonder what we are left with in London.
Back in the bid phase for the London games, Tessa Jowell, then Secretary of State for Culture, and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London at the time, argued for the games because they believed in the legacy. As Tony Blair notes,
They argued strongly that the Games would have a twofold legacy: the regeneration of the East End of London and helping build sport into the lives of a generation of children.1
I’d argue that the games were worth it for the atmosphere, enthusiasm, national pride and the spectacle at the time, but did we get a legacy? The Guradian recently suggested that we did not, particularly of the sporting kind,
For all the golden memories of July and August 2012, already tinged in sepia, and the continuing debate about the success or otherwise of the other legacy aims it is hard not to conclude that a prize Jowell once called “the greatest in a generation – faster progress towards a healthier nation” is not already close to being squandered.2
But, recognise anybody in the photograph? Perhaps you can’t because the picture is too small and they were moving too fast for me. They are the elite men cyclists in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic passing through Parliament Square on their way to the finish line. It’s part of an annual two-day cycling festival that sees almost 100,000 people cycle around the city on roads cleared of traffic for the day and hundreds more leave the Olympic Park for the Surrey Hills on a route not dissimilar to the one taken during the 2012 games. An event started as a direct result of the popularity of the cycling events in 2012.
All those cyclists in London in the year that Bradley Wiggins, who was an Olympic gold medalist on 2012, won this year’s Tour de France.
I think there’s a legacy right there. Perhaps cycling is the sport to take events at Box Hill & the velodrome forward to inspire a future generation of athletes.
But what about this single example? Thousands of young people who have a new gymnastics club as part of the legacy? Without it, “possibly 5,000 kids wouldn’t have a venue,” said a recent report on ITV News.3 And I could call out the reported 50,000 season tickets West Ham have sold for their new ground in the former Olympic Stadium (apparently the second highest season ticket sale in the Premier League).4
You can see regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as both a public & event space. This summer there are sporting activities for kids with ‘Fit For Sport’ as well as the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide and the whole aquatics centre for swimming and diving. And if Olympicopolis comes to fruition, London will have a new cultural hub in in the heart of an area regenerated by the London games.5
And don’t forget Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe are on our televisions every week thanks to the legacy of the Paralympic television coverage.
We may not all have taken up more sport as a result of The Games but I think there’s plenty of things we can be proud of that are part of the legacy of London 2012.
Last Sunday, watching both the ammeter and professional riders pass buildings representing our great institutions – Parliament, Westminster Abbey & the Supreme Court – there was also something else happening. A little of the spirit of the games came back with the cheering crowds and even those with limited interest in the sport of cycling searching for somebody who knew who was in the lead. That positive, optimistic and friendly feeling that 2012 brought us returned, even for just a moment in our post-Brexit malaise.
Perhaps, it’s not just the infrastructure or the number of people taking part in sport we should be looking to as the legacy of the games. The games brought out a spirit in almost everybody. We should hold on to that. I believe that would be the greatest legacy of all.
About BEWA 2016
This is the first entry for 2016’s BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August). The introductory post was written in July but you might want to read it anyway. All the BEWA posts will be tagged and you can follow @curns on Twitter to see the hashtag every Wednesday.
1 The Office of Tony Blair: Tony Blair on the legacy of London 2012
2 The Guardian: Olympic legacy failure: inspiring London 2012 message has become a millstone
3 ITV News: 2012 Olympic legacy means gymnastics club is used by thousands of young people every week
4 The Guardian: West Ham sell more than 50,000 season tickets for Olympic Stadium
5 The Guardian: London Olympicopolis culture hub plan gets £141m funding