London 2012 : Inspiring a Generation?

Lord Seb Coe introducing the motto of London 2012

Lord Seb Coe introducing the motto of London 2012

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I found a brilliant blogging project online the other night. It’s called ‘Run with an Idea‘ and is a fortnightly blogging debate series about topics specifically running and health related.

This fortnight’s topic is The Olympics one year on: Did we ‘Inspire a Generation’? Before I progress, a quick disclaimer – I worked as an architect for 3 years designing and overseeing the construction of parts of the Athletes’ Village for London 2012, plus I’m a London resident who took advantage of the Games when they were on. So, there is going to be some inherent bias. I will however try to be as objective as possible.

Back on topic – did the Olympics inspire a generation? Taken at face value, I think the answer to the question at the moment has to be “no”. I would say it’s too early to tell. This is an idea, a ‘grands projet’ if you will, that is too big an aspiration to actually be deliverable in a measurable manner after only a year. The idea of inspiring an entire generation is laudable, but like a generation itself, is a long term undertaking.

Re-framing the question to account for the long-term nature of the task – “Can an Olympics inspire a generation?” – to this question I would answer “yes”. How could you not be inspired by seeing the gargantuan feats of people who at one point in there life were just like you? I believe everyone possesses the ‘ability to be inspired’ by the feats of others. I think it is naturally wired into people. Otherwise there wouldn’t be competitive people who are trying to be the best they can be. Without inspiration, these people would not have thought to themselves “I can do that”, nor then go on to think “…and I could do it better”.

The Olympics has already inspired people to take up sport and participate more, indicated by the ‘bounce’ in participation rates, caused by the sheer focus on sport that comes with an Olympics in your home country. People who were already interested and active in sports, particularly those sports which feature in the Olympic Games, are much more likely to have found inspiration from the games to increase their participation levels or try to improve their performances. Most importantly, it would appear that those people with an interest in sport in general but who do not participate or are not passionate about a particular sport may have been inspired to take up new sport. Some examples are the increased participation rates of women’s boxing, or Britain’s newest favourite sport, cycling.

However, inspiring people to take up sport is one thing – and something that an Olympic Games does well – but keeping them participating in sport is much harder once the Olympics ‘bounce’ has worn off. This is where the notion of legacy has its most important part to play. Once people have been inspired to participate, the challenge is in ensuring that people have access to clubs and facilities to enable them to continue their foray into sports. And it is here that I think London 2012 made the biggest contribution compared to other modern games.

Early on the Olympic bid team realised that London could offer something which many other Olympics had not – legacy. By ‘legacy’ they meant a lasting positive impact felt for many years. While it can be argued that any major event like the Olympics leaves a legacy, it was the focus placed on economic, social, environmental and sporting legacy as a progenitor of regeneration that ultimately set London apart from their competitors and was part of the reason London was awarded the Olympic Games. I think it would be remiss not to point out at this time that although events were held across the country, the Games were London-centric, and the effects of the built legacy are almost exclusively going to be felt in the capital, rather than reaching evenly across all of Britain. It is here where I think the aspiration to ‘inspire a generation’ could fall down. While the new facilities, housing and retail in and around Stratford are world class, they are not enough of a legacy on their own to continue to provide the impetus needed to keep people increasingly taking up sport across the whole country.

Instead, I believe the issue is far more reaching that a simple Olympic Games and a catchy, though laudable, slogan. It is about changing a ‘sport-interested’ nation into a ‘sporting’ nation. That needs more than a few new stadia and an Olympic Games in the capital. It needs sustained investment in sports, robust school-sports programmes, and media coverage commensurate with the merit of the sport, not just the revenue it generates. These issues cannot possibly be addressed by a sporting event, even one as massive as the Olympics. It can only be tackled by ‘big government’ paying special attention to funding of sport as a key goal – school sports, ‘grassroots’ programmes, local facilities, regional facilities and a continuing focus on ensuring success on the international arena by Britain’s athletes. The Olympics provided the ‘spark’ of inspiration, but it is up to the government to ensure that the spark can be ‘ignited’ into long term participation in sport.

Returning to the original question – “Did the Olympics inspire a generation?”

My answer – “Not yet”. However, I think that with local and national government backing of school sports programmes, local clubs and ‘grassroots’ sports activism it could. Without this, it is almost certain that the Olympics ‘spark’ will fizzle out, making the ‘bounce’ of the last year look like a bit of a damp squib.

Keep being sporty people!


Get Going, Get Running!

About getgoing-getrunning

Hi, I’m Bernie and I’m a just guy who writes about the things which get me going and get me running, even though my running is never going to result in me standing on a podium!

Posted on July 17, 2013, in Articles, Blog, Miscellaneous and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on London 2012 : Inspiring a Generation?.

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