Sport : Other Sports

Legacy the biggest challenge

24th December 2012, 10:19am

What now for the Olympic Stadium?

What now for the Olympic Stadium?

Martyn Ziegler reflects on London's Olympic year by wondering what the Games' legacy will ultimately be.

It is a mantra that Sebastian Coe has repeated for the last nine years - the Olympics in London were never just about two weeks of the best sporting spectacle ever to be staged on British soil.

Legacy was the buzzword that figured high up in London's original bid, and was also the weight on the shoulders of the organisers as they planned for 2012 and beyond.

The legacy of the Games, both Olympics and Paralympics, is both physical, in terms of world-class sporting facilities and a regenerated eastern block of London, and personal - the drive to increase sports participation across all age groups but particularly the young, and to boost the level of elite British sport.

In terms of the physical legacy, much is in place, but the issue of the future of the Olympic Stadium remains unresolved despite West Ham being named as

preferred bidders. No financial deal has been done, and a degree of uncertainty still remains.

The delay means the London Legacy Development Corporation has pushed back the reopening date to at least 2015 and perhaps even 2016, much to the frustration of UK Athletics which wanted to start holding events there by 2014.

UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner said recently: "All of the legacy use was scheduled to start in two years' time and now it might be four years.

"That strikes me as ludicrous, a paralysis of decision-making, which I hope the Mayor (of London, Boris Johnson) is going to cut through.

"I wouldn't say this is a Whitehall farce but this is fast becoming a Stratford farce."

The burden of the L-word has now been taken on in terms of sports participation. The good news is that the most recent active people survey by Sport England has shown there has been a significant boost in participation as a result of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The grassroots funding body said that the number of adults playing sport at least once a week had increased by 750,000 in the past year, a record increase.

But school sport remains a big issue and Coe has admitted his "frustration" at the apparent failure to tackle this issue.

The London 2012 chairman, now both adviser to the Prime Minister on Olympic legacy and the new chairman of the British Olympic Association, said he regretted the Government's action on school sport ahead of the Games.

Education secretary Michael Gove axed the £162million set aside for a national network for competitive school sport, though that has been partially reinstated after an outcry.

Coe said: "It is frustrating still to have this as a key area of discussion when we should be driving this part of the legacy forward.

"I wish we had approached the issue about school sport and sustainable school sport in the state system in a more consensual way. I find it frustrating that off the back of the sport we have witnessed, the role models that have emerged, that we are still discussing the future of school sport in the state sector."

One funding legacy that Coe has supported is to maintain the £125million-a-year public funding for elite sport until Rio 2016.

He added: "You can never spend too much on elite sport. It will always be the greatest driver of sporting participation and we should be unashamed about that. Those British moments, those international moments that we've seen in those venues will do more than anything else to inspire people to take up sport," he said.

"Of course, you have to have the right structures in place to deal with that demand. Be under no illusion, you do not get excellence on the cheap. There is a dividend you reap across the whole of sport if you have the right people doing the right things at the right time in the best-stocked shop window you can possibly have, which is the Olympic Games.

"Those Team GB athletes will be the greatest driver of participation we've had in this country in the last 20 years."

Coe also hailed the Paralympics as creating a "seismic effect in shifting public attitudes" with swimmer Ellie Simmonds, wheelchair racer David Weir and sprinter Jonnie Peacock all becoming household names.

He said: "We set a goal to create awareness, I really think we have done that in helping converting some of those extraordinary talents into household names.

"I really genuinely think we have had a seismic effect in shifting public attitudes. I don't think people will ever see sport the same way again, I don't think they will ever see disability in the same way again.

"One of the most powerful observations was made to me, by one of our volunteers, who talked about having lifted some of the clouds of limitation."

Research showed eight in 10 British adults said that Paralympics 2012 has had a positive impact on the way disabled people are viewed by the public.

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