I think it's safe to say that the London 2012 Olympics Games went far better than anyone could have imagined. We witnessed a spectacular performance from Team GB, the best in over a century, with the likes of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Ben Ainslie elating and inspiring the nation as they fuelled our gold rush. And the backdrop of the Games was just as impressive. London simply sparkled throughout. But after a two-week long advertisement, what's next for London and the rest of the nation? Has the London Games created a lasting legacy that will benefit our economy, society and health for years to come, or could we fail victim to the white elephant curse?
Since 2003, when the bid to host the Olympics was initially debated in Parliament, the focus has been 2012. The debate not only surrounded the preparation, venues and logistics, but what lasting legacies can be achieved beyond the Games. In fact, 75p of every £1 the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) spent on developing the London infrastructure and building new venues was apparently an investment in long-term transformation.
The physical legacy of any Olympic Games (such as stadiums, Olympic villages and city transformations) is always apprehensively watched when the curtains are drawn on each event. Many impressive stadiums and venues built over the decades now sadly stand empty, unused and neglected. The 36 venues Greece built or updated when it hosted the Games in 2004 are now almost all derelict. Given the current state of Greece's economy, I find myself wincing when I think about the 13 billion Euros that was spent to stage the Athens Games. More recently, even mighty Beijing has struggled to generate revenue from most of its Olympic venues.
But hopefully London has learnt from past mistakes. Clear plans are set to transform the Olympic village into affordable housing, with community health centres and sports facilities at the heart of the design plans. The Olympic park, to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will hopefully remain a focal point of the city, with plans to use it as a training venue for athletes, as well as the local community.
Of course, it's not just the physical legacy that we can draw upon following the Games, but the thousands of programmes and initiatives that have been developed for both the UK and countries around the world, creating social, economic and sporting legacies globally. The International Inspiration programme, for example, has helped more than 12 million young people in 20 countries experience sport. In the UK alone, around 900 sport projects have been set up to encourage people to get active. And earlier this year, the UK Government announced a £1 billion, five-year youth and community strategy to inspire young people to get more involved in sport.
The Games has most certainly put sport and health back on the map, and the 'feel good' factor the Olympics has left behind seems to have inspired many people to dust off their trainers. The Home Run initiative in London, for example, has seen a rapid growth in the amount of people swapping the tube for trainers to tackle the daily commute. As athletes became central to our daily lives and Olympic coverage took over TV, radio and newspapers, sport seems to have suddenly become a high priority for many. Only time will tell if the effects will be long lived, but with so many Games-related programmes firmly in place across the whole country, a sustainable change to the health of our nation could well be achieved.
Opinions will differ on the expense of the London Olympic. While many economists argue that major sporting events rarely pay off, the UK is anticipating £13 billion in directly-related revenue over the next four years. This is a indeed a lofty aspiration and unfortunately we won't know for years what the cash back will be from the 2012 Olympics, if ever at all. Whatever our fate, I hope that most of us reflect on the greatness that has been achieved. London 2012's billboard slogan was 'Inspire a Generation' and I, for one, believe it may have done just that. In difficult times, the UK pulled together and delivered. I feel a sense of unity and pride, and hope the Olympic afterglow lasts for years to come. The debate firmly remains - could we afford it? The answer is most likely probably not. But was it worth it? Just ask the Mobots...
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