I told you so – 10 things forgotten when making the 2012 Olympics legacy promise

Recent news coverage and studies on the London 2012 Olympics reveal that the promised legacy of more young people playing sport hasn’t materialised. I’m not surprised.  In my case, I can say I told you so and got some heat for doing so a year before the event.

Back in August 2011 – pre the London 2012 Olympics – I wrote a blog and did some various comment pieces on 10 things forgotten in the Olympics Legacy Strategy.  It got quite heated at the time with a few nasty calls from official bodies having a go. It was picked up as a source for various media.  Given the Olympic feel good hype – I also got the kill joy comment and I suppose you won’t be going.  Nope, I went.  I took my kids. I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was just pointing out then – and indeed can do again now – that the claimed objectives for the games didn’t stack up up with evidence or the strategic plans. The reason we’d won the pitch, the talk and hype were all vapour.  To put it another way, if you wanted a legacy of young people playing more sport you wouldn’t have spent the money on the Olympics. It you want to find another reason for funding the Olympics – urban regeneration (questionable), feel good, raising London Profile overseas…you are welcome.  However – nobody should commit to such a big goal, with such a huge big spend and then be allowed to backward engineer objectives to fit it.  It’s time to fess up and admit the truth. It shouldn’t be a surprise.  I could point out 10 reasons a year before any athlete turned up. The truth was it was a convenient piece of spin because lots of people wanted to do the Olympics – but it wasn’t the truth. Or it was the truth – somebody should be held to account for not delivering the objectives.

I’ve republished my 10 forgotten things as they appeared first time below. There is no hindsight. I haven’t changed a word. Unlike the budget for the Olympics!  I fume every time I hear we brought this project on budget by a politicians.  It is utter bollocks.  It is only on budget after it was revised upwards several times!

So… won the Olympic Bid on a promise of leaving a legacy of more young people playing sport in the UK. We actively slagged off previous Olympics whose legacy was white elephant arenas in our bid presentation. So pitch won – mind the gap in the strategy to deliver it. It is more distance of a javelin than height of the high jump.  Here are just 10 gaps that came to my mind over 2 years ago:

  1. Where were the proper measurement objectives for the legacy? On  Insidethegames Jim Cowan points out that any obvious pre & post target for a legacy is what Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister, said in the presentation. “Our vision is to see millions more young people in Britain and across the world participating in sport and improving their lives as a result of that participation.” Having hunted around I found the wooliest of Labour Government legacy targets: “Getting people more active: help at least two million more people in England be more active by 2012 & inspiring young people through sport: offer all 5-16 year olds in England 5 hours of high-quality sport a week & all 16-19 year olds 3 hours a week by 2012″. If familiar with political promises, you may notice that the 5-16 year old wish is just recasting what should happen naturally in schools as a new target. Language like “offer”  & “help” are not the same as “participate”. The 2m target is rather a small round number (including what should happen in schools anyway). As we don’t know what it was before, or how it will be measured, it doesn’t really matter. The current govt scrapped these targets. Instead, they have new participation targets linked to funds for sports bodies: for example, the ECB deliver 270,000 people playing cricket. More sensible, it would seem, but these targets are linked to funding. So if cricket misses its target it gets less government money.  If you can spot how the way the Olympics concept is being built links into participation in these sports – you are a better man than me – though Archery will be staged at Lords!
  2. What if I spent money on actualy providing sport opportunities for young people vs bidding for the Olympics? The 270,000 target of increased participation in cricket for the ECB isn’t helped by the systematic removal of playing fields and time for sport in the school curriculum.  It has occurred  in the UK from government to government for numerous years. The UK is unlike many other countries. Funding and support of sport is not seen as a government responsibility. Intead, its deligated to quangos with some targets and some funding. So a few hundred £m has been siphoned off to bodies like Sport England to create an Olympics participation legacy working with local authorities. At the same time £625m is going back the other way from London Council taxes to pay for the Olympics. A current extimate is that it will cost the UK over £9bn to stage the Olympics – roughly 3 times more than the original claimed. Maybe there are alternative ways the £9bn could have been spent to achieve the legacy vision.
  3. The absence of a joined up government strategy for sport. Rather bizarrely late last year the govt announced a plan to slash £162m funding for schools sports partnerships (something it has now done a u-turn on). But it isn’t the just the current government who have a lack of a coherent, consistent and joined up sports strategy. The Labour govt presided over our Olympic bid. They also interfered in an instruction that future UK Ashes games must be live on terrestrial TV. This would have effectively wiped £ms off the funds for the ECB in loss of TV rights. Given that the ECB spends most of its funds encouraging participation – particularly at youth and grass roots level (which the govt doesn’t) – many of the coaches and facilities available to kids would have gone. As the current govt put in its targets for participation among sporting bodies – it also removing the funding for Labour’s previous made up “free swimming initiative”.
  4. Why is there no link or section on the 2012 website to find a local sport to join? With hopefully millions going to the official 2012 website for tickets or curiosity – surely that is a great opportunity to connect young people to play or get involved in a sport locally now? I trawled through the website and could find no mention or link that helped me do just that. There is a section called “get invoved now” – but that is about helping out for free.
  5. Where is the social media strategy for 2012? OK it is still a year away, but the signs of a social media strategy or a campaign to participate in sport isn’t evident.  The official 2012 Olympics Facebook Page has 419 likes and is exceptionally uninspired. There is a thousands of  likes of the Olympics Volunteers page (we need 70,000), but if you volunteered you are not being rewarded with content, info or even good humour.  Surely if a legacy involves more young people participating in sport what you would do on social media would be of primary importance?  Even if just to do it as badly as building a massive user group so that after the Olympics you can post to their wall. “Get off Facebook and actually play some sport!”
  6. Why no positive discrimination in enticing attendees? There is a kids discount for certain events – but not the big ones.  We all now know that the way the tickets were allocated did not ensure that young people were nore likely to attend.  There isn’t  a local area allocation to attend – unless you are a councillor being looked after. Whilst the issue of non-participation by youth in sport is most evident in poorer & more downmarket areas in the UK, the opportunity to provide tickets or an Olympic experience to such groups is hard to see – especially in disadvantaged areas. You can apply for a free or discounted ticket. There is a ballot where school kids can get access if their schols register, but that has been published so late (a reaction possibly to the issues over tickets) that it has come out largely in the school holidays when neither schools or kids are there to apply.  By its very nature it is more likely to be jumped on by Private schools that the state schools with less sports who most need it.
  7. Global image over local substance. The normal London Marathon route that runs through more deprived areas of East London was changed for a more TV pictureque 10km loop in central London for the Olympics. Only after an extended legal and PR battle has Seb Coe promised some (quite small) investment in jobs in the area, that the Torch will run nearby and senior Olympic members will go to Brick Lane and promote local curries. Poorer locals – who have their area decimated with building works and traffic jams, their local taxes diverted, now realise their is no local preference. Residents of Lewisham won’t be getting preference for The Dressage that will take place nearby in Greenwich Park. So the legacy of inspiring future 3 day eventing champions from SE13 may be slower than was planned. Not that there will be any permanent facility left in the Park. Nope – millions of pounds will muck it up from being used to play with the kids, or to walk the dog for a year before and years after – but it will look good on the telly.
  8. There is little evidence that the trickledown effect from major event to participation really exists. The 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games made no measurable impact on immediate post-Games participation rates in the area. Studies have questioned the “role model” thesis, according to which people are inspired to take up sport after watching their heroes. It has been argued, for example, that much of the thinking about the relationship between sporting role models and wider sports participation fails to understand the complexity of processes of learning and behavioural change. Of the research that does exist, an analysis of sports participation in Australia between 1985 and 2002 revealed that in the year following the Sydney Games in 2000, 7 Olympic sports experienced a small increase in participation while 9 declined. There was a similar pattern for non-Olympic sports, with the largest increase in non-competitive walking.
  9. UK government doesn’t have a good record for the legacy of its big idea projects. You struggle to find a grand govt scheme or commercial idea that has worked in the UK. One possible benefit of the Olympics maybe to restore some of the rail infrastructure that has been mis-managed and not delivered by the grand pseudo privatisation plans for our railways and underground. The Millenium Dome was another failed big govt idea.  A huge white elephant created for the Millenium – nobody really attended the exhibition created. The post-exhibition plan had been to convert The Dome into a football stadium which would last for 25 years never materialised. In 2002, it went into liquidation by which time the cost was £789m and a further loss of £1m a month. Meridian Delta eventually picked it up for next to nothing and spent £600m redeveloping it and converting it into what we now knowas the O2 Arena.
  10. The promise for the Olympic Legacy was made by a politician and a former Olympic Athlete. Lord Coe is of course both a great athlete and a former politician. I have no doubt that Lord Coe’s intentions and indeed desire for a legacy of greater participation in sport amongst are youth is true and well intended. However, as Larry Elder American Broadcaster once said in the 1950s when talking about govermnet policy: “A goal without a plan is just a wish”