“London 2012’s ambition is to create a Games for everyone, where everyone is invited to take part, join in and enjoy the most exciting event in the world” ( www.london2012.com ). This is a laudable aim for those who are charged with the responsibility for producing the Games in London. The aim of this study is to look at the potential impact of hosting the Games for Britain and how this reflects the ideology of those who are running it.
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In order to assess the potential impact of the Games on Britain, one needs to investigate the success or otherwise of other major sporting events that have been staged in the past. The most notable or should I say notorious failure in terms of the Olympics was the Montreal Games; Henry Aubin, a Canadian newspaper columnist commented that the Games had been “a financial disaster. There has not been a single successful legacy of the Olympics” (from Evening Standard, Nov. 2006). The event itself was poorly organised from the start, with the result that it took the organisers thirty years to pay for the Games in their entirety; this is something that Lord Coe and his team need to bear in mind.
In more recent times, Olympic Games have been run much more efficiently and have left not only a financially positive mark, but also left a legacy in terms of facilities and economic benefits which reflected not only the efforts but the ideology of those who were in charge. In Barcelona the people of the city and indeed the Spanish nation as a whole were involved in the project. The organisers realised that they needed the wholehearted support of the people, particularly the citizens of Barcelona. Their attention to detail was very impressive, even down to inviting comments to be made about road improvements before going ahead with them to give the people a sense of ownership of the developments that were taking place. The ideology that is being reflected here is that the Games are for everyone and that all can have an active part in its ultimate success (or failure). The city already had a good deal that was positive about it before plans to hold the Games began, not least a hugely successful football team in Barcelona FC along with their impressive stadium. The organisers highlighted the need for urban redevelopment to provide better facilities for the people in terms of sport, leisure, art, media, housing and transportation. Their other concern was to develop the tourist trade by improving the overall image of the city and the surrounding areas. It was evident that “…there was a clear strategy for the post-event use of this area, which has subsequently become part of the city’s tourist attractions and as such, seems to have had a positive effect on the city” (Roche 2000, P 145). The philosophy was clear from the outset – the desire to provide an excellent Games to reflect well on the city at the same time as providing benefits for the people of Barcelona in the long term through redevelopment and through tourism. The organising committee commented that “the … direct beneficiaries are the citizens of Barcelona whose surroundings have been immeasurably improved” (Roche 2000, P 144). This statement is borne out by the physical improvements that were left in the city; a new waterfront and residential area, a new international airport, two new skyline communication towers, six new sports stadia (with another being extensively refurbished), a new museum of contemporary art, a remodelled Catalonian arts museum and new media facilities. Roche (2000, P 144) concludes that “the social policy aim was successfully achieved through, among other things, the new sports facilities, transport and housing built in a deprived city area.”
The aims of the organisers of the Manchester Commonwealth games were along similar lines, “to leave a lasting legacy of sporting facilities and social, physical and economic regeneration” (www.gameslegacy.co.uk). The ideology of the government and the local organisers was one of progressive development across a number of areas through sound investment, marketing, planning and implementation. The New East Manchester Partnership aimed to double the local population, to build new homes, to create a new town centre with a large area for retail provision, to create a business park and to construct a £100 million sports complex with a 48,000 capacity stadium. The Sportcity complex includes the City of Manchester Stadium, the Regional Athletics Arena, the National Squash Centre, the National Cycling Centre, the Regional Tennis Centre, the English Institute of Sport and numerous hotels, bars, cafes, restaurants and a superstore. The benefits of this complex alone include £151 million investment in sports and leisure- a large amount of which was secured from Sport England (£165 million split between facilities construction and the provision for the athletes themselves), local people being involved in building the venues, community access guaranteed through targeted sessions at the venues, facilities being made available to local schools and clubs as well as people being trained as local sports coaches. “The transformational impact of Sportcity, in particular in re-positioning East Manchester as an attractive area to invest, would not have been possible without the Games” (Manchester City Council from www.gameslegacy.co.uk). Over the next fifteen years the area expects to attract in the region of £2 billion of investment from both the private and public sectors as a direct result of staging the Games and enabling people to rediscover Manchester as both a business and tourist destination.
Both of these events and the subsequent positive effects that have been seen and felt by the community and the nation have led there to be a drive to stage further large events either in the country or even in the cities themselves. These successful ventures have led to an increased desire for the ‘feel good factor’ that is generated to be sought again. The communities in both Barcelona and Manchester fully supported the events that were being staged, which was evidenced by the huge demand for tickets for both Games. Hence both Spain and the United Kingdom have bid to host subsequent major events, with London securing the 2012 Olympic Games.
The reasons behind the London bid for the Olympics are many. The bid began with the vision of the British Olympic Committee who felt that following the success of the Manchester Commonwealth games in terms of planning and eventual delivery, a credible case could be made for London to host the 2012 Games. The Mayor of London and the government were encouraged to see the vision for the future of sport in the United Kingdom and “strategies were developed and deployed around regeneration, legacy, employment, tourism, new housing and health of the nation” (www.olympics.org.uk). The ideology that is displayed here is one of community, encouraging the nation to take part in a global sporting event just for the event in itself but also for the improvement of the nation in a number of ways; the kudos of running a global event would put the United Kingdom in the spotlight and potentially lead to foreign investment for the economic betterment of the country as a whole; the opportunities for employment both pre and post Games; the chance to enhance the lives of those in the East End of London through the provision of new housing and sports facilities as well as the regeneration of a very run down area of the capital; the opportunity to improve the health of the nation as a whole (particularly its children) through increased awareness of sporting opportunities provided across the country and through a better understanding of the need to eat a healthy diet. There is also the direct sporting legacy which will exist as a result of the provision of world class facilities which can be accessed by both elite athletes and the general public. The ideas could not solely be based on the sporting angle and had to be a multi-dimensional benefit package in order for the government to be willing to underwrite the whole venture. A successful Games would bring untold benefits not only to the capital but the country as a whole; Baroness Valentine eluded to this when she said “the 2012 Games offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform an exhilarating but rundown part of London and, most importantly, transform the lives of people who find themselves excluded from London’s booming economy” (Evening Standard March, 2007).
Those who were opposed to hosting the Games focused on the negative experiences of the cities who had made huge losses in the past and the fact that the direct benefits would only be felt by those in London and the surrounding area (with the notable exception of the sailing venue). Many highlighted the ideological vision of inclusion and opportunity for all as being undermined by the way that little consideration had apparently been given to hosting more of the events away from the capital and the financial effect that this event might have on the United Kingdom as a whole. Glyptis (1989) comments that when looking back on major events such as the Olympics, “virtually all provision had been made on the basis of assumed need and assumed benefit” which was rarely backed by evidence. Pete Wishat, Scottish Nationalist Member of Parliament for North Tayside voiced concerns when he said “I am strongly opposed to the UK taxpayer underwriting the entire cost, regardless of what that cost my finally be – and particularly when there is a very real danger of the London bid soaking up lottery funding from Scotland and elsewhere in the UK” (Daily Telegraph December, 2003). The experiences of the problems with the Millennium Dome also loomed large in people’s minds with regard to the eventual use of the facilities that were proposed for the Olympic Park. They did not want to have a financial millstone around their neck. They also voiced their concerns over the legacy that would be left – how could guarantees be given with regard to not only the facilities but also the sporting legacy for elite athletes and benefits to the nation as a whole through increased participation?
Supporters of the event held a different and ultimately successful view; “increasingly sports events are part of a broader strategy aimed at raising the profile of a city and therefore success cannot be judged on simply a profit and loss basis” (Gratton, Henry, 2001 P 36). The National Heritage Committee (1995) stated that “it is clear that bids to stage major sporting events… can operate as a catalyst to stimulate economic regeneration even if they do not ultimately prove successful.” They drew upon the experiences of the organisers of the Manchester Commonwealth Games who were left with a superb legacy in terms of urban regeneration, better sporting facilities for all and increased employment opportunities. “The Games are a shot in the arm for the UK economy at this difficult time, offering jobs on the Olympic Park for the previously unemployed and millions of pounds worth of contracts for UK businesses” (John Armitt, www.london2012.com). The lasting effects of a venture such as this can be seen above through the experiences of Manchester following the hosting of the Commonwealth Games.
The Western Mail (2005) stated that “while other nations boasted of their ability to run a smooth Games, Lord Coe’s team told the world how much it would mean to the future of this country and the Olympic movement if London was given the opportunity to stage the 2012 Games.” Lord Coe continued the theme of legacy when he said “we’re serious about inspiring young people because they will be touched most directly by our Games” (The Mirror July, 2005). There is also the ‘feel good factor’ of improved mood and morale in the country which can never be underestimated, as was evidenced by the huge crowds for the parade held in London for the medallists from the Beijing Olympics – “even though they are not present at a sports event, millions may gain benefits of this nature from it” (Gratton, Henry 2001 P 31). Many more can be reached as a result of the influence of the media and the blanket coverage that an event such as this receives and this has been a factor which has made sport far more important to all nations in recent years (Houlihan 1997). This has the effect of “enhancing the market benefits to the cities” (Gratton, Henry 2001 P 37) in terms of business investment and tourism and it also enables millions to be inspired by the efforts of others to participate in sport themselves.
Overall the evidence that is available covering recent major sporting events would indicate that there will be a positive legacy for both London and the UK as a whole in hosting this event, as “…the real value of the games comes from being associated with the Olympic image” (Burbank; Andranovich; Heyling; Rienner 2001 P1). The plans that have been drawn up for the urban redevelopment, the creation of employment opportunities, increased tourism as well as the benefits of increased participation in sport, alongside better facilities for the training of elite athletes should bring the legacy for which the organisers are hoping. They reflect the idea that there must be an investment in the future if there are to be long term benefits across a variety of areas for the benefit of the largest amount of people possible.
The implications of hosting an event like the Olympics for elite athletes and the general public are enormous. The elite athletes need world class facilities in which to train and prepare for major events and “more recently the government has sought to narrow the focus of sport policy, giving priority to a more limited range of sports and concentrating on youth/school sport and elite development” (Houlihan 1997 P 46). This will have the dual effect of producing the elite athletes of the future, while providing for the people who are at the top of their chosen field now. This follows the idea that sport is for all and that all should be provided with the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. A glowing example of this effect is the success of the British Cycling team in the Beijing Olympics. Having been able to utilise the velodrome in Manchester (specifically constructed for the Commonwealth Games in 2002) as a training base and centre of excellence, their results in both the Olympics and the recent World Championships have been staggering. They not only reflect well on the government in terms of their investment but also in terms of the kudos that such results bring to the country as a whole. This in turn has brought a ‘feel good’ factor to the cycling community, to the city of Manchester where the team is based and has had an effect on the amount of people who are enquiring about participating in cycling. The investment in elite athletes who achieve success can have a direct effect on the numbers of those who are wishing to become involved with any given sport. Another spin off from this is the training and subsequent employment of coaches within sport to nurture the talent that is emerging as a result of increased participation.
Increased funding to train coaches also has the effect of helping sport at the ‘grassroots’ level. The more coaches that are available, the more people can be involved in the enjoyment of their chosen activity as a part of the community – “community sporting capacity will be improved in a number of ways, such as training and development of volunteers, leaders and coaches…” (London 2012 Community Sports Legacy, www.sportengland,org.uk ). There is a chance to “provide excluded groups with opportunities for participation and inclusion” (Bradford MDC 1997). There is also the opportunity to increase the emphasis that is being laid on sport in schools and for the youth of Britain, in order to foster the idea of a healthy lifestyle in terms of both physical activity and the way that people regard their health.
Media coverage of the event will also have the effect of keeping sport in the public eye in a positive way, highlighting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and encouraging people to become involved in sport. They have a responsibility to continually highlight the facilities that are available, how to be able to contact the national organising bodies for each sport in Britain and the benefits of becoming involved in sporting activity.“The success of the Games will, in part, be measured by the increase in ordinary people taking exercise at new sports facilities…” (Evening Standard 2007). Only long term study will reveal the full extent of the effect of the Games on sport as there needs to be a sustained long term effect rather than ‘a flash in the pan.’
Clearly the UK government and the organisers of the London Games hope that “the legacy of the Games will be twofold. Physically they will bequeath a redeveloped area in and around the Olympics site… the Games are meant to deliver a more sporting nation…” (Evening Standard 2008). The former will be much easier to assess in the short term – the latter will need to be looked at over the months and years following the Games.
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Glyptis 1989 Leisure and Unemployment Milton Keynes: OUP
Gratton, C; Henry, I. 2001 Sport in The City; The Role of Sport in Economic and Social Regeneration London: Routledge
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Bradford Metropolitan District Council Recreation Division 1997 A Strategy For Sport and Recreation; A Framework and Guiding Principles
National Heritage Committee 1995 Bids to Stage International Sporting Events Fifth Report House of Commons London: HMSO
Daily Telegraph December 29, 2003 from www.telegraph.co.uk
Evening Standard November 22, 2006 Monster Truck Races, Dilapidated stands and a Billion Dollar Debt that after 30 Years Will Finally Be Paid This Month – The Warning We in London Must All Heed From The Montreal Olympics
Evening Standard March 1, 2007 MPs and Peers Poised For Revolt over 2012 Raid on Lottery Funds
Evening Standard May 15, 2007 The Councils Who Are Failing to Make London Fit for 2012 Games; Boroughs Not Investing in Facilities
Evening Standard May 15, 2008 The Real Legacy of The Olympics
The Mirror July 7, 2005 London Olympics 2012: Our Golden Generation; Lord Coe Winning The Games For London Can Bring Kids Back To Sport
Western Mail July 7, 2005 Editorial Comment on Olympic Games Which Can Be A Winner For Us All