The Olympic legacy: searching for the promised benefits

For me, the Olympics passed by like they were hardly taking place, despite the fact that I live within two miles of the site. First of all, I don’t have a TV. Apart from international football, I rarely make the effort to watch sport – if I do it’s when there’s a TV on offer and I’ve eaten too much for lunch on Sunday at my parents house.

Secondly, I rarely use public transport so I wasn’t exposed to the masses of tourists packing the tubes and buses to brimming point.

Thirdly, when out and about in my local area, the only tourists I saw were on buses. This was always going to be the case, even though the Government promised above average trade for London’s smaller, local businesses. A friend even said he talked to a taxi driver on the way home from the pub last week about the number of fares he’s collected dropping like a stone – he said he put it down to Londoners working from home or leaving the country to avoid a much busier London.

So, what are the tangible benefits of the Olympics? Are taxpayers like you and I who paid for it going to receive anything back? The answer is yes, but another question to ask is the benefits for those that aren’t even located in London?

Some UK and international newspapers have recently run articles that say the main (or only!) benefit Londoners and indeed those in other parts of the UK is a kind of Olympic happiness – a satisfaction that as a country we did well in terms of the number of medals won. Personally, this doesn’t apply to me and I find it hard to believe it will last anyway, particularly once the good weather disappears.

The ‘disposable’ basketball arena

David Cameron’s coalition wants the Games to inspire Brits to take part in more sport – the effect of the Olympics in Sydney didn’t do the job. Why would it here? The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson said earlier this month that he wants to see British schoolchildren made to do two hours of sport a day to capitalise on the Games’ ‘inspiring’ effect. How exactly millions of underfunded schools will be able to accommodate youngsters wanting to play beach volleyball or even swim regularly beats me.

One of the real tangible and concrete legacies is the transport infrastructure and buildings built for the Games. The Athletes Village is to be converted into affordable housing, right next to Stratford Station, which has some of the best transport links in London.

What isn’t so clear is if the facilities that so much of our money was spent on will be available for our use, and when. Also, what use is an Olympic-sized swimming pool to a family of five with a household income of £18,000 living in Hull?

Some of the facilities are temporary and will be taken down after the Games are finished, including the basketball court, shooting range and water polo building are all to be disassembled upon completion of the Games and transported elsewhere. The water polo building is being shipped up to Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This is an innovative way of spreading the benefits of the London Olympics to other parts of the country, but you have to ask yourself how many people will use it unless its converted into a pool where you don’t have to play water polo.

Hackney Wick Flyover, an area given a new lease of life with The White Building

One of the more interesting facilities being left behind is The Hackney Wick Fish Island Cultural Centre, also known as The White Building. With space for events and boasting several cafes and small art galleries, it adds to the Borough’s cultural wealth. Hackney is already a hub for young entrepreneurs (look at the Silicon Roundabout), and over the past couple of decades has become increasingly gentrified. Boris Johnson said of the White Building: “Not only will this be a wonderful resource for communities and local artists, it will help drive new skills and jobs in the area.”

However, in East London and in particular Hackney house and rent prices have shot up – this isn’t good for the local community. Many are being forced to live further out in suburbs like Dagenham if they don’t earn a high enough wage.

A lot of politicians have talked of the Games putting London ‘on the map’. I think this is a load of hot air – London is already very much on the map. It’s one of the most important financial centres in the world, it is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year and English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The Olympics will do little to add to London’s global significance – the attention it has received over the past several weeks will be passed on to Rio in 2014 when it hosts the World Cup.

Along with a lot of other people, I believe the real winners are the sponsors and companies who had a financial stake in the Olympics. The thousands of new jobs the Government promised will fail to materialise, the UK population as a whole won’t benefit from the facilities that have been built and British people won’t suddenly start taking up exotic new sports en masse.


One comment

  1. I agree with a lot of what you say but for those of us who did watch the Olympics live or, as I did, on the excellent BBC TV and Internet coverage, there was a chance to see the UK do something well.

    I understand that not all of the infrastructure that has resulted will be reusable and it is, as ever, stuffed into the South East of the country. But the event has created many jobs over several years. The infrastructure element is exactly the sort of enterprise that this government should be spending money on rather than just giving the banks money to stuff into their balance sheets. We need to get the economy moving and infrastructure projects are, I think hat we need.

    And your point about the Olympics creating “a kind of Olympic happiness” are right I think. I believe the Olympics gave us a re-affirmed sense of identity and worth. The opening ceremony underlined our legacy to the world – not always edifying but broadly positive I believe, our humour and ability to laugh at ourselves, and simply our creativity when the chips are down. The events themselves showed the value of investment in sports but also our sportmanship and recognition of good performances regardless of race, religion, sex or allegiance.

    And this brings me to the final point of the Olympics for me – hopefully one that will be underlined by the Paralympics. That is that it has been a great event for the promotion of equality. Yes is all about winning and the best prevailing over the rest. But it is also about the taking part and it was as encouraging to watch Saudi women taking part and West African rowers as it was to see a Somali heritage runner bringing home gold for Britain or Jessica Ennis and others waving the flag for female British athletes. The Olympics brings out and demonstrates the best but it also is a great equaliser.

    Watch the Paralympics on your PC and maybe you will get into a bit more before it moves on.

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