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London's Olympic legacy not yet assured

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David Bond | 11:17 UK time, Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Legacy. It is now a prerequisite for any potential Olympic host. And it was London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics which set the precedent. Rewind to that triumphant day back in July 2005 and speeches from Sebastian Coe and his team were littered with references to the 'L' word.

In a nutshell, Coe promised London would not only regenerate a run-down part of east London but use the 2012 Games to increase sporting activity in Britain and around the world, particularly among the young. He also promised to re-engage the world with the Olympic movement. And he promised none of the costly venues would become white elephants.

It was a bold vision but proved to be an irresistible argument for the International Olympic Committee, one that ultimately gave London the edge over rivals Paris and Madrid.

But while much hard work has been done and some considerable progress has been made, legacy has consistently been the one area organisers and ministers have struggled with over the last six-and-a-half years.

To get a clearer idea of the difficulties with delivering an Olympic legacy, I am producing a series of films and radio reports on previous hosts, starting with the Australian city of Sydney.

The successful hosts of the 2000 Games, Sydney has been the best template for London's planning. The cultural, economic and sporting parallels are obvious, while the regeneration of Homebush was a clear inspiration for the redevelopment of Stratford.

I travelled to Sydney in January to see, 12 years on, what lessons there might be for London.

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Although Sydney won its bid for the Olympics at a time when legacy was not as important, organisers hoped the Games would nevertheless bring lasting benefits afterwards.

The physical legacy of the Games at Homebush - or Sydney Olympic Park, as it is now known - is clear.

The main stadium was reduced from 110,000 seats to 80,000 following the Games and, tellingly perhaps, the running track was removed. It has proved to be a shrewd move as the privately-run enterprise, known as the ANZ Stadium, now hosts 50 different events a year, mostly field sports.

While I was in Sydney, I saw the first international cricket match to be played at the ANZ Stadium, between Australia and India. It was a rainy night but the game still attracted 60,000 people.

Daryl Kerry, the venue's chief executive, told me if there was one thing London should take from Sydney's experience it is that decisions cannot be taken to satisfy the needs of a two-week event. They have to be made for the long-term benefit of the city and country, something the Olympic Park Legacy Company will no doubt be reflecting again as they await another round of bids for the main stadium next week.

Elsewhere around the Sydney complex, the picture is more mixed.

The aquatics centre was always designed as a community facility. The main 50m pool was retained for schools, clubs and elite swimmers, but there is also a second leisure pool and water fun park. Since it opened in 1997, 17m people have used the facility, which covers its costs.

However, the park, which also houses a national showground, an indoor sports and concert arena and a smaller athletics stadium with a capacity of 5,000, needs a public subsidy of more than £35m a year.

The New South Wales government insists it is worth it. But it was not until 2006 that Sydney developed a proper legacy strategy for the park. It now has clear plans for 2030, with residential and business developments already under way. After a stuttering start, it appears the site is now moving in the right direction.

But in other areas the experience has not been so successful.

On tourism, for example, the Games were supposed to drive a boom in visitor numbers. Instead, they actually declined.

In fairness, the terrorist attacks on New York in 2001 and the SARS outbreak had a negative impact. But tourism officials I spoke to insist that Australia also failed to capitalise on the feelgood factor the Games delivered.

Some, like Andrew McEvoy, the head of Tourism Australia, say that instead of investing in worldwide marketing campaigns to drive home the message, Sydney sat back and expected the world to come.

Only now are the figures increasing from 2000 levels, thanks mainly to an increase in visitors from China, a sign that Australia's economy is moving closer to Asia and away from Europe and America.

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary and cabinet minister responsible for the London Olympics, will this week launch a new domestic campaign to use the Games to encourage people to explore the United Kingdom as a holiday destination.

Agencies Visit Britain and Visit England insist £2.48bn will be generated for the tourism industry by the Olympics. Others are more sceptical, arguing the Games will actually deter people from visiting London.

In participation terms, too, the picture is bleak. Australia has an image as a sports-mad country. Yet academics say the idea that hosting the Olympics led to an increase in people getting fit or playing sport is a "myth". Surprisingly, Australia shares Britain's problems with obesity.

London organisers and government ministers say they are aware of the problems experienced in Sydney, still the most memorable Olympics of the last two decades. They must be because they promised to deliver even more from the 2012 Games.

David Bond's special three-part series on Olympic legacy will appear on BBC1's Six O Clock News, News at Ten and Radio 4's Today programme.


  • Comment number 1.

    Would it not have been appropriate to start with the Barcelona Olympics due to the relative success of it?

  • Comment number 2.

    Yet another veiled dig at the Olympics. Get over it - they are 143 days away and with appropriate encouragement and support will be fantastic. Perhaps the contract should henceforth go to Sky to get decent coverage and a professional build up?

  • Comment number 3.

    few misleading comments here in my opinion.

    The track was removed ,as Australia is not regarded as an athletics power house. Indeed athletics is in the third tier of sports.Britain is considered to be more athletics orientated, hence why we host two diamond league events.

    The swimmimg complex in sydney has to compete against many other olympic size pools.Hence, the olympic pool, which ran tours for a few years after the olympics, had to adapt. In London there are very few olympic size pools.

    Tourism in Australia has been effected by a variety of factors, includinn a strong Aussie dollar, making it way more expensive to visit for tourists from countries whose currencies are not performing so well.

  • Comment number 4.

    Somehow hosting the Olympics will generate a long term increase in tourist numbers? 1. Who hasn't heard of London already? and 2. would a nice trip out to see the locked up Olympic venues be in anyone's London Top 10 in 2016?

    The legacy is an embarrassing "lie" to win the hosting rights. The main stadium will stay along with the popular sports but the rest will quietly be bulldozed to make way for housing as they did in Sydney.

  • Comment number 5.

    Depends what your definition of 'legacy' is I guess.

    1. There's already a transport infrastructure legacy.
    2. The Olympic village will be an accommodation legacy, although quite why they built them without kitchens to start with is a national disgrace. Are all Olympic athletes so mentally deficient that they might gas themselves or something? You wouldn't need to connect the gas supply until after the games, anyway.....
    3. The wild water facility already has legacy plans in place.
    4. The digital park has already started attracting multinational tenants.
    5. Major plans are already in place for at least four communities of housing, not to mention a new school on the park.

    From what I can see, the big issue is about the main stadium and the swimming pools. You can argue until you're blue in the face about why extra money was spent on designs which weren't retro-convertible for public use, but that's in the past. If you can't get schools and communities to go swimming, don't blame the government. Blame the people.

    I'd be most interested in you writing an accurate piece about the usage of Stade de France, since they HAVE retained an athletics track and it is certainly multi-use. It should be in the national capability to have one stadium designed for both athletics and football/rugby in London. You never know, you could always ask Roman Abramovitch if he would do it, then give him a cut of revenues at London 2017. I'm sure he'd design a stadium properly.....thing is, it's probably cutting it a bit fine now what with planning permission and all that.....

    The other treasonous suggestion would be to sell Wembley to the NFL, on condition that they retrofit Wembley with retractable seating on the bottom Tier and put in an athletics track. Again, I'm not sure if that would happen in time for London 2017, but it's feasible as that stadium WAS designed with that capability in mind.

    If you did one of those two, you could just stop all the bickering and remove the requirement for athletics at the Olympic Stadium.

    I have to say, that if UK can't come up with a successful way to design one stadium for athletics plus other use, a la Stade de France, then we need to tell the world that we are a bunch of thick idiots.......

  • Comment number 6.

    4: turning the athletic village into social housing does provide a lasting legacy.
    and i am sure you said the same thing regarding the Dome, when it was built

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great article highlighting a plethora of points that can easily be backed up with academic research and evidence. This is not an article that aims to slam the Olympics (OG's) and attempt to turn public opinion against them, it is instead offering a more critical view away from all the news and media reports that refer to the OG's as this wonderful event that has no bad things associated with it.
    I think it's great that these more critical points are being revealed to a wider audience, shame the article can only be a few hundred words long as there are tonnes of examples to highlight!

  • Comment number 9.

    7, Mike..... Didn't lose anyone from your family during the blitz, then?

  • Comment number 10.

    @ rjaggar - some good points as usual. Add into that the legacy in terms of the improvement in performance sport and the professional development of sports, athletes, administrators, coaches etc.

    The big problem about the stadium is that despite everyone very clearly being able to predict that the only (financially) sustainable option was a Premier League football club, the London 2012 Games were won on the basis of the promise of an athletics legacy (context - Picketts Lock World Championships shambles, crumbling Crystal Palace). There is nothing wrong whatsoever with the original athletics legacy plan (downsize to 25,000) other than that it cannot and will not make any money.

    What interests me (but seems to have not been made very clear by OPLC yet) is what now happens for the Olympic Stadium between 2013 and 2017, given that we've got to have a 70,000 capacity stadium for the Athletics World Championships in 2017?

  • Comment number 11.

    The real legacy isn't just the sporting venues (which will only be successful if decent operators are in place to run them) but more importantly the community they are trying to create here with great design and infrastructure which includes three schools! There are already clear signs that the surrounding area is going through a change given various developments. Westfield has become a key attractor which is starting the activity here which will continue to thrive as additional housing is developed. Providing four world class venues in close proximity within a new urban park must do something for sport in the uk, and as rjagger notes there a role for people to make this a success.

  • Comment number 12.

    Economic analysis of the impact of the Sydney Olympics showed a short-term boost of 0.2% to the New South Wales economy, offset by tourism losses in other states. There have been no ongoing benefits; as DB indicates, there have been continuing subsidies for use of facilities built for the Olympics.

    Almost all governments bidding for major events, which they subsidise with taxpayers' money, seek to justify them by short-term and ongoing economic benefits. As an economist with a focus on drivers of economic growth over many years, I know of no instance in which such expectations have been met. The UK's "legacy" policy works against long-term viability - witness the rejection of Tottenham's stadium bid, the most viable option.

  • Comment number 13.

    Rjagger, the reason why kitchens are not installed is in fact an IOC requirement and not a national disgrace as you suggest. The buildings are designed so kitchens can be added after the games as efficiently as possible.

    So no national disgrace, totally agree about your other points on legacy

  • Comment number 14.

    Faustino - agreed that it is notoriously difficult to pin economic impact on major events, but there is a body of research emerging, and it's a fairly immature area of study - the London games should see an absolute glut of research and impact analysis which might be interesting.

    Re: Tottenham's bid - I don't believe this was ever a realistic proposal - it was always a big game of bluff with Haringey Council about footing the regeneration bill for the new stadium, and Spurs had the better poker face...

  • Comment number 15.

    David, just to clarify your points...

    The 2000 Games were indeed a raging success and helped re-launch Sydney's (and Australia's) international personality as a modern, vibrant and safe country. The message London will project to the world will be very different, given the obvious differences in history, culture and 'place' in the world.

    But you hugely overplay the success of Home Bush...nowadays the overwhelming majority of Sydney-siders treat Home Bush with disdain. They complain that it is too far away, too expensive, crap for viewing and 'soul-less'. It ordinarily draws terrible crowds.

    The T20 game you saw with 60,000 in attendance was a cricket crowd record for Sydney...and came on the back of the new (and very successful) T20 domestic competition. To put it in context, the last time Sydney had a cricket crowd of near 60,000 was in 1928, whilst Melbourne has never had a T20 crowd UNDER 60,000.

    The crowd was big DESPITE it being at Home Bush...not because of it.

    Big things are expected of London in 2012 and we're confident it will produce a spectacular Games. The legacy London should be aiming for is: safe, modern, successful.

  • Comment number 16.

    The real legacy is already happening, confusion and lack of information in the last 2 or 3 years have hampered businesses all over London who wanted to plan and take advantage and celebrate the olympics. The road plans are a disaster, asking Londoners to work from home, when business is already struggling shows complete disregard for individuals and families requirements who work and live within the city.
    I believe most Londoners were excited when we won the right to stage the games in 2005, but when your business requires daily deliveries or you book your business over a year ahead, even if the roads run smoothly during the games the damage has already been inflicted by the fear and apprehension that fills the void left by weak management and a lack of clear vision from the organisers.
    last year we saw 2 practice events whereby Hyde Park and roads west of the city were closed for cycling and tri athlon events. The press releases were full of praise suggesting that these weekends had gone as planned. I was caught in the resulting turmoil in both cases, the police on duty did not know what was going on, roads were closed different to the ones advertised including Piccadilly, marshalls had faulty radios and some roads remained closed 5 hours after the athletes had gone home. The resulting legacy will be a success for the sponsors and large companies directly involved and extra work and lost income for the many employers, both large and small within the city. I hope that the Olympics does provide the benefits that we are constantly being informed that we are going to receive but it is hard to see where they will come from when theatre and hotel bookings are down and the management refuse to admit that they have large issues to address.

  • Comment number 17.

    The major issue with 'legacy' is apart from working out if venues get used most of it is unquantifiable. Sure tourism figures may go up but what if they were heading for downward trend? Do you count figures for London or the UK in general? Participation in sport is also difficult as it requires people to be 'inspired' what about people who play one sport and get inspired to play another one?

    The issue is will the Olympics inspire other within and outside of the UK? I don't think we'll ever get a concrete figure on that.

    Nice to see some reasoned arguments on here instead of the usual complaints about hating the Olympics but with little reasoning.

  • Comment number 18.

    Been to the aquatics centre to see the trials and the kids loved it, but they are not amongst the lucky ones to get Olympic tickets.

    The frustration with this is that club swimmers and the public will have to wait 18+months while the centre is made fit for purpose! Too many of the ticket schemes seem last minute to placate critics.

  • Comment number 19.

    Some interesting points, the real failing I can see from the legacy is getting school children involved.

    I am a PE teacher in the borough of Sutton and we had to bid (successfully) to get 150 Olympic tickets to give out to pupils, based on how our school was inspiring using the Olympic and Paralympic values.

    We have had very little about getting pupils playing/trying the sports, going to see the Olympic park etc. I really hope this will change soon and hopefully after the games but at the moment it is a travesty!

    We have a very good Athletics track at Sutton and are a good sporting borough. I can't help but feel we as a country and as a city are missing out as little seems to have been done to motviate the next generation!

    I am am huge Olympic fan and cannot wait for the games.

    Lastly, the obesity problem and general problem is I believe a cause of our Western (read American) diet, lifestyle, acceptance of widespread fast food and a general belief that if you aren't amazing at something you shouldn't try (a generalisation based on my experiences).

  • Comment number 20.

    Funny how one legacy the stadium, could have been sorted out just couple years after winning the bid, West Ham offered to buy the stadium if it was built with them in mind (like Man City did) though Seb Co was so blind sighted in thinking it should be a home to athletics and he is wrong, athletics is only a major spector sport once every 4 years. London 2012 will be a success on the face of it. but like every other mega event it will be a overall be a disaster.


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