London 2012 has added to the narrative of positive change created by the Olympics over the years
Sixty-one medals to date (and hopefully more to come tonight!), an impressive opening ceremony that showcased positive British contributions, regeneration for a part of London that was in desperate need of it, and numerous new role models that are inspiring all generations – the benefits of London 2012 are clear. And it’s not just been great for Britain. London 2012 has added to the international, historical moments that the Games have witnessed over the years. It was definitely “worth it”.
Competing on home turf has seen our teams, from across the sports, achieve the best in their careers and bring home the gold. Ahead of us in the medals table are America and China, which isn’t bad going since we’re quite a bit smaller. It just shows you what’s possible when people are determined to achieve something and when their country is behind them – they dig deep to deliver. Certainly inspirational.
The opening ceremony set the tone to the fortnight and I don’t think I’ve ever said “wow –that’s so clever” quite so many times in the space of an hour. The eyes of the world were on East London and I felt so proud to be both British and a Londoner. The sheer number of volunteers involved, giving up many hours of their time beforehand to rehearse, the use of music throughout the ages (though even I would admit Dizzie Rascal got disproportionate airtime!), the dramatic set with the Olympic rings, and, of course, 007 with the Queen and the timeless Mr Bean, were unforgettable. According to research carried out by Hope Not Hate, 90% of the 2000 people who completed their recent survey felt their Britain was represented. I was definitely one of them.
The Games have also helped to develop a greater sense of community cohesion, with the last two weeks giving the nation a great collective focus. My own office has shown the sports on the televisions so we can keep informed and involved, and I have never experienced such a positive atmosphere at my local gym than when I was there as Bolt took the gold, with everyone cheering at the screen, bringing us all together.
But the opening was just one night and the Olympic Games just two weeks, so it is the long term benefit that is most important. Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest were all in need of regeneration before the Games, with high levels of poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage, housing shortages with many living in overcrowded conditions, high unemployment (11.48% compared with the national average of 5%) and a historical lack of economic investment. The Games itself have provided numerous jobs, as well as Westfield Stratford shopping centre, confusingly in East London, providing many local people with employment. But in the coming years, there will also be fantastic sporting facilities and, by 2016, there will be over 10,000 new, high quality homes.
Yet another fantastic long term result of London 2012 is the number of positive new role models we now have – those who are famous for genuine reasons, not just because they’re dating a footballer or have taken part in a reality TV show. The media has reported that many schoolchildren are expressing an interest in taking up new sports, which can only be a good thing for their self-esteem, health and future sports events. I, too, have been inspired. I took up running a little while ago and have signed up to run a half marathon in October to raise money for charity. Training while watching the Games has definitely helped my motivation and I hope to raise more money for Childhood First as a result, a charity that helps children who haven’t had the best start in life. If that’s not a long term benefit, I don’t know what is.
Last, but certainly not least, London 2012 has seen yet more historical moments realised before our eyes and has been a great reminder of those which came before. Watching footage of the Black Power salute made by African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, was a keen reminder of the potential offered by the Games. True, it was detrimental to the athletes’ own careers and the power of it was not appreciated at the time, but the long term benefit towards racial equality is still felt today and was a powerful sign of the change to come. This year, we have seen Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Palestine allow female athletes to compete for the first time. For those who say this won’t have a long term impact, we will have to wait and see, but the potential is most certainly there. To see Muslim, hijaabi women competing and being valued for their ability on the field and track must have been a nightmare for the far right –much as when Smith and Carlos took to the podium all those years ago. Perhaps in 40 years we, too, will look back and see how important this step forward really was.
Was London 2012 worth it? Oh, yes.
If you would like to support my fundraising initiative for Childhood First and find out more about their fantastic work, please click here.
Artwork by Raashid Riza
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