One year on from the London 2012 opening ceremony

A year ago today the eyes of the world were on our capital and the unforgettable opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. RACHEL WEARMOUTH asks what legacy they have left behind in the North East

London 2012 opening ceremony
London 2012 opening ceremony

Once the floodgates opened, the whole nation allowed itself to feel a surge of optimism.

And after a concerted build up of news stories seemingly dooming the Games to failure, nobody was expecting it.

Naysayers felt safe predicting a damp squib of try-hard dance troupes, but instead they got a multi-media neon explosion of unmitigated joy.

Others rolled their eyes and foresaw bungled coverage of obscure sports, and not the seamless broadcast of adrenalin-pumping competition from humble and awe-inspiring athletes.

Where we assumed there would be China dominance, there was Super Saturday.

We were blindsided by our own success, or as 22-year-old gold medal rower Kat Copeland put it: “We just won the Olympics.”

But those magical six weeks were 12 months ago and now that the world isn’t watching anymore, what do we really have left?

The justification for making such a bold play with public resources – London 2012 (including the Paralympics) cost three times more than the original budget at �2.4bn – was that there would be a legacy.

Our sports clubs, athletes and our ailing economy were all supposed to get a boost which would benefit future generations from our country putting on the greatest show on earth.

According to a poll by the BBC out this week here in the North East, almost 300 miles from Olympic Park, it seems the Games have had an influence.

Nineteen per cent of people said the Olympics had made them more active – a figure higher than any other region in the UK – while 39% of people here felt the Games had a positive impact on sports facilities.

The majority felt the Games had no impact at all, but proof that isn’t the case can be found at Wallsend Harriers and Athletics Club, in North Tyneside, which had its very own Olympic star in former member Ross Murray.

The 22-year-old competed in the 1,500 metres.

Club secretary Bill Todd said membership in the last 12 months has almost doubled in size with the vast majority of people signing up being juniors (under 17).

Sustaining any momentum can only come with the help (and funding) of groups like the Harriers, especially as the North East is fighting an obesity crisis.

One in nine young people are obese by the time they start school and NHS chiefs fear this trend will continue.

A report from Sport England has revealed 15.3m adults now play sport at least once a week; that’s 1.4m more than in 2005/06, when the Olympic bid was won.

However, the Sport England report also found that more than 52.3% of adults still play no sport at all, and a recent large-scale UK survey showed 25% of boys and 33% of girls aged between two and 19 years are overweight or obese.

It also found that the number of people participating in sport at least once a week has fallen by 200,000.

Some 15.3m people played sport between April 2012 and April 2013, down from 15.5m in October's figures.

Ian Taylor, chief executive of SkillsActive and Olympic field hockey gold medallist, said the legacy in the North East will come from investment in quality coaching staff and facilities.

Ian said: “We know children and young people were inspired by the examples of Team GB’s athletes at the 2012 Olympics.

“Better access to sport and physical activity is the start, but to engage this group of people, a quality experience is needed, and this can only be delivered by appropriately qualified coaches, providers and staff throughout Tyne and Wear.

“Ensuring the workforce in this sector is sufficiently qualified and capable of performing to high expectations will fully engage and reconnect local people and ensure they commit to a fit and healthy lifestyle.

“Skilled professionals can recognise a child’s enthusiasm for sports and physical activities, and help them channel that passion into a legacy of self-belief and self-confidence for a lifetime.

“Inspiring not only future Olympic sporting champions, but an active, healthy population will take concerted, ongoing investment and people development in the sports and physical activity sector. Only by doing so can we ensure the Olympics legacy continues to be realised.”

The North East already has success stories to build on, the obvious one being the Great North Run, but athletes will also look to the Great North Swim at Windermere in the Lake District and families to a series of smaller events such as the Hamsterley Forest 10k in County Durham.

According to the Sport England survey, the Olympic sports engaging people the most are boxing, swimming, tennis and cycling.

British Cycling’s membership has risen to more than 26,000 members in the past year, surging from 49,000 to over 75,000 members, amounting to a 54% year-on-year growth in the number of member.

And the region is feeding the appetite for the sport with the Virgin Money Cyclone challenges, which earlier this month saw thousands of people from amateurs to professionals head to Newcastle to take part.

The riders, among whom was Olympic gold medallist Ed Clancy, clocked up an incredible 240,000 miles between them.

The rise and rise of cycling is also seeing hundreds sign up for the second Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines on October 6.

Durham Cricket Board coach James Wiggan is among those who has committed to the “beautiful but brutal” 78-mile course.

James said: “I’ve always enjoyed cycling, but the success of the Brits in last year’s Tour de France and Olympics really made me want to try something more challenging that my usual cycle route.

“As a coach it’s important to me that I lead by example and try to encourage the next generation to keep fit and active too.

“It’s always a little bit daunting signing up for something new, especially when you’re going to have to train for it, but when I saw that you could sign up for a fund-raising place to cycle for Marie Curie Cancer Care, it was a real incentive.

“It’s brilliant that we have events like this in the North East giving us the chance to participate in world-class events on our doorstep.”

Lottery funding is also playing an important part, including pumping cash into projects like Sportivate.

Its projects include Sunderland City Council’s Lifestyle Activity and Food, which is delivered in partnership with Sunderland City Hospitals and aimed at overweight children and families.

Schoolboy Ryan Harris from Washington, Tyne and Wear, shed the pounds trampolining with Sportivate.

He said: “I now consider myself to be more sporty than I was. I’ve lost quite a lot of weight and gained a lot of confidence.”

Sport England’s director of community sport Mike Diaper said: “The key to Sportivate’s success has been listening to what young people want from sport locally and then offering a great sporting experience at times and places that fit with their lives.”

StreetGames has also been working with the Co-operative to put the Olympic legacy into practice with its volunteers programme.

It gives young people aged 16 to 25 in deprived communities, including parts of Newcastle’s West End, sports volunteering opportunities.

Cuts to sports funding has been slashed and controversially the Government scrapped the School Sports Partnerships, leading many high profile figures to say the Government was making a mockery of the Olympic legacy.

Triple-jump legend Jonathan Edwards, from Newcastle, called the loss of the SSPs a “very bad move”.

But Andrew Grounsell, director at North East-based design and technology business _space group and co-founder of specialist division _space sport, says there are still reasons to be cheerful.

He said: “The story of London is not complete, but we have already begun a new chapter of another book.

“The cycle of bidding, short-listing, winning, planning, hosting and staging a major sports event together with the responsibility of bequeathing a legacy, is a complex and protracted journey lasting as many as 10 years.”

He pointed to growth in other former Olympic nations as evidence that the benefits will eventually trickle through to the North East.

He said: “Any major international sports event requires careful master planning from the earliest stages.

“Central to a successful outcome are the competition and training venues themselves.

“Often iconic and inspirational, they must also operate smoothly, quietly and efficiently.

“Equally important is the spectacle of the event presentation itself.

“A memorable fan experience is a prerequisite. Later, political and economic success is often judged by the legacy a sporting event leaves behind when the cameras have all been packed away.”

Thirty-one per cent of people in the North East felt the Games had a positive impact on the regional economy and 23% felt there had been a positive impact on public services.

Conversely, 32% of people here felt the Games were not worth the public investment – almost the highest region for this category – and yet 79% of people in the North East would like to see the Games back in Britain in their lifetime.

While the perception is that the Games saw billions of pounds wasted, a report by the Government has shown the country’s economy got an injection of �9.9bn from the trade and investment from staging the Olympics.

NECC chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “Anecdotally we know that there are regional businesses that managed to secure lucrative Olympic contracts, whether that was during the stadium build, construction of the Athletes’ Village or creation of the other world-class facilities that were built.

“The Olympics will be remembered for providing the greatest sporting event the UK has ever seen, a celebration of all things Britain and some of the most remarkable sporting moments ever witnessed, but perhaps its legacy within the business community will be that it was the catalyst that helped pull the UK out of recession.

“NECC’s Quarterly Economic Survey demonstrates that business optimism began to return in late 2011 and gather pace in early 2012.

“The Games arrived when we were starting to see signs of recovery following four very hard years in recession and delivered a welcome economic boost.”

We know children and young people were inspired by the examples of Team GB’s athletes at the 2012 Olympics

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer