Olympic expectations: can't see the games for the legacy?

Sunday 30 October, 3.45pm until 5.15pm, Café

Next summer, the world’s greatest athletes will be performing at the London Olympics. It ought to be a fantastic spectacle. It ought to be a sporting event to enjoy and to remember. Yet such has been the near endless debate and argument about what will happen after the Olympics – to the stadium, to the park, to the East End, to the nation’s health – that what happens next summer is in danger of being eclipsed. So how and why has a fortnight’s worth of sport assumed such a vast social and political importance? From Ken Livingstone’s claim in 2005 that the Olympics would ‘transform the chances of the children of the East End and break the cycle of poverty’ to the government’s 2008 statement that the games can ‘demonstrate the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, visit and for business’, an enormous socio-political burden has been placed on a sporting festival.

With so much hype about what London 2012 will do for anything from the nation’s waistlines to its economy, there has been a fair degree of cynicism, too. Rumours of ever escalating costs have gone hand with claims that 2012 is not worth it. Everything from the Olympic media centre to the stadium itself has come in for the criticism that the money would have been better spent elsewhere. In the words of one local football club owner, ‘The Olympic Stadium is the biggest disaster and waste of public money I have ever seen’. But should it matter if the stadium proves to be ‘a waste of money’? Should it matter if the facilities built for the games are little used afterwards? Can’t we just enjoy London 2012 in and of itself?

Would it be wrong just to look forward to a fortnight’s festival of sport and forget about its so-called legacy? After all, there’s no doubt a lot of people are actually looking forward to the games, as indicated by the sheer number of people who applied for tickets. Is there a danger that burdening the Olympics with expectations in terms of a whole raft of policy objectives will ruin what ought to be glorious sporting spectacle?

Dr Tim Black
editor, Spiked Review

Dr Beatriz Garcia
head of research, Institute of Cultural Capital; author The Olympics: the basics and The Olympic Games and Cultural Policy

Guy Herbert
general secretary, NO2ID; contributor, Guardian’s Comment is free and Samizdata

Terry James
former headteacher; educational leadership consultant, TKJ Education

Gavin Poynter
professor of social sciences, University of East London; co-author Olympic Cities and the Remaking of London

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
Dr Tim Black editor, Spiked Review
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
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