Monday 23, July 2012
What cost an Olympic legacy?
THE Olympics may have come in under budget, but with conflicting reports as to how much revenue will be generated in return, Alex Dorweiler asks just how much an Olympic legacy might cost.
‘Inspire a generation’. Those were the words with which Lord Sebastian Coe, the London 2012 chairman, launched the 100-day Olympic countdown back in April.
That was just over three months until the world’s greatest athletes were set to descend on the British capital in search of Olympic glory.
But in an age of austerity and economic turmoil, inspiration alone isn’t going to be enough to justify the price tag that comes with organizing the games. With an estimated budget of £9.3bn, questions are being raised over the Olympic legacy. Is it a realistic requirement of such a huge sporting-extravaganza or will it be part of the financial burden that is carried by the proud host for decades after?
The potential for a lasting legacy is considered to be the opportunity of a city’s lifetime to treat itself to world-class sporting facilities, boost certain areas of the country economically, and present a nation to the world on the biggest sporting stage possible.
Part of what gave London the edge over rivals Madrid and Paris on that triumphant day in July 2005 was the promise to the International Olympic Committee to regenerate one of the city’s most run down areas.
But in the build-up this promise has been marred by reports of powerless residents being forced out of their homes to be relocated miles away against their will. This may be ‘necessary’ for the greater goal of the Olympic Park being built in East-London, but the planned reinvestment in housing in the area will have to wait.
Margaret Ford of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) has announced that five neighbourhoods of housing are to be built in stages over the next 20 years. According to the plans, Stratford Park will re-open to the public exactly a year after this week's opening ceremony with the rest to follow by Easter 2014.
Whilst it’s still too early to tell how Beijing profited from the 2008 Games legacy-wise, a look back at the 2004 Games in Athens shows ailing post-Olympic fortunes.
In 2009, the editor of sportinggreece.com Barney Spender commented: “The Olympics has failed to inspire a generation of kids. They got the Games in 1997, but then only started building three years before. Nobody had a plan for the legacy. There was no unified structure. It’s a big mess really.”
The estimated £9.4bn cost of the 2004 Games provided the birthplace of the Olympiad with 22 world-class venues. Today, 21 of those lie derelict and abandoned with the Olympic stadium seemingly the only facility still in use.
Having cost up to £500m and rising in maintenance costs, a country that is on the brink of economic collapse is still battling with the financial backlash eight years on and shows little sign of improvement.
The precedent set by the 1976 Montréal Games is not too encouraging either. It took the city’s residents decades until they had paid of its Olympic debt some three decades later in 2006.
As one of the major new builds for London 2012, the Olympic Stadium (left) still needs to be allocated a legacy tenant. Whilst Tottenham Hotspur have diverted their attention to a renovation of White Hart Lane, West Ham United and Leyton Orient are keen to take the venue on after the Games. But what if none of this materializes within the planned time period?
The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney posed a similar stadium issue. Sue Holliday was the chief planner for those Games and admitted: “We didn’t really have a policy for what would happen to the Olympic site after the Games.”
But in October 2001, the 110.000 capacity venue was converted into an oval stadium to focus on some of the big sports Down Under. In London, however, this is something that will be more difficult to replicate as the Olympic Stadium does not appear to provide a similar multi-purpose function based on current proposals.
Of course, the legacy of an event of this size is not just measured by its financial benefits, but also by the increased quality of life for affected communities. Time will tell of the benefits or shortcomings here.
One of the key flaws here is that a lot of Olympic sports may never be practiced in London again. However, the counter argument to that is herein lie the opportunities for cities to encourage mass participation in sport.
As Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, has confirmed that there will be £130m extra lottery-funding to go into the Places People Play initiative to protect and preserve local sporting facilities, it seems that the London 2012 Olympiad is doing everything it can to live up to its Singapore promise and not just become another huge expenditure in an already expensive year.
But with no signs of the economic crisis improving anytime soon, and a dubious line of legacies left trailing in the wake of previous Games, it remains to be seen whether the ideology of the Olympic legacy is appropriate in these austere times.
Inspire a generation? Hopefully, but at what cost?
By Alex Dorweiler
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