Friday, 3 August 2012

What will the Olympic legacy be?

The Olympics have dominated the news over recent months, though the big question now is what will the legacy be?

The recent bunglings of the private contractors G4S have no doubt given many in the unions and labour movement hope that it might mark the turning of the tide on the government's idealogical push to privatise the public sector. As soldiers and police move in to pick up the security slack - is this the end of the private good, public bad mantra - we can only hope. What though beyond this?

Legacy is something that has never been far from the surface ever since London won the bid back in 2005. At that time then London Mayor Ken Livingstone admitted a motivation for him was using the games as a way to get investment into east London. The bid team admitted that of past games they had looked to Barcelona as their model.

The Barcelona games of 1992 had regeneration at the forefront, with plans for four clusters of sports complexes around the town, with a 30 mile new road joining them together. The village housing 15,000 athletes was built in the derelict docklands to the east of the City.

The legacy has endured, providing development, housing and a better transport system. There are obvious parallels with the present Olympic site in Stratford, east London.

The Sydney games of 2000 have also provided a lasting legacy, with the main stadium downsized and handed over for private operation. The sports facilities are in use and additional housing provision resulted.

The past two Olympics though offer less hope, with the Athens site derelict. No effort has been made at redevelopment since 2004, with the various stadia rapidly morphing into the most modern form of Greek ruin.

Beijing seems to have morphed into a monument, a mark of China’s emergence as a world economic superpower but little beyond that.

So what will happen in London? The organisers certainly have lofty ambitions. At the heart of the bid was the desire to get 2 million people to take up sport and physical activity, something that notably no recent Olympics has managed to achieve.

The government’s legacy plan includes transforming the heart of east London, making the Olympic park a model for sustainable living and inspiring young people to volunteer.

These are all fine aspirations but what is really likely to be the outcome.. There are the stadia, with the plans for development after the games. Local Premiership football team West Ham United look set to become one tenant.

The Olympic Park will become the Queen Elizabeth Olympics Park after the games. This will provide sporting facilities for locals and elite athletes, as well as thousands of homes for sale and rent – half are to be affordable.

The sustainable legacy of the games in environmental terms seems assured with buildings constructed for low energy usage.

Other elements of the sustainable legacy though are less encouraging. Meredith Alexander resigned as a commissioner for a sustainable London 2012 due to the involvement of a number of multinational companies with dubious human rights records, most notably Dow Chemicals.

She specifically objected to the involvement of Dow Chemicals with its links to the Bhopal chemical works, where thousands died in 1984. Though Union Carbide were the owners at the time of the accident, Ms Alexander claims there are ongoing effects up to the present day.

Dow Chemicals together with BP and Rio Tinto are among the sponsors of the games.

Other companies with involvement in the games include McDonalds and Coca Cola. This has helped to create the image of the games as a corporate fest.

This impression has gained momentum before the Olympics with the seeming impossibility for many people to obtain tickets. Now the empty seats. This has gone down particularly badly in the east London area that suffered most disruption and had to pick up many of the bills resulting from the games.

There is a perception in the East London area that the whole thing has come in as something separate, not bedded in the community at all. And once the games are over it will depart in similar style.

So the jury is out on what the legacy of the London games will be. There is much hope and promise that the legacy will deliver on the rhetoric. The development in east London, the enduring sporting facilities and greater participation in sport. The danger though is that once the Olympic caravan moves on that the pressure on those charged with delivering the legacy will ease. There is also the danger that those privateers will surface again.

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