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As the world gets ready for Rio, what was the true London 2012 legacy?

    A major feature of London’s winning bid for the 2012 Olympics in Singapore was a promise to deliver on a five-pronged legacy plan. This plan included making transport ‘bold’ and a volunteer spirit ‘that lasts’, however in reality, the two main legacy aims of London 2012 were to regenerate the East of London and to inspire the youth into greater sporting participation. It seems that although the investments into infrastructure and transport have contributed to a significant regeneration of the area, sporting participation has not picked up as was hoped.

    From a forgotten accessory to central London, the Stratford and Newham area has been rejuvenated by a games which brought £9 billion of investment. Stratford is the second most connected part of London after King’s Cross with two underground lines, the Docklands Light Railway and even a javelin train. In stark contrast to the images of Greece’s degrading Olympic facilities, the London 2012 permanent venues are being put to good use: The Copper Box, aquatics centre and Velopark are all being used by local communities as sporting facilities; the landmark Olympic Stadium is being used by West Ham and; the previous media centre (now called Here East) is being developed into a digital and creative industry hotspot. Life around the park has been rejuvenated too, the Westfield Stratford shopping centre (which opened in 2011) is home to a busy hub for shoppers and diners alike. Perhaps most importantly, given the issue of extremely high housing prices in London, flats used by athletes during their three-week stay are being renovated and new blocks are planned to be built to provide housing for locals. The previous Olympic village has been rebranded as East Village and is home to 2 818 units with around a quarter to a half aimed at being ‘affordable housing’.

    It is clear that significant renewal has occurred in this new East London paradise. However, some argue that this would have happened anyway: for example, there were plans for the Westfield shopping centre to be built before London was even awarded the Olympics. It is likely that the Olympics provided the momentum and spark needed to ignite renewal in the area. Nigel Hugill, the executive chairman of Urban & Civic, said that the Olympics ‘accelerated private initiatives and turned them into political imperatives…’ giving the example of when he ‘tried to persuade [the energy company] EDF and the National Grid to bury pylons in Lower Lea Marshes in order to clear the Westfield Stratford site for building. I had little success until after the Olympics was won and the contract was awarded to bury the pylons’. Thus, London 2012 looks likely to live up to one of its main legacies at least as it has sparked an unprecedented renewal of East London.

    Despite the positive effects on the East of London, it seems that the Olympics have not been able to do nearly as much with regards to increasing sports participation. In July 2015, the proportion of people in the lowest income bracket playing sport hit its lowest level since records began in 2005-2006. These figures, however, compare to those which came out soon after the Olympics indicating that sports participation had been boosted to record levels: a grassroots funding body had found in December 2012 that the number of adults playing sport at least once a week had increased by 750 000 in the last year. This indicates that, although the Olympics may have succeeded in inspiring the British public, this inspiration was short-lived. As the Olympics faded away and became a distant memory, so too has the inspiration that it was meant to provide. Until now, it seems that the Olympics failed to significantly increase sporting participation. There is still, however, time and if the government give it the proper attention (which it seems they are willing to do given their plans to revamp their strategy to increase participation) then it is feasible that the ‘inspire a generation’ motto will not be in vain.

    Thus, so far London 2012 looks set to deliver on half of its promises: the regeneration of the East of London. The figures for sporting participation are not quite as pretty. It is important to note, however, that four years is a very short time and the true legacy can only be judged after another few years at least. It is still possible to increase sporting participation. It is also, however, possible that if attention is diverted from regenerating the area then that too could become a flop. 

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