The desperate desire for London 2012 to have a long-lasting legacy has been a focal point of discussions for a number of years. The question, indeed, has become a political issue, with key figures from the main parties queuing up to question each other's motives.
This week, David Cameron has been lambasted for taking away Labour’s enforced two-hours-per-week of sport on the British school curriculum. At the same time, he has been accused of selling off school playing fields and suggested teachers should give more of their own time to allow children to engage more frequently in sport.
Cameron-bashing in itself has almost become a national sport in the UK in the past two years, but the danger is that the real issue is being clouded by politics. In reality, the problem is one of the British mentality.
Lost in Cameron’s speech was his view that sport in schools needs to be re-focussed, with competition re-introduced. For years, we have heard about cringe-inducing sports days where children compete in teams and nobody wins or loses. It was, we were told, perfectly democratic. It also taught a generation of children that there was no point in trying, as nobody was going to win or lose either way.
It has become a frequently-uttered British cliché that ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ and the sentiment has reared its ugly head on numerous occasions during the Olympics. The true champions would say nothing of the sort. Bradley Wiggins openly stated that it was ‘gold or nothing’ before competing in the time trial a week ago and promptly delivered the only medal that mattered to him – this after becoming the first Brit in history to win the Tour de France just weeks before. Children must not be ashamed to want to be the best and beat the rest; no longer should a child be dubbed a ‘bad loser’ for being upset when they do not win.
The irony remains that most of the corporate affiliates of the Olympics – Heineken, Coca-Cola, McDonalds – call into question the very idea that the Games will have any kind of legacy at all. They are, after all, amongst the most profitable companies trading in the UK, a country becoming ever more obese. At the Olympic Park, where people might be inspired by incredible athletic feats, they instead queue up for their Big Macs and large cokes.
Success in the competition is rarely reflective of society – China has issues with extreme poverty, whilst the USA is the fattest nation on earth - and yet the two lead the medals table. But, for once, an opportunity does lie before the UK to make something happen, to turn London 2012 into a once-in-a-lifetime period of inspiration, rather than two weeks of folly and white-elephant sporting facilities across London.
The interest in the London Olympics has surely gone beyond even the organisers’ wildest expectations. My mother for instance has barely stopped cycling for 10 days on a newly-purchased exercise bike; the track at this very university has been filled with distance-runners, hurdlers, and even shot-putters over the past few days. Perhaps most incredibly, Jessica Ennis and Bradley Wiggins have replaced the Only Way is Essex and Kim Kardashian in the national press (for now at least).
What lies ahead is a rare opportunity to link success in elite sport to the general populace and it will need to start at the very bottom of society, in schools, in inner-city areas, in the entrenched mind-sets of many who do not see the value of competitive sport for children. It should not be wasted on electioneering by those in charge and idleness from the rest of us.