The Surprising Olympic Legacy


Matt Brown examines the economic and cultural consequences of London 2012.

As a libertarian, the idea of the state spending £8.92 billion on a two week sporting event should send shivers down my spine. In fact, from the moment we were awarded the Games to the second before the opening ceremony commenced, we were sceptical about whether the Games really were ‘value for money’. But then, for seventeen days, from the spectacular opening ceremony until the handover to Rio, all of the doubts, worries and criticisms faded away into a fortnight of celebration: a party which  ̶ perhaps to even greater surprise  ̶  repeated itself during the Paralympic Games.

Like all good parties however, the curtain closed on this festival of sport and we returned to the normality of everyday life: albeit supposedly with a generation inspired to pick up their tennis rackets and put on their running shoes. This is what the marketing men and women behind London 2012 told us. Now, one year on, we can begin to see what effects the Games have had on this country. Surely the rate of active participation in sport and the current use of the Olympics facilities determines whether the 2012 games were a success?

Firstly, recently released figures show that there are now fewer adults playing regular sport than before the Olympics. Only nine of the Olympics sports have increased their weekly participation rates, but twenty have suffered a decline in involvement. Additionally, the overall figure for active sporting involvement on a weekly basis has fallen from 15.4 million to 15.3 million. However, whilst these figures do not show a nation now obsessed with actively engaging in sport, they are a generalisation which can hide some positive results to come from the Games. There has been a surge in sporting participation since the United Kingdom was awarded the Games, rising by 1.5 million. So the fall by 100,000 in active weekly participation numbers is not necessarily an indication of the failure of a legacy project. Instead, this could be seen as a balancing out period between those caught up in the hype of the Games, and people who have genuinely been motivated to become involved in sport.

Of equal note is the increase in participation amongst 14-25 year olds, which has shown for the first time a marginal increase. There has also been a change in the popularity of certain sports; Nicola Adams’ success as a female boxer for example has led to a 7.83 percent increase in boxing participation alone. Yet interest in football has plummeted by 11.76 percent, perhaps evidence of the positive effect that the Olympics has had in bringing new sports to the attention of teenagers and young adults.

It is also important to place the debate surrounding the London Olympics into context against previous Olympic Games. The Athens Olympics resulted in a £9.7 billion loss and the forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympics looks set to cost five times the amount of London 2012. It is also remarkable that the Montreal Olympics of 1976 were only finally paid off in 2006, representing an inflation adjusted price of £5.02 billion, at a cost of £213.96 per person. By contrast, the London Olympics came at a cost of £142 for every man, woman and child in the country.

No one can dismiss that London 2012 came and went without negative implications, some of which were felt by local businesses during the Games and the alleged ‘North-South divide’ caused by a London-centric approach. But the financial analysis of London 2012 shows that when compared to many other Olympics, these Games delivered relative value for money. This fact is enhanced by a recent survey which revealed that 74% of respondents would welcome the Games back to London.

…the financial analysis of London 2012 shows that when compared to many other Olympics, these Games delivered relative value for money.

Moving away from the purely financial analysis of London 2012, a common feature which plagues the ‘legacy project’ of many Olympics is what becomes of the venues: ranging from the Olympic Stadium to rowing venue. Many developments become massive white elephants, with no practical use on a regular basis once the Olympic flame is extinguished. Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, made famous by its iconic opening ceremony lighting of the flame, was initially built as part of Barcelona’s bid for the 1936 Olympics. But between 1936 and the 1992 Olympics, it only held seven major sporting events, many of which were football matches. It was not until renovation work in 1989 that the stadium became a popular sporting and music venue. This demonstrates the difficulty in turning often ageing stadiums into facilities fit for modern use. The issue however can strike even recent Olympics; 21 of the 22 venues used in the 2004 Athens Games lie abandoned, with many of the flagship venues from Beijing, including rowing and swimming facilities also being neglected.

As I write this conclusion however, I am actually sat in the Olympic Stadium ready to watch the London Anniversary Games. As I look around, I see a stadium and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park full to capacity with young children, students and families. The Olympic flame may no longer illuminate the Stratford skyline, but the hopes of a meaningful and lasting legacy continue to burn brightly.

Matt is a writer for the Backbencher, commenting upon a variety of political and economic issues. He holds an avid interest in travel and all things cultural. He is now in his third year of a European and International Law degree at the University of Sheffield, spending his forthcoming Erasmus year at the University of Utrecht. His interests include Model United Nations, travelling, and supporting Norwich City Football Club and Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. Follow him on Twitter @_mattbrown.


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