Saturday, 22 September 2012

Have the Olympics Inspired A Generation?

by Peter Jordan


London 2012 Volunteers, with Mayor Boris Johnson
(source: Daily Mail)

During the Summer I was a spectator at three Olympic events. The cycle time trials (road), men’s triathlon and the final night of the athletics (yes, I saw the Mobot win his second gold medal). However, one thing that struck me was how different the spectators were to the ones I normally rub shoulders with at major sporting events.  No drunkenness or swearing and many more well-behaved spectators.

In the afterglow of a truly fantastic two weeks, the BBC has been focusing on how well the Olympics reflected our country and how it will inspire a generation. While I agree that the London Olympics was a showcase of great behaviour, I would also suggest that this is not a true reflection of the Britain I live in. I am also not convinced that it will inspire a generation.

The inflexibility and uncertainty of the ticket lottery and the need for volunteers to sign up for two weeks and to fund their own travel and/or accommodation expenses guaranteed that the London Olympics would be dominated by affluent and well-behaved volunteers and spectators.  In general, the people I know who got “lucky” in the lottery or volunteered, were typically individuals who could afford to take the financial risk of applying for multiple tickets or take two weeks off work.

So, if it was a middle class Olympics, what legacy benefits can we expect to obtain?
As the middle classes and their children are already inspired and tend to participate in sports, maybe we should have more limited expectations. The sections of society where participation in sport is low may well have been inspired by watching the Olympics on TV but will lack the financial resources to take part.

For most people, the first step to participating in sport is to start exercising to lose a bit of weight and acquire some fitness. However, all exercise outside of schools requires financing.  Unless you have the motivation and confidence to simply buy some trainers and go running on the road, any regular supervised exercise can carry prohibitive costs for large sections of society.

As a result, even those people who are inspired may not ever experience any more than this if they are not able or prepared to foot the bill of fitness.  Unless this issue is solved, any inspiration will be short lived and unrealised, with the vast majority of the country continuing to eat poorly, drink too much and avoid exercise.

As a result, I fear the Olympics will have a muted impact on the sedentary and overweight Britain that was largely hidden away for the duration of the Olympics.

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