The campaign for London 2012 always had loftier aims than organizing a fortnight of sporting extravagance. Sebastian Coe, chairman of the Olympic Committee, described the Games as “the single biggest opportunity in our lifetime to transform sport and participation in sport in the UK forever”. Of course, the upshot of this is that the Games will be partly defined in terms of its successes in post-Games sports participation.
So, how to make the most of this opportunity, and how to avoid disappointment? The Committee could do much worse than look at the example of Australia. The 2000 Games was a chance for a nation already profoundly in love with sports to showcase their passion and build on it.
They took the chance with aplomb; the number of adults participating in regular physical activity rose from 890,000 in 2001 to over one million in 2011. Concerted efforts were made to parade victorious Australians, like the 400m champion Cathy Freeman, to inspire a “trickle-down” effect. Ordinary citizens were inspired to emulate successful sportspeople, to become more like their heroes, and this was thought to have played a large part in this increased participation.
The Sydney Games left not only an assortment of world-class sporting venues, but a lasting impact on the entire culture of a nation. The organizers did not relax, secure in the knowledge that Australia would always be a nation of sportspeople, but relentlessly pressed home their advantage – and one would have to say it has paid dividends.
Following in the footsteps of our perennial rivals could turn Great Britain into a leaner, faster, healthier place.