Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

What we can learn from our summer of sport

What a summer we’ve had; if the diamond jubilee wasn’t enough we’ve had the Euro 2012 football tournament (with the usual England exit in the quarter finals but without the angst-ridden hype beforehand); Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France; then the Olympics and a magnificent performance by Team GB; the Paralympics and even more superhuman efforts; followed by the first British man to win a tennis grand slam event in over 70 years when Andy Murray won the US Open. It’s enough to make a tabloid subeditor weep and a populist politician salivate.

But there must be more to it than that, surely?

Just how did these great achievements come about? What can they tell us about how change really occurs (it’s not that many Olympiads ago that Team GB won virtually nothing) and just how different was the public reaction to the Olympics and Paralympics to the pre-event build-up?

It’s easy to say we should take note of the number of medal-winners who praised the lottery funding invested in elite sport for their ability to compete and win. Easy because it’s true. Excellence always comes at a cost, personal in terms of dedication and commitment, and financial because nothing can realistically be achieved with nothing. Cameron’s rejigged cabinet, take note.

The public reaction to the Olympics and Paralympics is even more important, however. The level of interest went far beyond those normally or even peripherally interested in sport: the impact has genuinely reached virtually every community in the UK and the need for a lasting and telling legacy is greater than even the most optimistic of the London 2012 bid team could ever have imagined.

Just vaguely hoping people will take from the Olympics a desire to exercise, to take part in some form of local sport, simply will not be enough. At a welcome home reception for Max Whitlock, the double bronze medal-winning gymnast from Hemel Hempstead, I was told that the local gym club in Hemel Hempstead (a club already operating at capacity) was and had been receiving 10 to 20 calls a day from young boys wanting to get in to gymnastics because of Max and Team GB’s achievements. How can this level of enthusiasm and interest be met, captured and fulfilled so it doesn’t dwindle away in disappointment because the clubs and facilities cannot meet the demand?

In many ways the Paralympics have been even more amazing and have created a climate of opportunity that simply must not be squandered. Never before have people with disability been presented in such a positive light; and after two years of government propaganda around benefits creating an image of scroungers and dependency. The British public have shown a remarkable level of positive support for our Paralympians that has delivered an opportunity to improve the understanding of disability that has perhaps never previously existed (and in doing so taught us all something about our own level of understanding and attitude). It has been said that London 2012 has shown the world a vision of disability through the eyes of the British. If that is true we have to take the window of opportunity to make that vision truly so in every community in the UK.

The media is full of how we are united in wanting the spirit of London 2012 to continue. So just how are we going to deliver on this tangible desire for a legacy.

Legacy is not just about finding the stars for Rio 2016, it is about changing attitudes and culture that make a difference to daily life; and if the public response to the Olympics has shown us anything it is that the British public want something that goes beyond austerity, that raises up and celebrates human and social potential, that above all creates and enables hope and belief to deliver.

With the backdrop of the post-Olympic atmosphere and the emotion of Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony still resonating how can more cuts, fewer rights, the enablement of privilege, and the passing around of blame really deliver?

Having seen what investment can both achieve and unite isn’t it now time for a new plan, one that brings together our communities and that invests in people? It is telling that the only funding commitment made by the coalition in response to the success of Team GB has been to protect funding for elite sport until 2016. For community sport all we have had is the compulsion of all primary school children in competitive sport and a claim that cuts to community and school sports actually represent an increase. More spin than Victoria Pendleton’s pedals …

The lesson from our super summer of sport is not just about youth, or involvement in sporting activities; it is not just about health and diet; it is about every aspect of our communities and about how we deliver a better quality of life for all.

This summer we have inspired more than a generation now we need to deliver a lasting legacy that matters.


Keith White is a candidate in the councillors’ section in the Progress strategy board elections 2012. You can find out more about all the  candidates at the dedicated Progress strategy board election microsite


Photo: Department for Culture, Media and Sport

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