It took me 20 minutes from the Central Line platform via Peloton Avenue to cover the half mile to the Lee Valley VeloPark. Admittedly I wasn’t exactly walking at Tom Bosworth pace, and a few hazy-memoried wrong turns out of Westfield didn’t help as I went in search of ‘10 Years On’, a new exhibition showcasing the legacy of London 2012.
No signage for the exhibition inside or outside the velodrome. The guy on the venue’s desk looked surprised to be asked for directions. Was I the first? Upstairs, overlooking the track, I found a modest offering that would have covered no more than a couple of bedrooms in the former athletes’ village that had lined my trek from the shopping centre.
A statue of mascot Wenlock, a couple of relay torches, a petal from the flame cauldron and an opening ceremony costume were about my lot. Barely any sport, but a lot of statistics on the development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and a brief history of the Paralympics. Much signage exhorting visitors to #passthebaton. But who to? And how?
Back down Keirin Road through the former village – now striking apartments – I turned into Madison Way (fun branding!) musing on 2012’s vanishing sporting legacy. A few world class venues that are seeing decent use at both elite and grassroots levels, plus the odd nice story of youngsters who’ve made it through to international level having been engaged by the Games, but no lasting uplift in the nation’s sportiness. Dina Asher-Smith may be a London 2012 kit carrier turned superstar sprinter, but I’d say she was going to make it to the top regardless.
None of which particularly bothers me. Stratford has been transformed. The QE Park may be more concrete than wild meadows, and the dominating shopping centre is a soul-sucker, but it would take a hard heart not to conclude that this has all been for the good.
It’s not that I don’t care about the nation being active, simply that I’ve never really bought into the ‘inspiration’ argument. There are many more cost effective ways to encourage kids into sport than hosting expensive events. Better to recognise them for the temporary boosts to public morale that they are, and to ascribe value accordingly, than to calculate over-ambitious savings to healthcare and social costs as a result of people being inspired to take up – and crucially keep up – sporting lifestyles. When they won’t. Or not simply because an event was on home soil.
Ken Livingstone unapologetically backed the Olympic bid for wholly non-sporting reasons. To London’s mayor at the time of the bidding it was all about central government funding of East London’s regeneration. How right he was. It is those who promised to ‘inspire a generation’ who need to shy away from the harsh reality of the past decade of statistics on sporting participation. #passthebaton?
The London Games came hard on the heels of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Remember that grand Thames river pageant on an unseasonably chilly Sunday at the start of June? Maybe it is best now, with a land-based celebration of the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee almost upon us, that the summer of 2012 is left to lie in the back of the memory cupboard. Better that than what’s on offer currently next to the cafe upstairs at the velodrome.
Use it or lose it
The VeloPark is of course one of the world class remainders from the Olympics. My visit there came only days after reports that UK Athletics – an organisation I chaired from 2007-17 – may be contemplating negotiating an exit from its 50 year lease of the Olympic Stadium in return for a chunk of cash to alleviate its financial strains.
Sad if true. But not surprising given that a fast revolving series of leaders over the past four years have singularly failed to harness the opportunity presented by a month’s exclusive use of the stadium each summer, effectively rent-free. The pandemic hasn’t helped, sure, but I’ve been struck by how little appetite and/or ambition those leaders have shown to build on the success of both the 2012 Games and two World Championships hosted there in 2017.
No blame attaches to the new regime who find themselves holding a weak hand. A third summer in a row not using the stadium and a thin balance sheet. I hope they can find a way to stick with it, but if a deal has to be done then it must be at such a price as to protect athletics for a good few years to come.
West Ham United did a phenomenal trade in moving from Upton Park to the London Stadium. Maybe the club’s new Czech shareholder will put extra cash on the table now to secure year-round control of its new home. He’d help bolster UK Athletics’ finances and provide a legacy fig-leaf for the current London mayor, Sadiq Khan, if he did.
This could only work as a tripartite agreement, with all three parties seeing a demonstrable benefit. To complicate matters, Khan has just this week announced a three-year deal to bring Major League Baseball back to Stratford. There might now need to be four parties round the negotiating table.
Much more uplifting than 10 Years On is an exhibition that opened this week at the Zari Gallery in London’s Fitzrovia. The Art of the Athlete showcases pieces by current and former sportspeople, largely but not entirely sporting-themed.
Most is art for art’s sake, but I was particularly taken by A-Z of Disability in the Media, by GB para-athlete Sophie Kamlish, a gold medalist at the London 2017 World Championships. Check out the letter O in her piece above, reflecting a perennial bugbear of Paralympians the world over.
The exhibition runs until 27 May and sales benefit two charities, including a bursary set up in the name of Christine Ohuruogu’s coach Lloyd Cowan who died last year. It may be a cliche, but they did break the mould after they made Lloyd. A great man. Christine’s younger sister Victoria, also coached by Cowan, is among the artists featured at the gallery. Details here.