Following the euphoria of winning the Olympic and Paralympic Games for London in 2005, it was inevitable that this year’s debate about its staging would turn to more practical and detailed matters. It is absolutely right that the focus now is on policy – around regeneration, transport, housing and other key political issues – and of course around cost. It is such a mammoth project that the right decisions must not only be taken but also scrutinised appropriately along the way.
At the same time like many people in sport I am anxious that this does not remain the only focus of the debate around the staging of and – crucially – the legacy for London 2012. At the heart of all discussions and debate around the pros and cons of the Games - the venues, the regeneration and its impact both nationally and on the rest of the world - must be sport. Just as Lord Coe so memorably asked the voting IOC delegates to “choose sport”, so must we ensure that the true legacy coming out of the Games in six years time is sporting – from grassroots to elite, from local involvement and facilities to making a lasting impression on people’s lives in countries across the world. Without it, I believe a once in a lifetime opportunity will have been lost.
To achieve this, more than anything we need to focus on a legacy of success. Subsequent to his inspirational vision in Singapore, Lord Coe has left everyone in no doubt as to what he thinks will represent success at London 2012: "Britain performing well in these Games is not the icing on the cake. It's pretty well the whole ingredient; it's crucial."
This belief formed the basis of UK Sport’s submission to the Government earlier this year for additional funding for Olympic and Paralympic sport ahead of 2012. To aim to be the best we can be: to inspire not only this but future generations to choose sport and ultimately follow in the footsteps of their London heroes. It was this vision, backed by a comprehensive investment strategy that was acknowledged by the Treasury to be one of the best ever put forward by a sporting body, that secured the additional £300 million package we need to fund all Olympic and Paralympic sports over the next six years.
Combined with the transfer of performance responsibilities to UK Sport from Sport England announced in April, this funding can transform the UK’s high performance system forever. We can also put sports in the spotlight like never before – showing them off to a nation previously oblivious of the skill and dedication needed to succeed. At the time of writing British Handball has around 600 accredited players, compared to over a million in Germany. UK Sport is putting nearly £3 million into the sport in the next three years, with more to come after the Beijing Games. Who knows what the lasting impact of this will be if the GB Handball team does well at London 2012? But our ambition is clear.
The legacy could be greater still for Paralympic sport. London is the birthplace of the Paralympic Games – what Athens is to the Olympics. We are aiming in 2012 to top the medal table, and if we achieve our goals then the impact on public perceptions around disability could be profound. Chris Holmes, our most successful ever Paralympic swimmer and now a UK Sport Board Member, put it well: “Athletes have a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver the goods for the Nation. The extra investment and support now going into sport provides the potential, in summer 2012, to produce one moment in time, to change attitudes and perceptions of the Paralympics and disabled people, for the rest of time."
That is my legacy for London 2012. One where sport is not just the purpose of the Games themselves, but the vehicle for so much positive and permanent change.
This article is based on a speech made by John Steele at the “Countdown to London 2012 – How will the Games Deliver for the Country” Conference in London.