The London 2012 Olympics, could do better - says report
by Rob Whitehead
The organisers deserve a cautious 'seven out of 10' with a list of triumphs and failures to match, but there is still a great deal of work to be done - claims think-tank
Some nine years ago, the then mayor of London Ken Livingstone and the British Olympic Association joined forces to bid for the Olympics. London was never the favourite pitched as it was against Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow. Yet two years later, the London bid team pulled off a stunning coup de théâtre in Singapore - where Jacques Rogge proclaimed London triumphant. Britain united in jubilation. What won it for London was a pitch that blended urban freshness, regeneration potential and a once-in-a-generation uplift in the sporting aspiration of the world's youth.
With only 100 days to go until the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, our attention has moved away from the poetry of that victory to the prosaic realities of delivering on those high-minded goals. Here at the Centre for London - we have taken a critical eye to proceedings and decided that so far the organisers deserve a cautious seven out of 10. Not bad going, with much to be proud of. But there have been some sizeable mis-steps and there remains continued uncertainty over the main prize: the sustained revitalisation of a large slice of inner east London.
We assessed ten areas, from construction to culture. Scoring most highly is the assembly and clearance of the site and building of the stadia. In both engineering and architectural terms, it has been impressive. And against expectations it has been completed on time and on budget, dispelling national self-doubt over big previous high profile failures at Wembley, Pickett's Lock and the Millennium Dome. The new transport infrastructure also does well in our assessment. The new Tube stations, improvements to existing terminals and new trains are big wins for east London - which was previously held back by a lack of decent transport.
Good progress was also made on using the games to develop London's appeal to visitors. There has been a useful boost to the economy as a result of spending £10bn in or around east London, especially during a financial downturn. Also broadly positive was the level of public participation, although the enthusiasm for volunteering has been somewhat balanced by a failure to arrest the decline in sports participation.
But the Olympics project has floundered in a number of areas.
The failure to find a sensible legacy use for the main stadium, largely through insisting on retaining a running track, leaving Premier League football teams uninterested is a clear black mark. As is the difficulties over ticketing - the London Organising Committee, or LOCOG, underestimated demand. Ticket websites failed and far too many people were left ticketless. This soured the enthusiasm of millions. The subsequent secrecy of LOCOG on tickets sales has fed a creeping suspicion that this is an Olympics for the 1 per cent, not the many. There was also weak performance when it came to the environment and culture. Many environmental targets have been missed in the build phase and the Cultural Olympiad has not really flickered into life, as yet.
The clearest win so far then is the transformation of a swathe of very low-value inner London industrial land into a marketable condition. On the downside, however, the chance of the main stadium being anything other than a white elephant is fast approaching zero. To remedy this, we need more boldness from those responsible. The same applies to ticketing. We are watching with interest how the sale of the remaining tickets will be handled; with the hope it will put more tickets in the hands of ordinary punters.
For the newt-loving Livingstone, the purpose of bringing the Olympics to London was nothing to do with sport. For him, it was about bringing investment into a much-neglected part of inner east London. Boris Johnson, his foppish successor as London mayor, has resisted any temptation to meddle with this approach and has handled all things Olympian - bar a dishevelled appearance in the Beijing closing ceremony - with aplomb. Next month, these first two mayors of London, both big political beasts with national profiles to match all but the most senior United Kingdom politicians, compete in a tight race for the mayoralty once more - alongside a host of also-rans.
What London needs now is what in sport would be called 'follow through'. There is a clear danger of political will evaporating once the games are over. Commitment to seeing through the building of successful new communities in the Olympic Park and doing more to lift the conditions for the poor communities surrounding it is paramount. So London will look to whichever mayor is elected on May 3 - for the strength of vision, character and political will to continue to deliver on the promises made back in 2005.
Rob Whitehead is the deputy director of the Centre for London, at the British think-tank Demos