Can 2012 be an inclusive Olympics - or will they be scuppered by political inertia and squabbling?


Can 2012 be an inclusive Olympics, or will political inertia and squabbling mean we renege on the pledge we made when we won the bid?

Last October, I described my dismay after attending a meeting about the Olympics organised by Editorial Intelligence. The panel of Olympic organisers and experts did nothing to refute my allegation that the goal of the Olympics acting as a catalyst for greater sporting participation in London had been all but abandoned. In fact, as further statistics have since revealed, participation levels in most parts of London (including the Olympic boroughs) are neither rising nor catching up with the rest of the country.

But it’s not the RSA way to walk away from a problem if we think we can make a difference. The last two months have been busy.  Drawing on a combination of my own speaker and media fees and a kind donation from the London Region of the RSA, we have funded a young researcher, Ashish Prashar, to develop an outline action plan for a three year campaign to deliver mass sporting participation in the capital ahead of 2012.

Ashish has had great support from the wide range of organisations committed to participation and we have developed four main ideas:

• A mass coaching scheme in which employers give staff time off and/or help pay the fees for their staff to do a Level One coaching qualification. We believe it is possible for another 50,000 people to be trained as coaches between now and 2012. That’s a real human legacy.

• A London-wide Timebanking scheme in which people who volunteer (particularly in ways which help participation) get credits for access to sporting facilities and events.

• A new scheme and clearing house to identify and match up with demand sporting facilities and resources which could be made available free or subsidised. Key partners would be private gyms, independent and state schools, local authorities and the Royal Parks.

• A new high profile website and portal to act as the single contact point for people wanting to get involved or help others get involved              .

Yesterday we hosted a meeting to discuss these ideas with a wide range of people who could play a part in a London participation campaign. The good news was that,  although some of the people there could have felt the idea trod on their toes and others might have worried about the demands that could be made on them, there was unanimous support for the idea of an independent umbrella campaign (working title ‘Let the Games Begin’).

We have set ourselves two weeks to make this into a concrete proposal which we will then send to the various Olympic bodies and in particular the Mayor’s Office, which is currently preparing its own sports strategy.

To do all the preparation necessary to be able to launch the campaign in July this year (exactly three years before the games) is a huge task and the RSA can do very little more without backing (indeed we are more than happy to hand the idea over to whoever is best able to deliver it). But it can be done. The real barriers now are political.

The more closely I look at the politics of the Olympics, the more dispirited I become. But if this idea is killed off – not because it isn’t needed or couldn’t work – but because the various agencies put their self importance or petty organisational rivalry ahead of what London needs I’ll make sure everyone knows about it!

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