It is not too late to ensure that the Olympic legacy benefit the most excluded. With a year to go, Geoff Thompson FRSA makes a call for action.
A year before the start of the 44th Olympiad and in the tradition of the host nation, International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge invited the world’s athletes to celebrate in London. With him were government dignitaries including the Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson, Local Organising Committee Chairman, Lord Sebastian Coe and the Prime Minister.
Since the 2012 games were awarded much of the focus has been on delivering the bid pledge and meeting the challenges that any massive project of this kind experiences. Add to this a global economic meltdown, the organisers are to be congratulated on securing the all-important second tier sponsors to match the global sponsors of the International Olympic Committee and achieving a pre ticket sales sell-out for all disciplines and events.
However, the international Inspiration Programme yesterday announced it had realised its targets of pledges a full year before the opening ceremony. Given it is International Year of Youth and the summer holidays, it seems that the opportunity to engage, motivate and inspire the public in social and human development programmes have been missed. Many of our young people remain isolated with nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to show them.
There is still time to make a difference. If legacy were truly embedded in the delivery of the games, a greater understanding, tolerance and the appreciation difference through Olympic and Paralympic culture would address some of the current tensions being experienced by some disaffected young people and communities in the host capital and beyond.
Many will argue that this work is in progress. The media has asked the right questions with Mayor Boris Johnson pledging and promising that the Olympic Facilities will provide an opportunity for all to participate. However, as Olympic champion, Christine Ohuruogu reminded us, for the young people of the very five Olympic boroughs the games have no appeal, as there is nothing in it for them. Ohuruogu, who hails from Hackney, in some ways epitomises what the legacy pledge is about; having overcome her own difficulties she seeks to inspire many young dreams through her Olympic athleticism success.
Lord Sebastian Coe has recognised the need to do more while reminding us that these games had one of the highest approval ratings of recent times. Sceptics could argue that approval may come from the very Londoners who are happy because they could afford to buy tickets and that many feel there has been a betrayal of the legacy pledge to date.
The 2006 Olympic Citizenship in Action initiative was launched to compliment the Youth Charter effort and contribute to the 2012 Bid team’s efforts. The organisation is about realising a programme of projects and initiatives in ten communities in the UK and internationally. Social and human development programmes through sport and the arts will be used to engage disaffected young people and disadvantaged communities, motivate social coaching and community leadership with a community campus of local facilities. Finally, the aim will be to inspire a social and economic legacy that is sustainable and intergenerational in both its benefit and opportunity.
Since it was launched Olympic Citizenship in Action has undertaken consultations have taken place within urban, suburban and rural communities facing the challenges of social and cultural disaffection, educational non-attainment and unhealthy lifestyles and anti-social behaviours that can lead to truancy, gang related activity and extremism. It has now worked in ten cities and in ten counties and has produced a radical manifesto including a legacy framework that can meet the education, health, social and environment challenges being faced by government and society. The manifesto calls for a sustainable legacy where the issues of youth unemployment, welfare to work and vocation training and employment can lead to a volunteer effort strengthens national identity and belonging.
With a year to go the Olympic authorities can still work with others in making a nationally coordinated effort to ensure that those who have the least opportunities are able to benefit from what will be a wonderful, once in a lifetime festival of sport.
Geoff Thompson MBE is Executive Chairman of the Youth Charter, a former five times world karate champion and youth and community activist.