At first glance, Olympic champions Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt may not appear to have much in common with musical superstars Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen. But there is at least one thing they share: all four have thrilled visitors to London’s Olympic Park – a connection that hints at the transformative power of the Olympic Games.
A year has passed since the 2012 London Games captivated a global audience and raised spirits throughout Britain, but the legacy of those 17 days continues to deliver lasting benefits. For Londoners, the July 27 anniversary of the Opening Ceremony is not just a time to relive exciting memories; it is an opportunity to celebrate the many improvements that the Games helped produce.
For these Games were not just about a few weeks of incredible sporting endeavor. The Olympic Games, wherever they take place in the world, are a focal point for long-term changes, not only in a sporting sense but also in terms of economic and social regeneration. It is a crucial factor that all future Olympic host cities – including the Candidate Cities looking to host the 2020 Olympic Games (Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid) – are encouraged to pay close attention to from the outset of the bid process.
London’s success in using the Games as a catalyst for positive change shows what can happen when good intentions are matched by good planning. The London experience is particularly instructive amid the current debate over the value of mega sporting events.
The anniversary celebration at the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will coincide with the official opening of the first phase of a far-sighted redevelopment project that will transform the former heart of the Games into a model for urban living. The result will include acres of verdant parkland, about 11,000 new homes, a new school and medical clinic, 75 kilometers of hiking and cycling trails, nearly 2 million square feet of retail and entertainment areas, and several world-class sporting venues — all on what had been an industrial wasteland.
The revamped Olympic Park is already proving its value as a sustainable driver of economic growth. Planners expect the Park to draw more than 9 billion visitors by 2016. Crowds have flocked to recent concerts by Timberlake, Springsteen and other well-known performers. Sports fans will turn out in droves when sprinter Bolt, champion distance runner Mo Farrah and other medallists from the 2012 Games return to the site of their previous victories for three days of high-level competition during the anniversary.
The Anniversary Games is the first of many top-tier sporting events that will continue to draw crowds to the Olympic Stadium and other 2012 venues. Other events include the 2015 European Hockey Championships and the 2017 World Athletics Championships, the latter of which will take place in the Olympic Stadium, which also serves as the new home for the English Premier League’s West Ham United Football Club under a 99-year lease.
Other former Olympic venues will welcome visitors of all ability levels, building on the heightened interest in grassroots sport that the Games inspired. The Aquatics Centre will be open to the local community and schools, in addition to hosting major national and European competitions. The Copper Box will serve as a multi-use sports and entertainment arena. The VeloPark will be used by recreational cyclists as well as elite competitors. All eight Olympic venues have legacy tenants.
But the Games legacy extends far beyond the former Olympic Park. The Games inspired or accelerated a host of transport investments that will benefit residents and visitors for years to come. Seven and a half billion euros were invested in new and improved transport infrastructure, including new rail lines, line extensions, station/platform improvements, increased capacity, and improved cycling and pedestrian routes.
After generating tens of thousands of jobs during the construction phase in the midst of the global recession, the Games continue to foster economic growth. The Games have already resulted in an increase of 11.5 billion euros in trade and investment in the UK, further strengthening its international business legacy. The success of London 2012 has also created opportunities for UK companies to assist with the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Local organisers of future Olympic host cities have heeded the lessons of London 2012’s legacy vision. Citizens of Rio, for example, are already benefitting from a new rapid transport line, with three more to come in addition to a new metro line. Many other legacy initiatives are also under way in Sochi, and in PyeongChang, host of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.
These positive outcomes do not happen spontaneously. The International Olympic Committee puts a strong emphasis on legacy planning in its work with host cities. The organisers of the London Games proved that visionary leadership and close cooperation with government officials ensure that investments in the Olympic Games will deliver returns long after the Closing Ceremony.