Leveraging Legacies from the London 2012 Olympics

Interviewer: Andy Tootell (Ideas Lab)
Guest:  Dr Jonathan Grix
Recorded: 02/07/2012
Broadcast: 09/07/2012

Intro VO: Welcome to the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast from the University of Birmingham. In each edition we hear from an expert in a different field, who gives us insider information on key trends, upcoming events, and what they think the near future holds.

Andy: Hello, today I’m with Dr Jonathan Grix who’s Senior Lecturer in Sport Politics and Policy at the University of Birmingham. Hello Jonathan.

Jonathan: Hello Andy.

Andy: So do you want to tell me a little bit about what you do?

Jonathan:  I work in the Department of Political Science and International Studies and I’ll soon be moving into the School of Sports and Exercise Sciences which is part of the University of Birmingham’s wider development and investment into sport, sports facilities and the academic study of sport. 

Andy: Now there seem to be a lot of high profile sporting events around at the moment. Obviously we’ve got the London 2012 Olympics coming up. There's probably never been a better time to be working in sport politics. 

Jonathan: Absolutely. And there's a number of interesting observations one could make about these sports mega events, one of which is a number of them seem to be being awarded to what one could term sort of ‘emerging states’ and ‘new states’ if you like.  Like Euro 2012, Ukraine, Poland, sort of post-Communist states and the Commonwealth Games a couple of years ago in New Delhi, India.  The majority of these states seem to be seeking and hoping for similar things out of these events, interestingly enough. You can sum it up really with the phrase that Guttmann said which was ‘profit and prestige’ is what they’re after. 

Andy: Does it always work?

Jonathan: The short answer is no, but it is true that they all seek this. Whether it works or not is another matter. In Delhi’s case for example there was a lot of negative press prior to the event which I think personally scuppered India’s ambitions to be an Olympic host in the future, so it is a problem this strategy when you use sports mega events to showcase your nation because the global media focuses almost immediately on the host city and in the run-up to any sort of games, this is the sort of scrutiny under which they will come. 

Andy: So what do you think about the London 2012 Olympics? It’s not too far away now, everyone’s getting very excited about it. What kind of impact do you think it’s going to have on the UK?

Jonathan: The first thing to say is that London is of course the only city, or will be the only city, to have held the games three times – 1908 of course, 1948 and now 2012.  The 1948 games as you know have gone down in history as the Austerity Games. 

Andy: Yeah.

Jonathan: And I guess the only link to 2012 is the fact that we find ourselves now in a time of austerity.

Andy: Here we are again!

Jonathan: Here we are again, although the event will be very very different. Where in 1948 you only had, I don’t know, 4,000 athletes taking part. Now we have some 10,500 athletes from 204 countries. We also have an unprecedented number of media and broadcast personnel – 21,000 at the last estimate.  So we are going to be the centre of attention for a good couple of weeks. 

Andy: Like you say, we are once again in austere times. These games are going to present an amazing spectacle for the nation and for people around the world, but I suppose it also acts as something of a deviation. The Government will possibly be enjoying the fact that we’ve all got our eyes on this amazing spectacle and we’re not so much scrutinising a Government u-turn and we’re not looking at the financial woes that we’re currently experiencing. What do you think about that?

Jonathan:  That’s a very good point, Andy, and many commentators say or suggest that we’re returning to the days of what’s termed ‘bread and circuses’ in the Roman Empire where they provided cheap food stuffs and plenty of spectacle, as you say, to keep our mind off distant wars and political intrigue.  I think the Government certainly will be very happy that we are glued to the set so to speak. It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it? I mean it’s very welcome on the one hand, so we’re deviating as you say from the political and economic woes of our everyday lives, but on the other hand it’s a bit of a burden to have to pay that amount of money that’s been committed – as we say, upward of £11 billion, in austere times where that money could have perhaps been employed elsewhere.  

Andy: Everyone gets hung up a lot about the Olympic Legacy. It’s happened with other cities in previous Olympic Games. What do you think the Olympic Legacy will be for the UK? Will there even be one?

Jonathan:  First thing, step back and say why do people get hung up about a legacy and I think it’s a question of what are we getting for our money? Another thing to remember is of course that London 2012 Olympics is the first Games to actually come out and say that we’re going to leverage a legacy from the Games.  So other Games haven’t previously done that. So we are spending upwards of £11 billion if you take into account the security costs, so it’s a legitimate question to ask, you know, what are we going to get from these Games? And that would be in terms of legacy. One of which is an increase in physical activity or participation amongst the masses and in particular amongst young people. Second, an increase in tourism and economic profit from that. Thirdly we talked about urban regeneration. Fourth, showcasing Great Britain and London to the world – international prestige. And fifthly something called the ‘feel good factor’ which is not discussed too often – sort of national pride – which I think has a lot of potential, although the evidence for it is difficult to come by.

Andy: So you’ve mentioned five very distinct areas of Olympic legacy there. What are the chances of these coming to pass?

Jonathan:  Physical activity, or the increase in physical activity due to an Olympics or a sports mega event, now that’s never really happened before and so I think it is unlikely to happen in the case of London 2012.  It’s interesting to note that countries like Finland for example, which have a very well educated society and a very equal society, also have the highest rates of physical activity. Now their last Games, their last major Games was in 1952 in Helsinki so it’s clearly not due to that. So that’s something to be borne in mind so I think we are unlikely to see a huge spike or long term spike in physical activity due to the London 2012. The second point, I was talking about more tourism and economic profit.  I think on a regional basis we could be looking at the Games having a more beneficial effect, particularly in the South East of course where the Games take place. It’s the richest area in the country but also in our own area here in the West Midlands we have the Jamaican team holding their pre-Olympic camp on campus at the University of Birmingham, we have the US team just around the corner at Alexandra Stadium, we have a number of Olympic football games being held in Coventry, so the focus of the world media’s going to be on this region I think for certain parts of the Games.  So I think we could benefit from that because any exposure, good exposure, can translate into and has translated into more tourism and therefore more economic benefit, so that could be a positive thing for this area and for the country as a whole. The third area of legacy I mentioned was urban regeneration and you can see there's a clear legacy in Stratford, there's no doubt about it, it’s unrecognisable to what it was before and we hope that post-Olympics that the Olympic Park facilities will be made as accessible as possible to as many people as possible at reasonable prices.  That would be my concern. If that does take place then I think that would be a genuine Olympic legacy. The fourth one, showcasing London to the world, well that would help consolidate if you like our already good standing on the world stage. We’re actually viewed as one of the top countries in the world anyway as a tourist destination but also as, you know, for the Queen, Westminster, our Government, so we’re actually not in a bad position to start with. The fifth area I wanted to talk on was what’s commonly known as the ‘feel good factor’ surrounding sports mega events. Now first of all defining what it is exactly. Most people have some sort of binding feeling around a sports mega event.  Even those that don’t like sport generally get into it at the time of the event itself. So there is something and whether it’s longer lasting, whether it has a longer term impact is something that needs researching. 

Andy: So the feel good factor is kind of maybe a short term benefit, hopefully a little bit longer term, but what are the longer term benefits for the country in general after the Olympics?

Jonathan: One of the key positive aspects of this longer term will be the addition to our national narrative if you like. When we look back at the Games, 2012 could be seen as a cultural reference point. We’ll look back ‘where were you at that time? What did you do before? What did you do after?’, as 1966 is I guess. 

Andy: It still lives long in the memory. 

Jonathan:  It still does and so will 2012, I’m sure. 

Andy: Dr Jonathan Grix, thank you very much for joining me today.

Jonathan: Thank you Andy.

Outro VO: This podcast and others in the series are available on the Ideas Lab website: www.ideaslabuk.com. On the website, you can find out how to e-mail us with comments, questions or suggestions for future topics for the podcast. There's also information on the free support Ideas Lab has to offer to TV and radio producers, new media producers and journalists. The interviewer and producer for the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast was Andy Tootell.