Alan Hubbard: London 2012 legacy? All that's being left behind is a bitter taste in the mouth

Monday, 04 March 2013
Alan HubbardWhen the curtain came down on London's smash-hit East End production and 2012's cast of thousands took a thoroughly-deserved bow, the Olympic chorus sang out one word loud and clear: legacy.

Just over six months later the buzzword has become a hollow word.

The coming demolition of Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium, the second biggest athletics hub in Britain, alma mater of Jessica Ennis and at one time Sebastian Coe, is just the tip of very treacherous, Titanic-sized iceberg threatening to sink the future sport had been promised.

All over the country local councils are cutting back on their funding for grass roots sport, largely blaming the Government's economic policy. It some cases this may be true, in others it's just a handy excuse to play a disturbing game of political correctness.

Jessica Ennis Don Valley Stadium is to be closed by Sheffield City CouncilvJessica Ennis' Don Valley Stadium is to be closed by Sheffield City Council

"Short-sightedness of us a nation", is how Ennis describes the Don Valley debacle, calling for a major rethink of how sport in Britain is organised and funded.

Her coach Tony Minichiello says Sheffield City Council's decision to sacrifice the 25,000-capacity stadium, originally built in 1991 for the World Student Games, in a bid to cut £50 million ($76 million/€58 million) from its budget was a retrograde step that sends out the wrong message about our commitment to sport.

But he adds that it is unrealistic to expect local authorities to fund leisure facilities such as the £29 million ($44 million/€34 million) venue without greater support from national Government.

Which is considerable food for thought for Lord Coe, now the Government's sports legacy guru and original architect of the Olympic dream.

Generally, this is a rotten time for sport's foot soldiers, with the Olympic euphoria now a distant echo. Many have had had their Lottery funding withdrawn or slashed, and are jobless.

And as for Britain's brilliant Paralympians, how many will now lose their Disability Living Allowance and thus have to curtail their sports careers?

Jessica Ennis started her career at Don Valley Stadium and still trains thereJessica Ennis started her career at Don Valley Stadium and still trains there

Meanwhile, back in Sheffield's Unhappy Valley, Mike Corden, chairman of City of Sheffield Athletics Club is furious, describing the stadium as the best in the country for athletics. "The writing was on the wall when they didn't instantly rename it after Jess following the Olympics," he says.

"We asked that question immediately but the politicians averted their eyes and waited for it to go away.

"Lord Coe should have intervened in his capacity as Games legacy ambassador. Someone should have been on the phone to him – now he seems desperate for the issue to go away.

"Last year Boris Johnson, Coe, David Cameron and Tessa Jowell were all preening themselves – let them all come and look here at what has been left here.

"Is this the legacy that Coe wanted?"

Good question and one that surely must embarrass Baron Coe of Ranmore.

It would be good to hear his answers. One columnist at the weekend suggested that his current silence on the subject is far from golden.

Actually, I have some sympathy for Seb. He is in a devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea no-win situation. As a Tory peer presumably he must support the Government's draconian fiscal policy which, while unpopular, is required to rescue us all from the economic mire left by their predecessors.

sebastian coe 050313Mike Corden says Sebastian Coe should have intervened in his capacity as Games legacy ambassador to prevent the closure on the Don Valley Stadium
But at the same time he will recall that the Legacy word was the one which predominantly sealed London's successful Olympic bid in Singapore eight years ago.

Of course, Coe will argue that the real legacy of 2012 is the burgeoning number of youngsters flooding into gymnastics, boxing, athletics et el as a consequence of the glorious achievements of Team GB.

That's fine. But how can they be accommodated if those clubs cannot afford to expand, or there are no new playing fields or indoor facilities where they can hone their potential skills because of lack of proper funding?

However, some of the cutbacks made by councils seem suspiciously political, as is the statement of the Shadow Sports Minister, Clive Efford.

He says of the Don Valley decision: "It is no good Nick Clegg [Deputy PM and a Sheffield MP] and Hugh Robertson [Sports Minister] saying that it is a disaster if the Don Valley Stadium closes when up and down the country sports facilities are being lost as a consequence of the cuts that this government is imposing on local councils."

Closer to home (my home as it happens) I discover a somewhat different  example of lost legacy concerning a minor sport given a raw deal which smacks of dubious double standards by a council.

Roman Abramovich may be more used to firing managers than arrows but the Chelsea owner clearly has more pull over archery than Robin Hood. His Premiership club have been given permission by Elmbridge Borough Council in Surrey to build a new indoor pitch on a green belt site close to their existing training centre in the village of Stoke d'Abernon.

Yet perversely the same council has rejected similar plans for a new archery centre in Walton-on-Thames claiming, "it would be a significant departure from our green belt policy". The curiously inconsistent decisions have caused dismay in the archery community, as the centre would have been used for training potential Olympians. "This is outrageous," says Archery GB chairman Dave Harrison. "What sort of message does this send out? It seems unfair that a minority sport should be denied such a facility while a rich and powerful football club are given the go-ahead. Whatever happened to Olympic legacy?"

Alison Williamson 050313Alison Williamson says the rejection of the new archery centre removes the opportunity for youngsters to take up the sport

The same question is posed by Britain's best-known archer, Alison Williamson, an Olympic bronze medallist who competed in a record sixth Games in London. "In the light of 2012 it is a terrible shame that youngsters will not be given this opportunity to take up a growing sport, with such great traditions," she says.

While hardly on the scale of the bulldozing of Don Valley, it is another arrow in the eye for Olympic legacy. But the Elmbridge situation seems one of an influential sport like football carrying more sway with the majority on the planning committee, one of whom, Councillor Tony Popham declared: "Chelsea are an international name and we should support them."

Curiously, as well as backing Chelsea's plans for an indoor pitch and research centre the council recently approved a new stadium for Ryman League club Walton and Hersham – also on a green belt site.

One Lib Dem councillor, Andrew Davis, who opposed all three proposals over the green belt issue, told insidethegames: "I personally felt Chelsea were rich enough to find somewhere outside the green belt area but there might have been a body of people who felt that after all  was Chelsea and they should be given what they wanted." But he adds: "In fairness archery's case was not that well presented. There were also technical and structural reasons why it was turned down though this doesn't mean they should not re-apply."

Though both are Chelsea fans, isn't this a matter both Lord Coe and the Sports Minister should be examining rather closely?

Another council worth their scrutiny is Labour-run Southampton, also apparently doffing its cap to the great god football while blowing the whistle on Olympic legacy.

Tom Daley Pete WaterfieldThe diving academy where Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield trained was rejected for a grant

There are a number of local sports organisations, including the diving academy where Tom Daley and 2012 Olympic synchro partner Pete Waterfield have trained, a gymnastics club which has produced medal-winning athletes over four decades, and several school sports projects, have received precisely zilch.

But in a move which has angered many the council has given a five-figure sum – £17,000 ($26,000/€20,000) – to the Premiership Southampton FC's affiliated Saints Foundation.

One member who unsuccessfully opposed the move, Councillor Andrew Pope, described the move as "a public relations exercise" and that it was not the council's responsibility to fund the foundation but that of football itself.

"It should be the football business, and the players, who fund the volunteers or paid positions in the Saints Foundation, and not have funds taken from the true voluntary organisations.

"Effectively we're taking money away from diving when we have got an Olympic silver medallist (Waterfield) living in the city."

And at the same time the same council has managed £27,000 ($41,000/€31,000) to support a group which provides advice for people coming to Southampton from other EU countries, and £39,000 ($59,000/€45,000) for another which describes its mission as "communicating the rich and exciting experience of South Asian art to the public".

For the record, then diving centre had applied for a mere £5,000 ($7,600/€5,800).

Conservative councillor Jeremy Moulton says: "The way these grants have been allocated does not strike me as being logical.

"It smacks of political involvement, although we have been told repeatedly by officers that there was no such involvement in the decision-making process."

So there we have it. More legacy lost.

According to the Oxford dictionary legacy is something to be left behind. The way things are going all that will be left for sport is a nasty taste in the mouth from those kicks in the teeth.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and big fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
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