Alan Hubbard: No doubts over Coe's legacy pledge

Wednesday, 27 March 2013
Alan HubbardThe claim by film-maker Danny Boyle- much-lauded architect of London 2012's opening ceremony- that Olympic goodwill has been kicked into touch (unless you are a West Ham director), is underlined by yet another example of local councillors in the UK playing silly burghers with the Games legacy.

Recently we reported how Olympic sports in Surrey and Southampton have been hit by decisions to refuse new facilities or withdraw funding. But the latest incident bought to our attention has an ironic twist in the tale.

In Merton, South London, the sale of a public sports hall to a private school by the council has left Olympic medallist Ray Stevens without a home for the judo club he set up six years ago and which regularly attracts classes of 400 over five nights a week, many of whom are disabled or disadvantaged kids.

Stevens, 49, who won silver at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is understandably angry - especially as his most famous pupil is 2012 chief Lord Coe.

Now he feels the judo mat has been pulled from under him.

"The thing that makes me laugh about this is that I used to teach judo to both Seb and William Hague. Seb's a great bloke, but the talk about legacy seems a bit of a joke. Legacy? What legacy? The Olympics were fantastic, amazing, but the reality is that I am in the position now where my judo club is homeless. I've just been told, 'Sorry, we're selling it off to a private school.'

115563301Lord Coe remains optimistic of delivering the legacy he promised when London was awarded the Games

"We are doing something really good for the community and there is no help or thanks at all. It's very disappointing. I've had meetings with the council, who say they will try and help, but it's been a lot of talk and no action. I don't feel it's a priority for them. There's no sense of urgency. What am I supposed to say to the kids and their parents?" Good question. Any answers, Seb?

Well perhaps not for this one, though no doubt he will have some sympathy for the chap who a few years back showed him how to the throw the future Foreign Secretary's weight around.

But a recent conversation with Coe suggests that the Lord of London's Olympic rings remains resolutely optimistic that the overall legacy he promised when London first won the bid for 2012 will be fulfilled.

He recognises that in the current economic climate – the stringent cutbacks at national and local level - (and not least the fact that in order not to become the white elephant in the room, the Olympic Stadium has been gift-wrapped for West Ham by London Mayor Boris Johnson at the taxpayers' expense) "there is not a lot of goodwill out there."

But he insists that Olympic legacy will come good as part of what he calls his "ten year mission".

It has begun, he says, where he always believed it should - in schools.

In his capacity as legacy adviser to the Prime Minister, he has been instrumental in pushing through the new £150 million ($230 million/ a year funding for primary school sport.

164278020The future of the Olympic Stadium was sealed last week when London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that a deal had finally been done with West Ham United, which will see them move to the stadium in August 2016

"The focus on primary schools was one thing we needed to get right," he told insidethegames.

"This is not about delivering elite level, sportsmen and women but giving kids quality access to sport in primary schools where it is most needed. I cannot remember another time in my life when we have had the consensus of so many different government departments."

This cash, he says, "will go some way to answering some of the questions that were left in the air when the Schools Sports Partnershipp disappeared.

Coe answers directly to David Cameron, who chairs the heavyweight Cabinet Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy. It includes Education Secretary Michael Gove, Foreign Secretary William Hague, Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, Chancellor George Osborne, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Business Secretary Vince Cable. Boris Johnson also pops in occasionally.

Coe claims that the PM "bumped heads together" across Government departments to extract "a sensible sum of money" for the project.

"Investing in kids is one of the core legacies of 2012. I go back to my words in Singapore when we insisted that the power of the Games must inspire more young people to take up sport.

"Within 27 weeks of the Closing Ceremony to get £100 million plus on the table targeted at primary school kids is a serious start on that ten years journey. This is the beginning.

Is there a busier bee in Britain than Sebastian Newbold Coe, aka Baron Coe of Ranmore, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire and Companion of Honour, whom I have known since he was plain Seb, a 17-year-old fresh-faced, prodigiously talented young athlete living in Sheffield who I first reported on for his local newspaper?

90764784"Seb" breaks the world 1500 metres in Zurich in 1979, urged on by his father and coach Peter Coe

Newly-elected chair of the British Olympic Association, vice-president of the IAAF, executive chair of CSM Sport and Entertainment, ambassador for Nike, Government guru, member of the House of Lords and, until June, in charge of winding up 2012 affairs as Locog supremo.

These days, his lordship has become the nearest thing to royalty you can get without actually donning a coronet.

However he says one of his most important roles is helping create post-Games business deals for British interests, in conjunction with his good friend, the sports minister Hugh Robertson.

Recent visits to Madrid, Qatar, Rio and Russia have been productive. Britain already has some £700 million worth of contracts allied to the Rio Olympics ranging from construction to consultancy work. "This is also part of the Games legacy.

"Nobody is sitting back on their laurels and simply saying, well done, we had a really exciting Games. Everyone is out there drumming up business for Britain."

As Coe acknowledges, the critical post-script will be what 2012 bequeaths to youngsters in Britain. 'Inspire a Generation' has been the buzz-phrase. But will they?

"The legacy for school sport is paramount. That legacy will not fall into our laps just because we've had a Games that we think will incite and inspire.  If we don't do something that is coherent and strategic then we will end up like Wimbledon when the tennis rackets come out and a fortnight later are back in the cupboard. We can't afford that because we will never have this opportunity again.

"We are in great shape to build on the success of these Games but it is not going to come without a concerted, hard-nosed political will, locally and nationally.

"As I said, we are in the first stages of that legacy. This hasn't been a quick stab on the accelerator after the Games. I've always seen this as a ten year journey.

"I think we've made a good start but you never know if there will be a change of government or political thinking within the next ten years. So it is important we enshrine the spirit the Games had irrespective of who is in charge politically.

"I have spoken to Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman about this. Fortunately I don't think they see me as a political animal any more. I left that years ago.

"It will need successive Cabinet Ministers, London Mayors, borough leaders, Prime Ministers to really go driving forward to embed sport at the heart of the political and social agenda.

"There is no way that Olympic legacy has been kicked into touch. Absolutely not."

Fine words, and as always Coe picks them as carefully and elegantly as he did his footsteps in his record-breaking days treading the world's athletics tracks.

I have no doubt that, given time, he will deliver the legacy he pledged. It just seems a pity he can't employ the green belt he acquired at judo to put the likes of Merton Council in a stranglehold.

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 Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
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