The end of the beginning

Like Jessica Ennis going into her final event; LOCOG’s Games were the final act in seven years of hard work by a variety of organisations. Early success was already in the bag. Great sustainable infrastructure, venues and a wonderful green park constructed by the ODA. Only venues that have a clear legacy use were designed to be permanent. The use of temporary venues has been unprecedented. Long term investment in public transport infrastructure has made Stratford one of the best connected places in Europe. The world’s first public transport Games was delivered by Transport for London and LOCOG despite all the predictions of doom and gridlock. The cheerful volunteers made the experience a joy. I even saw some people on the tube talking to each other! Why can’t it be like that all the time?

LOCOG’s spectacular success in delivering a low carbon Olympic cauldron set the scene. London 2012 has demonstrated that it is possible to deliver a wonderful variety of sustainably sourced, competitively priced food and aim to dispose of the packaging with recycling and composting performance that should put the rest of the event industry to shame. Green spaces were well looked after. This was billed as the Games for everybody and ample access for people of all abilities was provided. It was great to see families, older people and disabled people enjoying the party too.

Unfortunately LOCOG’s energy conservation plan was developed too late to engage venue managers effectively and despite great efforts of the team on the ground it could have been so much better. The decision not to allow people to bring their own food into the Live Sites in Hyde Park and Victoria Park combined with inferior and expensive catering undermined the principle of “everybody’s Games”. The “no idling” message simply did not get through to bus drivers. Every transport hub we visited we saw stationary vehicles with engines running; polluting the environment, damaging health and haemorrhaging cash. It was a similar picture with many lights left on in broad daylight.

As I have observed over the course of these Games, I have been delighted to watch the new found popularity of East London as visitors have flocked to watch the sport and stayed to shop, socialise and experience the area. Whilst by contrast the West End has reportedly been adversely affected, I’m confident this part of London will bounce back and the important point is that we’re seeing encouraging signs that a sustainable legacy for the East is on its way.

The tremendous success of Team GB at these Games will not be enough to generate a step change for the rest of the nation in terms of health. An increase in sports participation is likely to be short lived and it will take investment in community and school sport and a clear plan to tackle the current obesity crisis.

London 2012 has set high standards but sustainability is not a fixed concept; other host cities need to make their own interpretation. However there are some global issues that must be tackled. The issue of aligning the Olympic values to consistent and improving ethical behaviour by sponsors cannot be ignored and constructive engagement will be necessary in future to improve this situation. Despite the best efforts of LOCOG it has not been possible to entirely eliminate abuses of workers’ rights in the supply chain. This issue goes beyond audits and requires engagement with factory owners, trade unions and the workers themselves. There is an opportunity to build on the good work done by LOCOG to ensure that the heirs to Wenlock and Mandeville are made in conditions where the workers are treated with the respect they deserve.

In the main, London’s sustainable Games have been a massive success but like the best sports teams there is a need to continuously improve. I wish the IOC and future host cities success in proving they can do better.

Now bring on the Paralympics.

Shaun McCarthy

August 2012

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