- Katherine Grainger; four-time Olympic rowing medallist and London 2012 gold medal winner
- Sue Campbell (Baroness Campbell of Loughborough); Chair, UK Sport (2003-present day)
- Neale Coleman; Mayor of London’s advisor on London 2012 since 2003 and Deputy Chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation
- Hugh Robertson MP; Minister for Sport, Tourism and Olympic Legacy
Chair: Jill Rutter
Introducing the event, Jill Rutter announced that the institute’s ‘Making the Games’ report on what lessons government could learn from London 2012 had been published earlier in the day. One of the striking things noted in that report was Mission 2012, UK Sport’s performance tracking system in the run-up to the Games. Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute started proceedings by presenting Baroness Campbell with the Inspiration for Government award in recognition of Mission 2012’s success.
The focus of the discussion was on the potential legacy of the Games.
Katherine Grainger focused on the role of UK Sport in athlete success and on prospects for a sporting legacy from the Games. The establishment of Lottery funding and UK Sport in the 1990s had made sport a career option for a wider range of athletes. London 2012 had generated a huge amount of energy around sport. A huge challenge now existed around harnessing that energy. The Olympics & Paralympics had inspired people of all ages to participate in sport, but a limited window now existed to fully capture that level of enthusiasm; if we failed to do so then we’d look back at a massive missed opportunity.
Sue Campbell outlined how UK Sport had developed after the UK had finished 36th in the 1996 Olympic medal table with one gold medal, Lottery funding had enabled it to rise to 10th in 2000. On being appointed as ‘Reform Chair’ of UK Sport in 2003, Campbell had looked at why Australia had finished 4th in the 2000 medal table while we had finished 10th; she had concluded that it was in large part because we were satisfied with that level of achievement. UK Sport had therefore introduced a philosophy of ‘no compromise’ which was about accepting that you cannot compromise in areas including the quality of support you give to athletes and the people you employ if you want to be the best in the world. She explained that while not all sports had found that easy to accept some, like gymnastics had risen to the challenge. While their funding had been cut in 2004 as a result of their performance, they had gone through necessary changes to deliver the medals that had been won in London. In total sixteen sports had accepted that attitude for the Olympics, and that change in mentality was a key part of UK Sport’s legacy from the Games which would not disappear. The aim for Rio 2016 was to be the first country in history that did better at the Olympics after their home Games.
Neale Coleman referred to a recent Telegraph article on unrealistic expectations for the Olympic legacy – he warned that misuse of the phrase ‘Olympic legacy’ was turning it into a catch-all which had inevitably led to disappointment about elements of the legacy. He argued, however, that a great deal of the legacy had been delivered before the Games. The health and safety record on the construction of the Olympic Park and embedded sustainability within it (both highlighted by the Institute’s report) were ground-breaking feats which should be replicated across future construction projects. Transport projects such as the East London overground line and completion of the London orbital rail route would not have been completed as quickly without the Olympics. He highlighted that the much-publicised increase in the Olympic budget in 2007 had been to accommodate this increased level of ambition in regenerating the Olympic Park and surrounding area. While the legacy structure had not been perfect, it had been an improvement on any previous Games with contracts for every venue on the Park except for the main stadium and broadcast centre being let prior to the Olympic opening ceremony.
Hugh Robertson began by taking the audience back to 2004; at the point at which he became shadow sports minister London was still an underdog to be awarded the Games, behind both Paris and Madrid. A change in government between 2005 and 2012 was historically almost inevitable; only once in the last century had the government that had won the bid been in power for the Olympics themselves. Key elements in the success of the Games had included:
- Continuity of personnel – this existed at both the political and official level. Himself, Tessa Jowell and Don Foster had been in place as Olympics spokespeople for their respective parties from 2005 until 2012 – a level of continuity exceptionally rate in British politics.
- The high-quality of leadership in both ODA and LOCOG. The teams assembled in each had complementary skills which nevertheless worked very effectively together.
- Starting early had proven crucial; it had allowed a full year for testing and refining of the Olympic Park, meaning that the Games ran more smoothly than would otherwise have been the case.
He challenged the recommendation from the Institute report that major projects should seek to limit innovation, citing the quality of the architecture of the velodrome and Aquatics Centre as a showcase for British industry on the Park. He concluded by outlining the five legacy pillars – economic, sporting, regeneration, community and disability; however, the most important legacy was that the UK was now seen as being able to deliver projects to a really high standard.
Questions focused on the sporting legacy at a local level (especially given funding cuts to local councils), how to encourage world-class athletes to enter coaching after their sporting career, and promoting sport in schools.