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Singapore, July 6 2005: As the International Olympic Committee president at the time, Jacques Rogge, prepared to open the envelope confirming the host city of the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, I felt strangely calm. I knew it was going to be close, but whatever happened, there was nothing more we could do – the vote had already taken place. Or, to put it in sporting context, the race was over. We were just waiting for the result of the photo finish.
In reality, of course, the moment the word ‘London’ passed his lips, the race had only just begun.
Did we know the significance of winning the bid and what it would mean to the country at the time? I would say yes and no.
At lunch the day before the presentations and the vote, I sat down with some of the fellow athletes who were part of the bid team – people such as Daley Thompson, Jonathan Edwards, Denise Lewis, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Steve Redgrave. Each one of us agreed we would swap our individual medals for the vote to go our way the next day. There was no doubt we knew hosting the world’s biggest sporting events in the UK would be a major opportunity and even a game changer for the country.
We made a number of promises as part of the bid. We said we wanted to engage and inspire young people in London and across the world through the power of sport. We said we wanted the Games to have a tangible legacy for the nation – in sport, infrastructure, society and economically.
This was not a sports day and a few fireworks to be forgotten about a month later.
What I certainly never anticipated 10 years ago, however, was quite how the British public would take ownership of the Games. Of course, we hoped people would get behind it, just as they had got behind the bid. We wanted it to be a Games for everyone but, as I said at the closing ceremony, these were a Games by everyone. We, at the organising committee, did not set the agenda, the media did not set the agenda, people up and down the country grabbed the Games and said these are our Games, this is our nation.
Whether it was the Paralympic Games redefining the word ‘disability’, Games Makers bringing a fresh approach to the concept of volunteering or the Olympic Torch Relay uniting communities like never before, London 2012 gave us a glimpse of a successful, confident and united country.
The Princess Royal and Lord Coe shortly after the announcement in Singapore
That was all to come, of course. Back in 2005, a day after we won the bid to host the Games, London was subjected to a dreadful, cowardly terrorist attack. What followed then was a show of unity and strength borne out of grief and fear. Whilst we will never and must never forget what happened that day, in the summer of 2012 we saw what I hope was the closure of that particular chapter – a London united in a show of unity and strength borne out of celebration and joy.
And what of those promises 10 years on?
There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth whenever Sport England releases its latest participation figures. I believe there is little value in looking at the figures in six-monthly chunks, let us look at it across 10-year cycles. Pre-2005, there is little doubt sport participation was declining and had been for a long time, particularly amongst young people. Since bidding for the Games, that trend has reversed. In the past 10 years of the Active People survey, 1.4 million more people are doing sport at least once a week. The number of young people participating is sport is up and stable. I say this without a vestige of complacency – individual sports need to work harder than they have ever done to remain relevant and accessible in today’s world – but this is not a battle ‘won’ or ‘lost’ every six months.
After the Games, I spent a year advising the Prime Minister around the legacy of London 2012 and one of the key programmes we implemented was bringing together the Department for Culture, Media and Sport alongside the Health and Education departments to allow for £150 million of funding to primary schools for the provision of sport and health education. Good habits, active lifestyles and sporting activity experienced in early education will pay dividends. We can but hope that this programme will continue.
International Inspiration, our overseas foundation to inspire young people, has given Britain the opportunity to build a tangible legacy beyond our own borders with 25 million children in 20 countries given the opportunity to play sport. Still going today as an independent charity, International Inspiration continues to contribute to the United Nation’s global agenda.
Denise Lewis, Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell recat in contrasting fashion
At an elite level, the next summer Games are not much more than a year away. UK Sport and lottery funding is giving British athletes a fighting chance of being able to challenge for success in any number of sports.
At the British Olympic Association, the organisation I chair, plans are well advanced and we will take an extremely competitive Team GB into Rio with world class coaching and support right behind them. I have always maintained a well-stocked shop window in terms of athlete role models will help inspire others to get into sport and it is vital that this is continued.
And let us not forget what else London 2012 left behind. A swathe of east London is unrecognisable from 2005 when we hosted a visit by the IOC, where from the top of a high-rise block of flats I pointed in the general direction of what looked like a mountain of fridges and explained to an IOC member that there would be a state-of-the-art aquatics centre there. Indeed earlier this year, I was back at that very aquatics centre where I saw Tom Daley and the British diving team training, whilst fitness swimmers were doing lengths in the main pool and families were streaming in to use the other 50‑metre pool for recreational swimming. In the meantime, new housing, a stunning new park and a whole new community is growing in the area. Westfield, with its shopping, food and drink outlets provides local employment and entertainment for thousands of people every day.
Ten years on from a one-hour presentation in Singapore, all of that makes me very proud.
David Beckham and Tessa Jowell in Singapore
Almost daily, whether I am walking down the street, on the tube or sitting at an airport I am stopped by people wanting to talk to me about London 2012. Wanting to tell me about where they were in 2005 when we won the bid, about their son or daughter’s time as a Games Maker or their memories of that summer.
At the time, winning the bid was about the success and pride of winning the chance to host the Games. Ten years on and I can see that moment is actually about people.
The people who worked with me at the organising committee to make the Games a reality. The people who built the venues. The people who volunteered their time and ‘made’ the Games. The athletes who showcased their extraordinary talents. The crowds who came in their millions to watch in the venues. The people who came together to make London and the UK such a special place in 2012.
A lot has happened in those 10 years, but there is still much, much more to come.