This weekend London plays host to the “Anniversary Games” where the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt will return to Stratford’s Olympic Park, with the hope of rekindling some of the magic that held a nation under a spell of awe and pride. In the glorious summer of 2012, the question of whether the London Olympics would be worth it seemed to have been answered, underpinned by the exploits of the British athletes on that Super Saturday.
Now however, a year on from the games, that question has popped up again. A government report last week claimed that £9.9bn in trade and investment had landed on Britain’s shores as a result of hosting the most prestigious sporting event around, exceeding the £8.7bn cost to the public purse. Indeed, UK Trade and Investment collected £5.9bn of deals at an 18-day business summit during the games, and then added to that with £2.5bn of inward investment and £1.5bn won by companies for work in countries hosting forthcoming Olympics and other big sporting events in, for example, Brazil and Russia.
On the other hand, the inevitable doom and gloom of critics rears its ugly head, stating that it would be impossible to know for sure how much of the business would have occurred even without the games. They also point to missed opportunities – some companies were not able to promote their Olympic work because the London organising committee signed a protocol to protect its sponsors.
A report by Grant Thornton, the professional services group, estimated that the Olympics would be worth between £28bn and £41bn in gross value added to the UK from 2004 to 2020. Again, critics are questioning this figure.
It is not just the economic value that needs to be taken into account though. Yes, it’s important that the Olympics bought a healthy financial return, but other factors need to be considered. The Olympics instilled a sense of national pride, something that Britain had not experience in quite some time. It brought strangers together, and people talked to each other on the tube! It also showed that what makes an individual different also makes them great. The Paralympics is a prime example of this, with a general shift in public opinion of how we view disability – we see our Paralympians as Superhuman, often performing feats of physical strength that would flummox many “able-bodied” people.
A further example is the promotion of women’s sport. The European Women’s football finals has been showing on the BBC for the past couple of weeks, and on prime top slots. Success also breeds further success with Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, Chris Froome winning the yellow jersey of the Tour de France and the Lions dominating in Australia. Britain is witnessing a success in sport that has not been witnessed in a long time, and that all kicked off on that fantastic opening ceremony last July. Who knows, at this rate is it too much to dare believe that England can win the football world cup in Brazil next year? Probably.
So the critics can go on about the lack of the economic benefit brought to Britain by the Olympics, but the wider, positive social impact that is has made is a priceless attribute that could not have been bought any other way. So, in that respect the London 2012 Olympics has more than paid its worth.