The result at last week’s Olympic debate was far from a Usain Bolt-style runaway as the members braved stormy weather to narrowly agree with the proposition that “the London Olympics will deliver the promised legacy”.
This was despite an architect of the 2012 Olympics bid, former Sports Minister Richard Caborn, speaking strikingly in opposition to the motion, claiming the Olympics will “fail to deliver” benefits of increased sports participation.
The first three proposition speakers in turn attempted their best impressions of Sebastian Coe. Richard Lewis, Chairman of Sport England, Andrew Hunt, Chief Executive of the BOA, and Richard Sumray, a games organiser, began eulogising about the regeneration of East London and the improvement of sporting facilities across the UK to deliver the “legacy” (a word repeated ad nauseum). Hunt proudly claimed that, while regeneration would have taken place anyway, “the Olympics have transformed the ambition and speed of it. We have already delivered on the legacy for East London.”
A major point of contention was whether the games would deliver increased sports participation by inspired youngsters, as the proposition acknowledged that there has been no rise whatsoever in participation thus far in the UK.
Opening opposition speaker, Daily Mail journalist Robert Hardman, was scathing in his denunciation of the Games: “Don’t believe that these quangos [a reference to the bodies run by the men opposite him] will make the games a success.” He rejected the idea the games will make “couch potatoes de-couch… If hosting the Olympics is the only way to inspire kids to take up sport then god help the other 200-odd nations of the world.”
After mocking Ken Livingstone for his claims that “these games will make a profit”, Hardman then told of how he was arrested in Athens while reporting on the legacy of the 2004 Olympics. He described the Greek swimming pool “the saddest sporting sight I’ve ever seen – a white elephant graveyard… All Olympics are like a bald middle-aged man revving his engine at traffic lights in an Aston Martin – cities spending money trying to prove a point.”
He was backed up by Lia Hervey, a Sky News journalist, who came armed with statistics on the “value for money” side of the games. She shone light on how the many “assumptions” made at the time of the bid were untrue including the promise of increased tourism and local jobs.
However, the stand out speaker was Alex Partridge, a Team GB rower who spoke movingly for the motion about how the games can inspire future athletes.
Union President Lauren Pringle commented: “I thoroughly enjoyed the debate and thought that despite the freezing cold outside the Chamber, the speakers were quite heated at times! One of the highlights of the evening for me was the quality of the floor speeches given by a number of Oxford Union members.”