Barney Ronay (Gold medals are illusory, world-class public facilities should be the goal, 23 July) says “the idea of a tangible legacy [from the London 2012 Olympics] was always flimflam”, but one of the most important factors in the Games being awarded to the UK was that we had already put in place the grassroots plan to ensure the legacy years before we even made the bid.
In 2002 the Labour government had created, in England, school sport partnerships (SSPs), based in 450 secondary sports colleges, each of which was responsible for hugely increasing participation in sport in both their own school and a network of local secondaries, each releasing PE specialists for half of every week to help train primary school teachers to widen the sports offer to their pupils and to deliver quality coaching. Identifying talent at the grassroots and nurturing it through to local clubs and on to county, national and Team GB participation was another very firm objective.
The scheme was administered by the Youth Sport Trust, chaired by Sue Campbell; at the same time, as chair of UK Sport, she was also presiding over the funding of athletes in the run-up to the Bejing and London Olympics and Paralympics. So, both development of elite excellence and the grassroots “culture of participation” that Ronay desires were in the same capable strategic hands, and it made a huge contribution to our being awarded the 2012 Games. Sadly, in 2010 Michael Gove and David Cameron dismantled the SSPs, and with them the plans for a sporting legacy.
Good facilities are helpful, but the thing that makes the difference at every level of sport is good coaching. In 2012 the SSP based at my school in Tower Hamlets was twinned with and visited Usain Bolt’s secondary school in Jamaica. When we met the great man at his training ground, we were at first astonished to see the relative poverty of the running track and facilities, with weeds growing through the surface, then remembered that it was Bolt’s coaches, not fancy facilities, that made the difference. As it could and would have done for vast numbers of youngsters in England if politicians had only had the common sense, and decency, to keep the promise that we had made to the world.
Retired sports college head, London