My life has been wrapped in football since aged 8. Most things are planned around a match on TV, football training, or the weekend match. For 19 years, it has been this way. And I still remember when it started all that time ago. Some of my friends had started playing when they were 5 or 6. But it wasn’t until the encrypted TV screen turned into a match between Manchester United and Norwich City that I was gripped.
This moment was when football began for me. And, indeed, that year was the year that football began its rise into the stratosphere.
There has been lots of talk of learning from the failures of Atlanta, Athens and Barcelona in order to cement the Olympic legacy in Britain, and the impetus has been placed mainly on the Government to learn these lessons. Of course, government has a role. The money is needed, which is why it should be welcomed that David Cameron has pledged to ring-fence spending on elite sports until 2016. And more is needed from the Government, both in policy and in cold hard cash. But it is unfair, and unproductive, to place the burden of ensuring the legacy solely on the shoulders of the state.
For me, the media is as, if not more, important than the Government on this. Just as I was taken by finally seeing live football on my TV, millions of people have been gripped by what they’ve seen at London 2012. But it cannot end now if the legacy is to be successful.
Football’s monopoly of media coverage needs to be loosened.
BBC can be the standard bearer for the legacy. After such brilliant coverage of the Olympics, they should now ride the wave. Bring back Grandstand, put it front-and-centre and keep us all interested. Put Clare Balding and Gabby Logan’s talents – the best at the Beeb – to use and have them provide the continuity from the amazing scenes of the last few weeks. Give us Michael Johnson, Denise Lewis and Chris Hoy to offer insight into the sports. It would be a welcome antidote to the banal, unintelligent nonsense we hear every week on Match of the Day.
And of course, much else could spring from there. If that happens, and we are kept interested, commercial interest will grow. The money will flow into other sports in the same way it did to football from 1992. The financial burden on government will then be loosened, making it easier for everyone to work to ensure the 2012 legacy. The role models we’ve so rightly praised will come to the fore. They may even organically change the nature of our beloved footballers – but don’t hold your breath on that one.
The point is: we cannot simply wait for the legacy to happen. It needs parents to keep encouraging their kids to go to athletics practice. It needs government to keep providing the platform and the funding. It needs teachers and coaches to capture the opportunity to keep more children in sports. It also needs us adults to take some action. It would be a great shame if the wave of people committing to participate in and watch more varied sports turns into just another New Year’s Resolution. To paraphrase a new British hero, it will all come through hard work and grafting. We can learn too.
But without the media, all of the above could go to waste.
It’s time for us all to act to ensure that London 2012 isn’t just remembered as 2 incredible weeks.
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