Olympics will be a gift to the young

5th January 2007 at 00:00
Ade Adepitan is a basketball player and CBBC presenter. He won a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles saved my life. Not literally, although I'm sure I wouldn't have been as successful and would have had a much harder time if I hadn't seen those games on our little television in east London.

It's hard to describe what those games did for me, and the effect they had on my psyche. Growing up in Plaistow and Stratford in east London in the 1980s, I was surrounded by poverty. But I was lucky. I had a dream born of watching my heroes Daley Thompson and Seb Coe.

My road to Paralympic success was long and arduous, but the inspiration I gained from watching the world's greatest athletes compete on TV drove my passion. Their example gave me focus and goals.

Unfortunately, in those tough years many of my friends spent time in prison, punished for a life of crime. I'm not saying that I would have become a criminal if it hadn't been for the Olympics, but I do know they enhanced my life-chances. That's why recent headlines about the spiralling costs of the 2012 London games, and the negative comments from the pessimists who think it's not worth the bother, and that the money could be better spent, cause me so much dismay.

OK, we have a poor record on managing large-scale projects: the Millennium Dome, the Scottish parliament building and Wembley stadium are obvious examples. But while I agree that we don't want the financing to get out of control, I think the non-believers are wrong to focus only on the costs. To understand the true value of 2012, we must look beyond the money.

The UK is now in a dangerous free-fall when it comes to sport. Our younger generation is already suffering the repercussions, with obesity levels rising and gun and knife crimes among the under-25s soaring. We are seeing a generation that is lost, especially in the most deprived areas, including my own East End, where the 2012 games will be based.

Of course, 2012 will not mean the waving of a magic wand to cut the rates of obesity; nor will it magically invoke a passion for sport among children. But I believe the games could be the greatest gift to the next generation, by providing the kind of hope and inspiration that had such an effect on me back in 1984.

What makes children is their innocence, their ability to dream. Small things can have a dramatic effect on children's minds. I was entranced by the Los Angeles games, even though they took place thousands of miles away across the Atlantic. Without doubt, they empowered me and they changed my life.

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