Sport - 'An opportunity to impact on 280m South Americans'

18th October 2013 at 01:00
Man behind London Olympics says legacy has 'set a bar' for Rio

The mastermind of the London 2012 Olympics has said that the educational legacy of the event has "set a bar" for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In an interview with TES, Lord Coe, the former chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said Brazil's tournament would be "an opportunity to impact and imprint on 280 million young South Americans".

Lord Coe (pictured below), who won gold medals in the 1,500m at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, secured a deal from the UK government that ensured #163;300 million would be pumped into primary schools to deliver high-quality physical education (PE). This commitment meant that, in terms of leaving a school sport legacy, the city compared "extremely well" to previous Games, he said.

"Have we set Brazil a bar? Yes, we have, just as the Games before set us the challenge. Sydney set us the challenge just as Beijing did," Lord Coe added. "Every Games creates their own bar.

"In going to Rio, the Games are not just going to a city for the first time, or a country for the first time, they are going to a continent for the first time. You've got the opportunity to impact and imprint on 280 million young South Americans - that is an extraordinary opportunity for the Olympic movement."

David Hemery, Olympic hurdler and founder of 21st Century Legacy, a charity that uses the London Games to inspire students in sport and academic study, agreed with Lord Coe's comments. He added that the educational follow-up to the 2012 Games was "a real model to Rio".

The organisers behind the Rio Games have said that they are working towards a "lasting legacy", which will include delivering a greater number of more diverse sporting activities to 800,000 school students across Brazil.

But Rio may face an uphill struggle: over the summer, the city was rocked by violent protests and riots when a million people took to the streets in opposition to Brazil's decision to stage the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016. The protesters argued that the billions being spent on the two events would be better used to improve the city's schools and hospitals.

Despite Lord Coe's positive comments, the sporting impact of the London Olympics was the subject of considerable criticism in the immediate aftermath of the Games. Politicians, school leaders and even England's schools inspectorate Ofsted warned that the government risked failing to capitalise on the tournament by not implementing a clear school sport strategy.

In March this year, prime minister David Cameron announced that England's primary schools would receive #163;150 million per year over the next two years in a bid to capitalise on the Games and ensure that children were switched on to sport at the earliest possible age.

However, the Commons Education Select Committee, a panel of highly influential MPs, warned that the plans could end up being little more than a "gimmick" unless the government made longer-term commitments.

Lord Coe argued that the criticism of the sporting legacy from London 2012 was "unfounded", adding that the deal he helped to negotiate between the Cabinet and the departments of health, education, and culture, media and sport was a "first in his political lifetime".

"For me, the need to really get children into the patterns of physical activity, ideally through sport, between the ages of 8 and 12 is crucial," he said. "For 15- and 16-year-olds who haven't got that physical literacy, or whose first experience of PE wasn't a positive one, it's a very difficult landscape to clamber back on to. So I would say this has not been a bad start (to the legacy)."

Founded as part of the Olympic bid, 21st Century Legacy has helped more than 124,000 UK school students in their sporting and academic lives, using the Games and its athletes as inspiration.

"I don't think very many other countries have mentioned a legacy to quite such a degree as London, and I think we have given a gift to the rest of the world," Dr Hemery said. "London has been a real model to Rio and elsewhere in a way that is quite exciting."

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