Olympics: Sir Keith Mills wants Games to leave sporting mark
WHEN the Olympic torch relay leaves Scotland, will our enthusiasm for the Games fade? When the London Olympics are over, will the whole country forget about being inspired by sport?
It is Sir Keith Mills’ mission to ensure the answer to both questions is no. For the past nine years he has been a leading figure in the organising committee for this summer’s Olympics, first as the chief executive of the London bid and then as vice-chairman of the organising committee, Locog.
He is determined that the inspiration which young people in particular feel as a result of the torch relay and then the Games themselves, will not evaporate. And he has backed up that determination with his own hard cash by founding Sported, a charity which aims to change the lives of disadvantaged young people through sport.
In Scotland at the weekend to see the progress of the torch, Mills explained why he had put £10million of his own money into Sported, which was only established in Scotland four months ago but has already got several programmes up and running. “We promised we’d use the London Games to inspire the youth of the world, which is a very grand promise,” he said.
“We have two programmes to try to deliver it. One of them is Sported, which is delivering the promise across the UK, and the other is called International Inspirations, which does the same thing in 20 countries around the world. Locog doesn’t fund either. I started Sported, and personally put £10m into it. But now we’re getting funding from other sources too.
“The organisation behind the Games soon disappears. In September, our staff – we have 6,000 at present – drops to 500. And by next June Locog is gone. Hopefully Sported and International Inspirations will be around for some time to come.”
Best known as the founder of Air Miles and Nectar Points, Sir Keith does not claim to be involved in Sported for purely altruistic reasons. He is not seeking a financial return at all, but he is recompensed in another way. He said: “You get a lot out of helping people who simply don’t have money. Volunteers are amazing, but they do it because they enjoy it, and I do this because I get a lot out of it.
“I don’t do it because I want to go to heaven. I do it because I get a lot back from it, frankly.
“And I think these kids deserve help. They’re a very difficult bunch to reach, because they shun a more formal approach. Anything that looks institutional, they run a mile from.
“We give them money, and it’s run by people like them. We fund a boxing club in south London, for example, and the guy that runs it was a gang leader. He was in prison for stabbing someone. Nobody messes around in his gym.”
If that gym or any other Sported project produces a future Olympian, all well and good. But the main aim of the charity is to inspire as many young people as possible, not just to bring on an elite few. And, having been with the torch since it was lit in Greece, Mills feels that it is having a similar effect.
“The impact of the torch is phenomenal,” he added. “When you ask people why they are here to watch the relay, they say: This is symbolic. We’ll never see this again, and this is our way of getting close to the Games.
“It has an effect of touching people in a way I’ve never experienced before. My first experience of that was in Olympia, when they lit the flame. That was very emotional. But now to see it running all over the country is amazing.”
And Mills feels that, while some Scots have complained that the Olympics feel too remote, Glaswegians, especially, will warm to the Games, knowing that their turn will come in 2014. “With Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games in two years, I think it in particular will look at the Olympics through a different pair of glasses.
“They’re going to think: ‘It’s our turn to shine in two years’ time. The world is focusing on London in July and August. In two years’ time it will be us. Let’s make sure that Glasgow can bask in the same sunshine’.”
• For more information about the Sported charity, log on to www.sported.org.uk.
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