Each appeared to be fighting for the same thing while insisting that their respective domains were completely different. In one episode the head of sustainability, Kay Hope, explained: “From a sustainability point of view the Olympics isn’t really about sport at all. This whole thing starts where the sport ends.”
“Presumably,” asked the spoof interverviewer, “sustainability is very closely connected to legacy?”
“Beg your pardon?” Hope replied, her back arching. “They are not the same. Sustainability is about using the Games as a catalyst for change. It’s about improving the quality of life in the east of London and encouraging new ways of life in the whole of the UK that take into account our debt not only to the past but also the future. Whereas legacy is totally different.”
“Yes,” replies the interviewer. “Yes, I see.”
The joke, really, was not that legacy and sustainability meant essentially the same, but that both had come to mean nothing, and could be added to the lexicon of corporate bullshit, alongside job titles such as (these are all real): blue sky thinker-in-residence, digital prophet and chief privacy officer.
I was reminded of the TV programme when told about the route for stage three of this year’s Tour de France, from Cambridge to London. This saw the peloton go east for a loop around Essex before entering London, passing the Olympic Park before finishing on the Mall. The diversion through Stratford, I was told, was to “tick the legacy box”.
You could see Fi Healey, head of legacy at the Twenty Twelve “Deliverance Commission”, nodding approvingly at that.
But ticking boxes is one thing; legacy is – or should be – something else. Perhaps it is easier to define it by what it is not. It is not the Tour de France whizzing past the Olympic Park one Monday lunchtime.
It’s a shame that the word has been hijacked. Legacy can certainly be a tangible thing. Look at the facilities in London, Manchester and Glasgow following their hosting of Olympic and Commonwealth Games – and further back, Edinburgh. Who can deny that Meadowbank and the Royal Commonwealth Pool did not have a positive effect on the city after the 1970 Games?
But the intangible, or “soft” legacy, can be equally significant. (Yes, “head of soft legacy” was a job title that was crying out to be filled on Twenty Twelve.)
Perhaps Manchester is the best example of a city where hosting a major games – the 2002 Commonwealths – seemed to have profound effects, hard and soft. In east Manchester there is Sportcity, comprising a velodrome (which has carried on expanding), a stadium (now occupied by Manchester City, with the Etihad Campus another indirect legacy), the National Squash Centre, English Institute of Sport, a tennis centre and gymnasium. But the changes in Manchester went beyond bricks and mortar. Consider what Gary Verity told me earlier this year. Verity is the man who brought the Tour de France to Yorkshire as head of the region’s tourism agency. Having worked in the city of London and overseas he returned to his native Yorkshire in 2009 and “encountered a lot of strange attitudes”. Verity explained: “There was this chip on our shoulder about Manchester. You know, ‘Manchester can do this, or Manchester have got that’. That never used to be the case.”
Verity reckoned that it all stemmed from the 2002 Commonwealth Games: “I felt that was probably Manchester’s tipping point. After that, they developed a different attitude. The answer for them became ‘Yes, now what’s the question?’ whereas in other cities it would be, ‘We can’t do that, it’s too difficult, or it costs too much’. Manchester developed that confidence, that swagger, that dynamism.”
Realising this, Verity decided Yorkshire “needed something that could be our Commonwealth Games moment” – hence his successful bid for the Tour.
Or consider what Michael Cavanagh, chairman of Commonwealth Games Scotland, said this week as he recovered from the Glasgow Games on his sofa at home. “I’ve said for years that the Commonwealth Games changed Manchester,” said Cavanagh.
“My sport is wrestling, and the national training centre was in Manchester, in Salford actually, since the late 1980s. So I spent big chunks of my life in Manchester. And pre-2002 it was not a place I looked forward to going to. It was pretty grim, to be honest. But, while the Games were on, it felt different. It did something for the city’s confidence. I do think now that Manchester feels like a different city.”
The legacy from the Manchester Games hasn’t stopped, Cavanagh added. “I was at a meeting there last year, and we toured the facilities. The velodrome is now a huge sports park. And there are the plans for new facilities around the football stadium [the Etihad Campus].”
Glasgow did not get, because it did not need, the new facilities that Manchester required, so perhaps the 2014 Games will struggle to have the transformative impact of the 2002 Games, with Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council since 1996, claiming recently that “the Games accelerated regeneration and economic growth in the city by 20 years or more”.
Of course, the fact that 70 per cent of the infrastructure was already in place was one of the major attractions of the Glasgow bid, although the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome is new, facilities such as the Tollcross International Swimming Centre were upgraded, and the Hydro was a revelation as a sporting venue.
But, as Manchester proved, legacy doesn’t just mean shiny new buildings. It can take the form of a less tangible, yet no less profound, new or renewed sense of “confidence, swagger and dynamism” in the city and its people, rippling out and instilling in others the idea that Glasgow and world class sport go together like Bolt and speed, or legacy and sustainability.
As our old friend Kay Hope said: “This whole thing starts where the sport ends.”