Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature London Olympics

Will London’s Olympic public health legacy turn to dust?

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 21 June 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e4207
  1. Denis Campbell, health correspondent
  1. 1 Guardian, London, UK
  1. denis.campbell{at}

London won the Olympic bid on the back of a promise to increase young people’s participation in sport. Denis Campbell assesses the likelihood of success

For years cities and countries vying to host mega sports events like the World Cup and Olympic Games competed on the basis of who had the best venues, most robust security systems, most imaginative legacy plans, and other similarly technical aspects. But in 2005, London rewrote the rulebook in its quest to win what some call sport’s greatest prize—the right to stage the summer Olympics. If London got the Games, it would use them to inspire young people to play sport.

In early July that year bid teams from the five cities vying to host the event in 2012—London, Paris, Madrid, Moscow, and New York—gathered in Singapore to make a final presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Not even the key figures in London’s team, headed by Sebastian Coe, a double Olympic gold medal winner turned politician, expected to be first across the line.

Where the other four pitches embodied perspiration, London’s went for inspiration. Its 100 strong team inside the Raffles City Convention Centre’s ballroom gave a clue to its intentions. Among its contingent were 30 pupils from Langdon secondary school in Newham, east London, near where the Games would be held if London won.

In an evocative address, Coe tapped into a fear inside the IOC and the wider global concern about many children’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles: “We can no longer take it for granted that young people will choose sport. Some may lack the facilities, or the coaches and role models to teach them. Others, in an age of 24 hour entertainment and instant fame, may simply lack the desire.” But Coe added, “We are determined that a London Games will …

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