Recent events in London have brought the city to its knees. A string of terror attacks followed by the catastrophic Grenfell Tower inferno have left communities scarred and angry. But it wasn’t too long ago that our capital city was united as one as the city hosted the 2012 Olympic Games. We supported not only the British athletes but male and female competitors from all nations, those who were able-bodied as well as the inspirational Paralympic athletes.
During those 16 summer days, the vibrancy, passion and hospitality of London and its citizens became the envy of the world. Londoners of all races and religions celebrated as Team GB won a record 65 medals, 29 of which were gold. Mo Farah, born in Mogadishu, defeated a world-class field and became the first British athlete in history to win 10,000 metres gold. Now a ‘double-double’ Olympic champion, Farah’s stature has seen him become one of the most inspirational symbols of multiculturalism in the UK.
Sadly those relatively utopian times seem far away in the current, fractious climate of our capital. Although lest we forget that just 12 months before the Games were held, London was gripped by violent rioting sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan by police, and that not less than 24 hours after London was awarded the right to host Olympic games (at the expense of Paris), 56 Londoners were murdered in the 7/7 atrocity. But Londoners as a collective are as resilient as they come. London has seen worse than these troubled few months. The Blitz and the IRA bombing campaign may have shaken the city but London will always prevail.
In times such as these, sport has an important part to play in bringing communities together and strengthening cultural identities. It may seem a stretch to suggest that because there is no common cause to get behind this summer (the Lions tour of New Zealand is huge in its own right, but it doesn’t nearly possess the magnetism of a football World Cup) that Londoners have turned on each other. While Labour and Tory supporters trade tiring vitriol on social media and Brexit looms large, the city needs something to celebrate and to take its collective minds off the trauma it has suffered this year.
Thankfully, between August 5 and 13, the World Athletics Championships are being held at the 60,000 capacity London Stadium. The Championships will feature the opportunity see the legendary 100 metre sprinter Usain Bolt do what he does best once more, before he bids farewell to the sport he has dominated for a decade. In a sport where athletes often make headlines for the wrong reasons, the Jamaican eight-time Olympic champion has been a ray of light in a somewhat murky world. Farah has also declared that the Championships will be his final track event, although he will still compete in marathons and road races.
‘Legacy’ was a much-used word during the 2012 Olympics. Sebastien Coe certainly fashioned an astonishing Games, one of the most successful ever, and unquestionably the finest episode in British sporting history, lapping even England’s football World Cup victory in 1966. But has there really been a tangible legacy? Can we say that the IAAF awarding these World Championships to London is down to, in part at least, the Olympic legacy?
Four years ago Lord Coe stepped down from his role as Olympic legacy ambassador and spoke of his regret that school sport became a political football during the Olympic Games. In doing so he called for a 10‑year legacy plan in the face of a mounting childhood obesity crisis. Coe said he wanted the “four big meaty chunks” of legacy that he had been tasked with coordinating; increasing sports participation, volunteering, the economy and regeneration to all have permanent homes in government departments before the end of the year. The raw numbers have since shown participation in participation at least, to have sadly decreased across most sports.
Ticket sales for the World Championships have however been high, which is evidently positive for athletics in the UK. Such was the demand in fact that an extra 60,000 tickets were put on sale in June for the 10 days of competition, allowing fans to buy tickets for previously sold-out sessions, such as Bolt’s 100m final on Saturday 5 August and the opening and closing nights, on Friday 4 and Sunday 13 August respectively.
“We are delighted for fans of major sporting events in the UK that we’ve been granted increased capacity for the stadium during the Summer of World Athletics,” said championship director Niels de Vos. “When we initially opened the ballot last summer 201,000 tickets were requested for the men’s 100m final night, as well as a number of sessions being completely oversubscribed. This means we can aim to fill every seat in the stadium for sold out sessions. We are so pleased that we can once again give more fans an opportunity to be part of the championships and this announcement confirms our final availability for ticketing.”
One nation who will not be participating in the championships is Russia due to their alleged state-sponsored doping regime. Moscow’s head of sport and tourism, former gold medallist Nikolay Gulyaev, remains adamant however that the ban is due to politics rather than doping. The former speed skating world record holder believes Russia is in fact the the victim of a smear campaign.
Despite World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) publishing reports last year claiming that 1000 Russian athletes committed state sponsored cheating between 2011 and 2015, Gulyaev believes there is an agenda against his nation. “The great sports’ arenas need to stage sports competitions, not political ones,” said Gulyaev. “It’s just political games. I know how it works. I used to be in certain situations in the Olympics that had nothing to do with sport.” Gulyaev added that he did not want to see athletes turn on one another but in his opinion the upcoming championship in London would be a poorer event without Russia. It’s fair to say that the vast majority of athletes compete ‘clean’, and will certainly not agree with his sentiment.