Tania Mathias is MP for Twickenham.
We all have our own special memories of that wonderful summer of 2012 – and there were so many great moments to choose from. Mine was joining the amazing number of local residents waving flags and lining our roads to see Bradley Wiggins storm home with the gold in the Men’s Time Trial as he crossed the line at Hampton Court Palace in my constituency of Twickenham. It was a brilliant few weeks, and our Olympians and Paralympians united the whole country with their successes.
But it was about so much more than sport. What made the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics truly special was the legacy they left the UK and left London – four years on, they have left their mark on the city beyond what anyone imagined. Many people can take some credit for this, but few more so than Boris Johnson.
Right from the moment he seized the Olympic flag in Beijing in 2008, reminding us all that whiff-whaff was coming home, Boris made delivering a successful games his personal priority and he can take great pride in establishing London at the world’s sporting capital, not just in 2012 but beyond.
Let’s not forget that this was an Olympic Games delivered on time and on budget – how often can we say that about a major project or sporting event? And, not only that, it was widely heralded as the most successful games of all time. From road cycling in my constituency in the south west, to equestrian events in Greenwich in the east, to badminton at Wembley Arena in the north, the whole city played its part.
And now, in 2016, a trip to the East of London shows that the 2012 games have left more than just happy memories. Stratford is now a thriving, modern hub, home to the publicly accessible Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Importantly, the park was also host to the first ever Invictus Games in 2014, launched by Prince Harry and backed by Boris as Mayor, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Ministry of Defence.
The park – presumably best viewed from a zip wire – is a beautiful addition to a part of the city that needed regeneration, and all eight Olympic venues in the park reopened within eighteen months of the closing ceremony, attracting more than nine million visitors since. All eight are now in private sector hands – the first time ever that an Olympic host city has managed a full and viable private sector future for its venues. The Olympic Stadium itself opened a year earlier than planned to host athletics and Rugby World Cup matches in 2015 and will now be home to West Ham Football Club from this summer.
Everyone is aware of the need to build more housing in London, and Boris made a major contribution to this, delivering 3,000 homes in the former Athletes Village, with 24,000 to come by 2031 – a third of them affordable. This is a tangible, physical legacy in a city that badly needs more housing.
Just as impressive are Boris’s plans for the Olympicopolis, a world-class arts, cultural and educational quarter in the former Olympic park, which will include a new campus for UCL, Sadler’s Wells theatre, a V&A Museum, and the relocation of London College of Fashion. When finished in 2020/21, this is expected to deliver 3,000 jobs, 1.5 million more visitors and £2.8 billion of economic benefit to Stratford and the surrounding area.
London also played host to the world again last year when we hosted the Rugby World Cup. Though the England team’s performance sadly left a lot to be desired – and the evidence suggests that Boris’s own rugby skills might need some fine tuning – he again oversaw a fantastic tournament in the capital, efficiently run and with a brilliant atmosphere that should see thousands more tourists flocking to London over the coming years. Boris’s Olympic blueprint is a strong one, and bodes well for major sporting events held in the near future, starting with the return of the World Athletics Championships next year.
We are often told of the power of sport, but Boris’s sporting legacy is not just a slogan; it is a real, unique and brilliant inheritance for London. More homes, more green spaces, more jobs, and a template to which any tournament host city must now aspire.
Boris has shown real leadership on sport. He left Londoners not only smiling with our memories of the most successful international sporting tournaments of our time but also leaves an impressive physical legacy for our city: Olympian feats indeed.