From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to Mo Farah’s triumph, the Olympics have far surpassed what we all expected. Filling the stadium with nurses trumpeted the virtues of the NHS and made the Tories splutter. And what better ending could there be than seeing someone who came to the UK aged 10 from Mogadishu win double gold? The Olympics has ended up reflecting the strength of the multiculturalism in our two Olympic boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham.
But I’m worried about the Olympic legacy – or lack of.
I read a letter in the paper from a Newham teacher, who is also a friend of mine, about Rokeby School, a comprehensive a couple of miles from our practice, which has been hosting the Olympic volleyball teams for training. When the teams arrived, air conditioning was installed in a previously overheated sports hall. Now they have gone, it will be removed.
This is just a small example of what is becoming clear about the much larger picture.Our public health department has just published the latest figures on growing up in our borough. The figures are stark. Some 55% of children in Tower Hamlets are brought up in poverty. Less than half receive three hours’ high-quality exercise per week, compared with over two-thirds nationally. Unsurprisingly, one in four of our children are clinically obese. No wonder, when every other shop along the high street seems to be a chicken death parlour, fast-food outlet. Diabetes is waiting for our youth. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were the major corporate sponsors of this year’s Games. Whose influence will predominate in the Olympic legacy? Mo Farah’s, or McDonald’s?
We are told the total Olympic budget was £12bn. This did include almost £1bn in ‘legacy spending’ – a Government plan to get two million Britons more active by 2013 – but this was scrapped in January. The £1bn was shifted to Sport England, which focuses on 14- to 25-year-olds and leaves no coherent, universalist strategy for primary schools. All we are left with is Cameron’s announcement that he will compel primary school children to take part in competitive sport.
This does not inspire confidence when taken alongside the scrapping of targets for schools to provide 120 minutes of sport per week, and the increasing pressure to sell off playing fields to fund new classrooms, as happened in Putney recently.
Sadly, everyone who knows has become aware there will be no Olympic legacy. But nobody is telling our children.
Dr Kambiz Boomla is a GP in Tower Hamlets and chair of City & East London LMC