Have we just seen the real 2012 Olympic Legacy in Yorkshire?

The £8.7bn 2012 Olympics were a huge success, of that there is little doubt. But what of the Legacy? Inbound tourism and in particular London, are enjoying increased visitor numbers and spend, but what of the regions, what are they doing? Well, to the people of Yorkshire (sorry Cambridge and Essex), I salute you! You have shown us how Legacy should be done.

The government wants us to be fitter and healthier and have spent a lot of money telling us so – a sporting Legacy of which so much has been written in the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, with very noble athletic aims set out including;

“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport leading on getting more people active through sport, while Sport England is working to get one million more adults regularly taking part in sport. The Department of Health is leading on delivering the second half of the two million target by co-ordinating health-related activities.”

How is this being achieved? A sporting picture springs to mind of civil servants wearing unfashionable sporting attire, clipboards in one hand and a huge stick in the other, prodding the locals who laze, oblivious in the sunshine, ears closed to the public services-type health messages and unhelpful prodding.

Cue even more column inches since, filled with claims, rhetoric and counter-claims about whose budgets has been slashed or increased, whether or not school children are doing more or less sport, and I am really none the wiser on whether or not we are fitter and healthier, or fatter and lazier.

Then in July 2014, it all changed. Following an unforgettable weekend of international sport hosted here in the UK, including Formula One and Wimbledon, was dominated by the Tour De France Grand Départ in Yorkshire. The broadcasting and media coverage was simply staggering, unbelievable in fact. Remarkable too, given the habit of the British press of reporting on the build-up of all major sporting events by finding the smallest and unlikeliest events that will result in an apocalypse, for sure. The only story I read concerned some keen locals in Masham who had jeopardised the street lighting by hanging their own hand-knitted jersey-bunting from the poles and were told to remove them as they could cause a woollen hazard. Well, if this was the only non-disaster disaster story, then we were already in a good space.

Would the scenes of an estimated two million people squeezed along the narrow Le Tour route have happened without the 2012 Olympics? Would so much effort have gone into the build-up for what would be essentially a brief glimpse of the riders themselves? Would the tireless effort, creativity and ‘we don’t need officialdom’ mindset to tell us how to celebrate sport, have happened?

Even the marketing obstacles of not being able to use the official logo didn’t get in the way (remember all those silly stories about the Olympic sausage police?), well, who here had the time or energy to order the locals to un-dye their yellow and green sheep, remove the art from the roads, exterior walls and gardens, yellow bicycles from the hedges and fields? Therein lies the lesson; don’t even try and control how your audience is going to get involved, get behind their great unbridled enthusiasm which is to be commended and celebrated. Local pride, business confidence and most of all, a sense of place were all on show. You can’t buy this. The locals of course will have another view, I wasn’t there, I am merely looking in, comments are always welcome.

Friends and colleagues were packing their tents and bikes to head off to Yorkshire, unfazed that this would include for one, a 20-mile round trip on a dusty bike to reach their Le Tour vantage point. He was so excited, his belly wobbled as he told me of his plans!

I would like to suggest that we have seen the real 2012 Legacy, a legacy of new-found confidence, confidence that we can successfully host these international events and with the whole-hearted backing of the locals. The people of Yorkshire (sorry Cambridge and Essex), I salute you! You have shown us that it can be done.

To the instigator of this piece who says she is heading to Yorkshire for her next holiday with the words “it looks like a beautiful place, somewhere I have to visit’, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Then followed a long conversation about how a client destination could even begin to pull off such a thing….but that’s another blog for another day.

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