Olympic legacy: A sporting chance for the capital

Richard Lewis: investment in facilities is important in realising Olympics legacy
Richard Lewis: investment in facilities is important in realising Olympics legacy
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THE Evening News has this week highlighted the demands of sporting groups in the city, but the man in charge at the council says the Olympic legacy is not just about money.

It’s been four days since Tom Daley packed his tiny Speedos away, Usain Bolt’s running spikes were hung up and Charlotte Dujardin’s horse’s bridles were polished and put back in the stable.

Four days in which the words “Olympic legacy” have been top of the political agenda.

So now, as the feeling of goodwill still remains, just what can Edinburgh expect in terms of a legacy?

Ask most sporting organisations what they hope the 
legacy will be and they talk about funding to spend on facilities, on equipment, on getting their message out to people that they even exist. Ask Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s convener for culture, sport and leisure, and the answer is different.

Only three months in the job it’s up to the 40-year-old to make sure the city takes as much advantage of the buzz around the Olympics as possible, and turns that into something which will have a lasting effect on the physical fitness of the people of Edinburgh.

But he knows that any new money for sports facilities is unlikely so other routes have to be taken.

“If you just talk just about sport you could turn some people off, it has to be more about physical fitness as a whole. It’s all about enabling people to have a healthier lifestyle,” he says.

“Cycling for instance. I cycle to work, and my interest in cycling stems from enjoyment and a need to get about the city but also because it’s part of a healthy lifestyle.

“But if part of the legacy of the Olympics, and of Chris Hoy’s achievements, is that more people see the benefits of cycling, well that will start to pay dividends.”

Of course, it was at the Meadowbank velodrome where Sir Chris first cut his teeth in track cycling. These days though the structure leaves a lot to be desired.

“Meadowbank was built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games, and back then there was not much thought about longevity and legacy,” says Cllr Lewis. ‘It’s amazing in a way that it’s still there.”

Indeed the council is now working with Scottish Cycling and has agreed that what Edinburgh needs is a regional track cycling facility.

It’s that introduction to sport, that moment when a child sees a fantastic event on television and wants to try it out for themselves which is where Cllr Lewis sees the Olympic legacy working in Edinburgh.

To that end, the council held taster sessions at the Big Screen in Lothian Road while the Games were on and sports clubs were also invited to raise awareness of their offerings.

The council’s sports 
manager, David Wardrop, saw it in action: “There were kids there doing the clean and jerk with broomsticks, and there’s a guy doing it for real on the screen. It’s making that connection, then saying, here’s where there’s a weightlifting club if you really want to try it.

“People always talk about the Wimbledon effect and the rise of interest in tennis afterwards, so this is the same, except the range of sports is so diverse.”

Already the council has said it wants Edinburgh to be the most physically active city in Europe by 2020 – an ideal which both admit is unmeasurable, but gives a real idea of what they want to achieve.

They point to a recent 
£1 million investment in a new pavilion at Colinton Mains Park, as well as the £37m spent on the Royal Commonwealth Pool and the £1.4m spent to keep Meadowbank Stadium going.

Cllr Lewis believes that money spent on sport – or physical activity – is well spent. “Edinburgh Leisure has 
published a report on the social return of investment in sport. It shows that for every £1 spent we get £3.50 worth of value; in terms of health and the savings to the NHS and in terms of policing as in areas with high levels of sports activities there’s a reduction in crime.

“I think that does generally back up the case for more funding. Sport is the link between education, health, crime, community and solidarity. How do you put a value on that?”

So how does that square with the closure of a much-used swimming pool, Leith Waterworld? He argues: “In a world of unlimited resources of course we would keep everything open. But Leith is very well served by swimming facilities.”

Cllr Lewis is also keen to promote the Active Schools Programme. “It’s a way of directing kids to the right place. It provides a link between school sport and club sport, so that people don’t just stop sport when they leave school.”

But he adds: “Community access to schools is something which has stalled. We have some fantastic assets in school sporting facilities and these need to be made much more available to the public.

‘I’ve had agreement with Paul Godzik [education convener] that this situation needs to change, that these assets are for the whole public, and I believe we can really do massive things if we can change that.

“Finding an extra £100m for stadia is pie in the sky, but these facilities are there, and we need to get people to use them.”