The impact of London 2012
How do you measure if something is having an impact? How many
times do we use the word ‘impact’, without actually fully
appreciating what it means to us and to the situation which we are
attempting to discuss?
In an Olympic sense, the term ‘impact’ often frames the highly
politicised arguments which surround positive and negative
outcomes, relative to a cause-effect type relationship.
An understanding of the term ‘impact’ from a socio-cultural or
socio-economic perspective - and a discussion about what it means
in the context of such domains from an Olympic perspective -
entails consideration of issues such as participation, inspiration,
We can, of course, look to previous Olympic Games to support
these arguments (in either positive or negative directions), and we
can gain a lot from doing so.
However, this can sometimes negate the importance of the
far-ranging contextual factors which differ across time and place.
To try to represent such relationships through an explanation of
‘impact’ necessitates an understanding of complex patterns of
participatory behaviour which, as yet, we know little about.
Traditionally researched and understood precursors to
participation (such as peers and family), are problematic to
extrapolate to an event which lasts just one month. It is far more
difficult to look at the short term inspiration of such an event as
being a precursor to any form of consistent or repeatable response
– the exact things you would want to see if you were to speak of an
‘effect’ with any certainty.
Relationships, belonging, social competence, and self concept,
cannot be ‘measured’ and put into a level as per other economic or
As such, is there an inherent tension in legacy programmes –
because although they claim to have an effect upon their
participants, will these effects will always be tapered by
Their success (impact) is still heavily related to wider
societal factors which cannot be measured. All that we can begin to
do is in this situation is to ‘throw light’ upon such programmes,
and use the findings to illuminate possible outcomes.
Of course, the Games are impactful in many ways. However, this
said, human behaviour cannot be predicted with the precision that
is possible in the natural sciences – especially in instances such
as the Olympic Games, with their associated array of stakeholders
and pre-determined perceptions.
As such, the tools we use to measure the ‘impact’ of anything
within a social context must counter the erroneous epistemological
belief that behaviours are governed by universal truths.
Behaviours (and thus Olympic outcomes) vary according to
people’s intentions, objectives, and the historically changing
meanings which give them sense and context.
This notion fundamentally challenges the consideration of
Richard Medcalf and Gerald Griggs
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