After seven years of preparation, the curtain is poised to go up for the beginning of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and tomorrow’s opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium will signal the start of an incredible summer of sport.
With the world’s attention focussed squarely on our shores for the coming six weeks, the Olympics and Paralympics are all set to be a Great British success story. But whilst the next few weeks will be about about watching the greatest athletes in the world competing for gold, the Olympics are about a lot more than just elite sporting achievements and are as much about inspiring people of all ages to get involved with grass roots sport.
Participation in sport in the UK is at a record high at the moment, with more than 15 million people playing sport at least once a week for the first time ever. But I hope that the Olympics will inspire even more people to get involved with their local sports teams and clubs.
To help achieve this, the Government has restored lottery funding to sport, meaning that an extra £500 million will go into sporting projects over the next five years. Also, in January we launched a £1 billion youth sport strategy that will see national sports bodies targeting 14-25 year olds with a new payment by results system.
What’s more, over 14,000 schools have signed up to the new School Games which recently had its first finals at the Olympic Park, where 1,600 of our best young athletes took part.
And aside from the long term sporting benefits that the Games will bring, we mustn’t forget the wider economic benefits of the Games. The Government have estimated that London 2012 will bring in over £13 billion to the UK economy, and recently launched campaigns to help boost tourism and promote trade links have been well timed to coincide with the Games.
UK plc is in the world’s shop window and we are making the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
We in Chester have already played a big part in the celebrations. The torch relay and concert at Chester Racecourse were fantastic events and incredibly well attended. While the major sporting events may be taking place in London, I hope that everyone in Chester will be enjoying the games and making the most of this summer’s festival of sport.