Voices of children aged 10 and 11 revisited

London 2012 and the Olympic Legacy: dreams come true or dreams betrayed?

Barry Costas - Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Hertfordshire

A pair of trainers


This Thought-piece seeks to share with interested colleagues how my earlier doctoral work has led to my current research interest. This work is in an embryonic stage, where data has just been collected but not yet analysed.

Through this Thought-piece I wish to share an issue surrounding the defining of the term 'legacy' that I have recently encountered. I invite colleagues to comment on my thinking to date.


The research which I am currently undertaking builds upon an earlier piece of research (Costas 2011), which formed the basis of a doctoral thesis, written in the run up to the Olympic and Paralympic games in London in August 2012. As in that thesis, I have again taken a constructivist-interpretivist stance, and used a questionnaire to give a voice to 40 children from Stoke Newington in Hackney, East London. In the doctoral thesis which served as a springboard for my current research, I used questionnaires and follow up interviews with 236 children from the same Olympic borough between 2007 and 2010. Through the vibrancy of their voices, the position of primary PE and Sport was examined, and ways forward were offered as recurring themes throughout the thesis. In addition to valuing children's voices, the thesis showed, through democratising the discussion, that the children were more than just 'empty vessels', and were able to offer informed views.

The children largely enjoyed Physical Education, valued their health and had ideas on curriculum content, timetabling and fund raising, and asked for a greater range of physical activities to be made available them, an ideal opportunity provided by the greatest show on earth1coming to town.  My current research then, as part of a longitudinal study, will be written up as an article, which will examine whether the excitement, optimism and overall positivity recorded by the children in relation to the Olympic Games coming to London in 2012 has come to fruition in any way.  The children who took part in this research were the same children who took part in the Olympic Games opening ceremony with me (as their teacher), where they performed one of the Maypole dances as part of the Green and pleasant land section of the opening ceremony, positioned immediately before the introduction to the industrial revolution sequence.

Defining 'Legacy'

In working towards this article, in this Thought-piece I want to examine the complexity surrounding the term 'legacy'. A legacy in the most literal sense is what someone or something leaves behind after they have moved on or changed position, or indeed passed away. The use of the term 'legacy' in the present context is, as both Piper and Garratt (2013 citing Griffiths and Armour 2012) have argued both informative yet also most problematic. Its most common usage it usually refers to an intergenerational bequest, in which the receiver (or beneficiary) need only be passive. MacAloon (2008: 1984) identifies further problems in the application of the term in the context of the bi-lingual Olympic movement, because the 'equivalent' in French is the word heritage. Whilst sharing some common ground in translation, the French term, as argued by Piper and Garratt (2013), citing MacAloon (2008), is more weighted towards the past arriving in the present.  This is in opposition to the more restricted English translation in the Olympic context of leaning towards creating the present which may or may not arrive in the future.  The authors argue that, in this context, legacy cannot be merely a passive process. For an Olympic legacy to be of benefit to any inheritor, the individual or groups of individuals targeted to gain from the legacy have to be included and active within the whole process from start to finish.

I contend that Sport policy, indeed Olympic legacy policy, cannot be implemented in a vacuum outside of the wider society. A benevolent approach which does not work in tandem with the social groups it is seeking to influence cannot be successful and, as Piper and Garratt have argued (2013:2), 'such an approach to legacy achievement and widening sporting participation is naïve, and likely to be at best only partly successful'.

Legacy is usually interpreted as something positive but not necessarily always so; what of the enormous debt that Athens2 was riddled with after the games of 2004, or the vast expanse of underused resources after Sydney 2000?  It is these questions which have prompted me to return to talk again with the children who were part of that opening ceremony.  Specifically I want to find out whether the legacy from the games of 2012 has had an impact economically on the lives of the children (or their families) in any way, and whether they have used any of the sporting facilities in the Olympic Park since 2012, or have witnessed an increase of sporting opportunities.

As this Thought piece evolves into a publishable article, the next stages of my work will be to examine the Olympic legacy and the legacy of London 2012 specifically, as seen through the eyes of the children who were part of it. The data has been collected. I am now about to begin the exciting process of organising, interpreting and evaluating the children's responses. I look forward to sharing with you what I learn from the children's responses in relation to the question of Olympic legacy and their involvement in it in a later article. It is anticipated that I will be able to reveal if the children have had their dreams of increased sporting opportunity realised, and whether their families have benefited in any way from the economic re-generation of the area.


⇠ Read 'Knitting a difference...'Read 'The quiet learner and the quiet teacher...' ⇢

1 This is a common phrase often used by many sports commentators and the popular press to describe the Olympic and Paralympic games. The phrase originates from the 1952 film called The Greatest Show on Earth and stars Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde in an American drama film where the circus is centre stage.

2 Some Greek commentators have argued that in part many of Greece's economic problems stem from an over investment in the Games of 2004 and the legacy has never come to fruition. In January 2015 the left wing party SYRIZA of Alexis Tsipras came to power in Greece elected as a government against the austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the Troiks Bank (Tsipras 2015)


  • Costas, B.P. (2011) The Voices of Year 6 children: their views on Physical Education, and the implications for Policy, Practice and Research. Unpublished Doctoral thesis.  London: Institute of Education.
  • Griffiths, M. &  Armur, K. (2012)  'Physical Education and youth sport in England: conceptual and practical
  • foundations for an Olympic legacy?' International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. 4 (2) Available at www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080 (Accessed: 31 October 2014).
  • MacAloon, J.J. (1984) Rite, drama, festival, spectacle: rehearsals towards a theory of cultural performance. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
  • MacAloon, J.J. (2008)"Legacy" as managerial/magical discourse in contemporary Olympic affairs. The International Journal of the History of Sport.  25(14) pp 2060-2071.
  • Piper, H. & Garratt, D. (2013) Olympic Dreams and Social Realities: a Foucauldian Analysis of Legacy and Mass Participation. Sociological Research Online.18 (2) 20.
  • Tsipras, A. (2015) Syriza:  Political Manifesto address to the nation – (Coalition of the Left Anti-austerity Party). Oath of allegiance to the Constitution to President.  Karolas: 26 January 2015.

LINK 2015, vol. 1, issue 2 / Copyright 2015 University of Hertfordshire