Here today, gone tomorrow: The temporary shooting venue at Woolwich, in London
By Alastair Balmain
Thursday, 05 July 2012
What will be the Games' shooting legacy?
In the context of the European economic crisis, giving Greece a metaphorical kicking is a popular pastime. The cost of the 2004 Games in Athens partially contributed to the situation the country is in now. When it comes to the 2012 Olympic legacy, the Greek example should also illustrate that the desire to have a shiny new stadium for every discipline might not be the wisest thing to wish for.
Eight years after the Games rolled out of town, the legacy Greece is struggling with is one the country would prefer not to have. Many of the purpose-built venues lie as empty as the diving pool at the Athens Olympic Aquatic Centre. One recent proposal would even have seen the neglected Olympic Park become a casino.
Virtually all the venues at the Athens Games were permanent — a route deliberately not followed in London in order to avoid the creation of white elephants. While there has been huge controversy over the amount of money spent on the creation of temporary facilities — not least the £40million shooting venue at the Royal Artillery Barracks, in Woolwich — one thing taxpayers won’t be left to do after the Olympic banners are torn down, is foot the bill for continued upkeep on potentially underused facilities. Nor will we be left with a world-class shooting facility for the future.
The soft sell
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) describes the impact the Games will have in either “hard” or “soft” legacy terms. The hard legacy includes the physical transformation of a section of east London including new transport links, new parks and housing. The soft legacy, meanwhile, includes such things as projects to inspire youngsters to get involved in sport across all disciplines. More than five million children took part in the 2012 National School Sports Week earlier this year, for example.
While general legacy aspects are highly commendable, for shooting, what tangible benefits can we expect from the Games? The PVC-clad, plywood and steel structures that house the ranges at the Royal Artillery Barracks are filled with seating and equipment, much of which is rented. The structures will come down straight after the Paralympics, with negotiations ongoing for reuse of elements of the Woolwich venue for the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow in 2014. Is that an outrage or a sensible course of action? Arguably, it is both.
In 2009, after a bitter battle, the decision was taken not to use the National Shooting Centre at Bisley; the weak justification at the time being that Woolwich is a venue of great heritage significance to British shooting. Bisley certainly has that signifi cance to target shooters, but of greater import to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was the proximity of venues to the athletes’ village in London and the IOC’s wish to create a “compact” Games.
The argument that £40million would have gone a long way at Bisley is a potent one, but from the athletes’ perspective the proximity of the shooting events to the rest of the games is a factor that should not be underestimated. The Woolwich venue may look space-age, but at the test event in April, the ranges met with the approval of competitors and organisers alike. One thing is clear: for the Games themselves, the organisers have not sold shooting short.
The Royal Artillery Barracks venue will be a world-class facility for the Games and a genuinely eye-catching stage on which to showcase our sport. It may be a pop-up site, but the nature of the Olympics is itself transient. For two weeks in the middle of summer every four years, the world’s focus shifts to a particular city. After the closing ceremonies, the job of sweeping up begins. For the few short days of the Olympic and the Paralympic Games, Woolwich will be host to a venue that will paint our sport in its best light in front of tens of thousands of ticket-holders and an audience of millions worldwide. In the absence of a lasting permanent venue, the prospect of good exposure for shooting at the heart of the Games can genuinely be said to be a real part of our Olympic legacy. If, as is hoped, Team GB manages to secure medals next month, that legacy will be amplified significantly.
No special treatment
Aside from pre-existing football arenas, rowing lakes at Eton Dorney and sailing facilities in Weymouth Harbour, only one new permanent venue has been created outside of London for the Games — the Lee Valley White Water Centre, for canoeing. Planning for a water park there stretches back some years before London’s Olympic bid was even written.
For the majority of sports, the infrastructure legacy after the Games will not extend to the provision of a new Olympic-standard venue. Their hard legacy will mostly be the donation of equipment to sports clubs and schools around the country — in this respect, shooting is on an equal footing. Peter Underhill, LOCOG’s competition manager for the shooting events, explained that the considerable amount of shooting-specific equipment being used falls under the responsibility of the Government Olympic Executive. “What happens with sports-specific equipment after the Games is outlined in a signed Memorandum of Understanding with British Shooting,” explained Peter, “It will be their responsibility to distribute the equipment, such as shooting mats, gun racks, cartridge trays and so on, as they see fit after the Games. There’s a whole raft of small, but well-built and expensive items that we are talking about.” It may not be much, but such equipment will find good homes.
It is a missed opportunity, but our sport’s legacy is not now about the creation of a world-class shooting venue. It is about the potential of next month’s event. The argument over whether Bisley was appropriate has been made. The cost per athlete (£100,000 or so a head) of the temporary venue is steep, but for the duration of the Games it will be a stage. We may be pinning a lot on a handful of British Olympians, but medal-winning performances on that stage could boost the profile of our sport enormously here. If that encourages the next Richard Faulds or Charlotte Kerwood into the sport, then that’s a worthwhile legacy.
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