Inside the Games, one of the top online publications covering the Olympic Movement, has questioned the financial sustainability of canoe slalom in the Olympic programme.
Former Financial Times sports editor David Owen, writing in a blog post about how careful planning had enabled the London 2012 canoe slalom course at Lee Valley to ‘navigate around an Olympic white elephant trap’, nevertheless questioned whether future Olympic host cities could justify the cost of staging a canoe slalom event.
Assessing the cost of constructing the facility at Lee Valley, Owen said that if the money had been borrowed privately instead of from a variety of public bodies, the year one financing cost would have been 3.7 million pounds, more than expected annual income even when the centre is up to full speed.
“One way of justifying this gift to canoeing from a grateful nation is to say that it was a small part of the investment in bringing the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Britain and that the Games put the country in the global spotlight in a very positive way, generating incalculable millions in spin-off benefits,” Owen said, adding that he largely agreed with this.
However, he added: “The impact of the Games would have been just as great with or without slalom canoeing.”
But, Owen continued, can other host cities present similarly convincing plans to cover their operating costs over an extended period while enriching the lives of a significant cross-section of the local populations?
“Though I much enjoy watching it, I have come to wonder more if slalom canoeing should really be part of the Olympic Games than, say, taekwondo or archery, which do not – or should not – leave behind costly and specialised facilities in places where they are not necessarily needed,” he concluded.
From canoeing’s point of view, Owen’s argument – or at least his questions – will appear to hold rather less water than the average canoe after a go down the Olympic slalom course.
For one thing, the structure of slalom course financing was no different to that of other bespoke facilities constructed for the Games. The money came from a mix of private/state sources, making it little different in terms of dependence on the public purse to other sports’ facilities.
Slalom’s impact on the Games was in fact considerable, internationally as well as certainly in the UK. Britain won three canoe slalom medals in 2012 and, arguably, that reinforced the sport on the national stage.
And in respect of the financing arguments, one could equally apply the White Elephant to other aspects of the Olympic infrastructure, not least the main Olympic stadium, which has practically been gifted to a local football club in East London. No one’s questioning the future of athletics in the Olympic programme though, are they?