Burning Ambition

York Sport President and Olympic Torchbearer Sam Asfahani speaks to about legacies and the impact of the Games

Image: Bryan Burke via flickr Creative Commons

Image: Bryan Burke via flickr Creative Commons

Today, the Olympic Flame will make its way through York on Day 32 of its journey to the Opening Ceremony in London for this summer’s Games.

Bringing the Olympics to people across the nation, its official purpose is to spread a “message of peace, unity and friendship” in a ritual taken from the ancient Games in Greece.

The honour of carrying the Torch is reserved for 8000 nominees, ranging from professional sportsmen and celebrities to ordinary people who have made outstanding contributions to their community, not just in sport but in all aspects of life.

Carrying the Flame today will be Sam Asfahani, outgoing York Sport President, and his excitement is palpable as he counts down to his time of 5:33 this evening on Tadcaster Road.

“I can’t wait,” Asfahani told Nouse, “I got the torch outfit in the post the other day and it was pretty cool opening that up. You get to take the torch home as well, which is great, though it might look a bit weird walking back through town with it!

“There are only 8000 people doing it, which sounds like a lot, but not really when you think there are 60 million in the country.”

Asfahani was nominated as part of an initiative by Samsung, one of the Olympics’ commercial sponsors, who selected a number of UK universities to nominate a torchbearer.

“The biggest honour is the fact that you’re nominated,” he continued.

“You don’t apply and it’s not pot luck, someone in the senior management team at the University nominated me for my services to sport as an undergrad and now as York Sport President.”

His nomination story reads, “As president of Yorksport, the student sports association, Sam has worked tirelessly to increase participation at all levels and to represent student opinion in planning meetings for major new sports developments at the University.

“He has been re-elected for a second term of office, a huge accolade from the student body. As an undergraduate he was Chair of his college Junior Common Room and a welfare rep.

“His contribution to the University over five years has been inestimable.”

Inestimable is probably the right word, at least for now. Asfahani admits himself that the projects he has spearheaded are yet to be fully realised, but it is the legacy which he leaves behind that matters most.

“Ultimately it doesn’t matter what people say I did well on or didn’t do so well on.

“What I would love to be able to do is look back in 10 years time at BUCS rankings or participation levels and see that York has improved in some way, and say we started that.

“Everything I’ve ever done has been for the long term, so a lot of the stuff I’ve achieved here hasn’t been felt by the clubs yet.

“They haven’t been able to use the new Sports Village or the new funding in college sport, the new staff member we’ve hired, the pre-season camp in October.

“What I’d like people to appreciate is that I’ve done what I’ve done to improve things for the future.

“This year maybe people will say that they haven’t benefited much from what I’ve done but I’m hoping that this year or next it will all bear fruit.”

Legacy is a word that has become a focal point of our sporting parlance, with London’s bid for the 2012 Games centred around creating an infrastructure and enthusiasm for sport that will endure far beyond the Closing Ceremony on Sunday 12 August.

A complete redevelopment of East London, the transformation of the UK back into a leading sporting nation and the inspiration of a new generation of athletes are all heady goals.

Though the Olympic legacy plans have been criticised on many grounds, the aims are laudable, given the ways in which previous cities have failed to successfully make the transition from hosting the Games to sustaining its effects.

Asfahani believes that creating a long-lasting effect outside of London, though, will be a key task for his successors.

“It’s quite hard to find the links between the Olympics and what we do here. People always say ‘What’s the relevance outside London?’ Because ultimately it is London 2012 not Britain 2012.

“I think there is a lot you can do to tie in, but I don’t think the Olympics on their own will encourage people to take part. Why would watching Michael Phelps swim ridiculously fast make you want to go out and learn to swim?

“It’s about how we use it, it’s a tool. A lot of what Charlotte [Winter, York Sport President-elect] will have to do will be to wait and see how much the Olympics buzz keeps going until October, and then she can tap into that.

“The annoying thing is that we’re not actually at university during the Olympics, which would have been amazing.

“If we were, then we could put on classes in the evenings and base every day around the Olympic events that have been going on, but unfortunately we can’t.

“It’s not just about how the Olympics affects us though, more about how it affects national governing bodies’ approaches to sport.

“They’re going to be using it in the programmes they’re rolling out, which we can then get involved in, and that is going to be vital.”

If there is one thing Asfahani says that resonates most profoundly it is that “It’s very much our responsibility to create the Olympic legacy.”

From a man who has worked to create his own sporting legacy for the University, the recognition that the Olympic legacy is not something organic but a project that must be developed is poignant.

With issues such as coaching and transport still huge problems for York Sport, the real legacy here will hopefully be one of increased funding to go alongside the new wave of participation that the Games should, in theory, encourage.

As Asfahani prepares to bow out from York with his work done, the Olympic legacy will be watched with great interest come October.

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