On 6th July 2005 in Singapore, the IOC awarded London the right to host the Games of the XXX Olypiad in 2012, beating Paris 54 to 50 on the fourth and final ballot.
Not long afterwards I was invited to a meeting at Woolwich Town Hall by Cllr Chris Roberts, the then Leader of Greenwich Council to discuss becoming a founding Trustee of the a new Charitable Trust the Council were looking to create, Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust. I was delighted to be invited but I must admit my first thought on receiving my invitation to the meeting was ‘how many elite athletes can there be in Greenwich?’
The Council had identified that there was an ever increasing number of athletes in the Borough who were struggling with the costs associated to attain and remain at an elite level of sport. Sadly, significant numbers of young people were giving up on their dreams to compete at the highest level and to fulfil their potential.
I was Commercial Director at Charlton Athletic FC at that time, which of course is situated in the London Borough of Greenwich and the concept behind this new charity was predicated on this question – with more than a third of the events taking place in Greenwich, could there be a local athlete somewhere who has the potential to win a medal at the London Games?
When Gemma Gibbons flipped the French World Judo Champion onto her back in the Semi-Finals of the Judo at the Excel Centre, she raised her eyes to the heavens and produced one of the most iconic and enduring images from London 2012. ”I love you Mum” was lip read across the world via the TV screens and a star was born. Greenwich Starting Blocks also had our first Olympic Medalist.
What was not known was the struggle Gemma had to get to the Games. Injury the year before London 2012 meant that she had lost her ranking. Without a ranking she was ineligible for funding. To regain her essential ranking, she had to compete. The competitions were in Malaysia, Singapore and the USA but how does a teenager, living alone in a council flat in Charlton, find the resources to fly across the world and pay hotels, food and competition fees just to secure her ranking?
Greenwich Starting Blocks (GSB) paid the costs to get Gemma to these competitions, to win back her ranking and to secure selection just in time to make it for London 2012.
The same fate almost befell talented weightlifter Zoe Smith, just 16 years old and taking her GCSEs, Zoe’s attention to her education meant that she temporarily lost her funding as well. GSB stepped in to make up the difference until her funding was restored. Zoe, at 16, finished 12th in the London Games.
The charity now supports over 100 Greenwich athletes across 23 sports and we can proudly boast Olympic, Paralympic, Commonweath, World and European medal success.
Of course, this current Coronavirus crisis has seen the cessation of all sport for the foreseeable future and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been postponed until 2021.
For our young, talented Greenwich athletes it is now – more than ever – important to stay focused and look to the future and prepare for the time when they can once again pursue their sporting dreams.
When that time comes, Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust will be there to provide the help and support we have been so proud to offer since 2006.
For more information on Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust, watch this specially-produced film by our friends at Silverfish Films: https://vimeo.com/375883421
GSB trust is a small charity, with no staff. It is run entirely by a group of committed, local business people. To make a donation, please go to: https://give.greenwichstartingblocks.org/