2014 marks a memorable year for international sporting events. Earlier this summer, Brazil played host nation to the World Cup, just weeks apart from the Commonwealth Games which was held in Scotland. Brazil has also won the bid to host the next Olympic Games in 2016.
This will follow the 2012 Olympic Games that took place in London’s east end and large stadiums across the UK. Not too long ago, the 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa and 2010 Commonwealth Games in India, emphasising that developed and developing countries alike are all eager for a hosting opportunity – but why?
The benefits of hosting a sporting event
Many would argue the appeal is a result of the perceived economic benefit of hosting an international sporting event, which includes infrastructural investment, job creation, and revival in the tourism industry. It has been estimated that the 2012 Olympics led to a £9.9 billion boost in trade and investment in the UK, and is expected to generate £16.5 billion for the British economy by 2017.
The government’s Olympic Development Authority have since converted the Olympic village into a £292 million project comprising thousands of new homes, new roads and pathways to help build a community which will thrive for generations to come. Reports claim the Games have also served as a catalyst inspiring many to volunteer and take up sports. The multiplier effect of the Games has extended beyond London which is why many hail the 2012 Olympics a huge success. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said for other host nations.
The realities of playing host
Studies which measure the impact of sporting events tend to focus heavily on measuring the economic impacts. However, what are some other social and environmental implications, if any? A few positive developments can be attributed to China’s 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Legal reforms have granted greater press freedom to journalists, and government transparency following a football administration scandal. The games also helped raise greater awareness of the treatment of people with disabilities.
However, despite the pre-game measures which restricted the use of heavy polluting vehicles and private cars, and saw almost a dozen factories close or relocated, one of the greatest post-event issues has been the Beijing’s escalating air pollution levels. In 2013, Beijing’s air quality was reported to be ‘safe’ on only 40% of days – posing a serious threat to people’s health. A contributing factor to this has been the proliferation of industry following the games. The Beijing city government has set a target to bring the city's air quality in line with national standards by 2030.
Whilst it will take some time before the impact of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup can be measured, there are already reports that it could generate $3+ billion, bearing in mind its cost, which totalled $11.5 billion. Leading up to the games there was an intense favela clearance programme – Operation Pacification – which targeted powerful, armed gangs and drug traffickers. Whilst some question the motives of the authorities to ‘clean up’ the favelas primarily for the World Cup and Olympics, official statistics do show a significant reduction in murders and gun-related crime. However, some favela residents continue to question the extreme measures used by the police, and have little confidence in the authorities meeting their long-term interests.
Similarly, the ‘legacy’ of the South African 2010 World Cup fails to paint a positive picture either. It is reported the government spent $3.1 billion on the games, some of which was invested in infrastructure projects including a new rail system and highway improvements. However, while its stock market has nearly doubled since June 2010, South Africa's GDP has slowed and income inequality has triggered labour strikes in the country's big mining sector. The World Cup was an opportunity for the government and the private sector to capitalise on but little has changed as high levels of poverty, unemployment and racial divisions in South African football persist.
Are long-term gains possible?
Despite the challenges of using major events to stimulate economic growth, countries continue to vie for the right to host spectacles like the Olympics and World Cup. It is evidently a lot easier for developed countries to maximise on the socio-economic opportunities sporting events bring, just as it is difficult for developing countries to create a post-event legacy which is completely free of their past.
To make hosting an event worthwhile and help improve their standing in the world, countries need to look beyond short-term economic gains and build on the sparkling momentum by investing in sustainable initiatives for the long-term.
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