Social impacts of the Olympics

Mark mark at
Fri Feb 9 15:20:05 GMT 2007

Taken from:

A beginners guide to the social impacts of the Olympics
prepared by Martin Slavin

The Olympics project is large and complex. It is not easy to quickly grasp
the nature of its probable impacts on the Lower Lea Valley and London. So
I have assembled below a collection of four useful papers which together
give a relatively short description of the some of the significant

1. The social impacts of major events

Around the world urban areas (sometimes nations) are using big events to
try to regenerate and promote particular places. It sometimes seems that
there is scarcely a city that is not claiming loudly that it is
hosting,about to host or just bidding for the event that will make the
eyes of the world shine upon it, the feet of the world itch to visit it
and the cash of the world pour forth to rejuvenate it. (H. F. Moorhouse
1991: 822)

Events present special challenges for social impact assessment (SIA). The
larger events typically have wide ranging impacts over space and time.
Procedures for their assessment tend to be ad hoc or even vague and
uncertain. Rarely are the events themselves captured in legislated
environmental impact assessment (EIA) provisions. Institutional
responsibilities are sometimes unclear, multiple and even contested. Some
impacts associated with hallmark events are both difficult to analyse as
well as to mitigate.

Many of the impacts of hallmark events are cumulative impacts which
present added problems for the impact assessment of large events.
Especially for events with long lead times, such as Olympic Games, the
nature and dimensions of the event may change significantly over time,
further complicating effective impact assessment and management.

This paper will firstly define the term hallmark event and capture some of
the dimensions that impact assessment must address. The motivations behind
staging events-showing off the city-will be examined, with examples drawn
from recent events. Events have impacts and often negative ones. These
impacts frequently show up the city rather than show it off.

Some of the common and not so common impacts of events will be briefly
discussed. Finally, the social impact assessment of the Sydney 2000
Olympic Games will be analysed and some critical lessons for the
assessment of similar large scale events will be highlighted.

Extract from: The Social Impact of Major Events, Gary Cox, Social Impact
Assessment Newsletter 40, August 1996


2. From: "The role of Mega events in urban competitiveness and its
consequences on people." Carolina del Olmo, Universidad Complutense,Sept

.if we were to study the strategy that consists in organizing large scale
events of any kind in order to revitalize a city that before was destroyed
by a mix of deindustrialization, unemployment and social service cuts,
Spain would be a great example.

In Barcelona, the Forum de las Culturas is about to conclude as I write
this essay. Valencia is working to host the 32nd edition of the America’s
Cup yacht race. And Madrid is striving to be the host city for the 2012
Olympic Games (along with Paris). Even if they last only a few weeks,
these events require years of preparation, take up a huge amount of public
funds and permanently change the physical landscape of the city.

But Spain is not alone in supporting this ideology. If we take a look at
the figures, we will notice that the competition for hosting an Olympic
event becomes more difficult every year since the economic success of the
1984 Los Angeles games (a success largely due to the growth of worldwide

The same rivalry prevails in the fight for hosting a World Fair or any
other large scale event. How can we explain this mega-event obsession?
First of all, we must realize that this kind of competition is nothing
more than the most conspicuous form of global competitiveness. This
competition between cities and regions is a consequence of the political
and economical changes that have occurred in approximately the last thirty

To summarize these changes, we can make use of a common term and discuss a
transition from a Fordist regime of accumulation to a post-Fordist regime
of increased flexibility. The growing geographical dispersion of
production and a financial capital boom have played an essential role in
allowing this transition to take place, a transition that, in turn, has
had important consequences on capitalistic cities.

Towns are experiencing a prolonged crisis related to the loss of
traditional industries, the growing importance of tertiary sectors, and
the increase of unemployment and poverty. They have begun to compete
against each other in a fierce fight for attracting investments from the
private sector or from different levels of government.

They also strive to obtain money by promoting a culture of consumption, in
search of some kind of compensation for the loss of steady jobs. The urban
governments have taken the initiative in what has been called the “rise of
an entrepreneurial city”, encouraging a good business climate and taking
measures to attract economic growth. Measures that, in turn, intensify
flexibility and insecurity.

As was to be expected, the investments aimed to convert a city into a
dynamic and competitive enterprise presume the use of scarce public
resources in favour of firms and high level consumers at the expense of
disadvantaged classes, specially in a fiscal austerity frame like the one
we have had in the last years.

As well as the deregulation of the labour market and the gifts (fiscal
exemptions and all kind of incentives) that urban governments offer to
firms to lure them to their cities, other efforts aimed to construct a
competitive position for the city have primarily been concentrated in the
field of urban environment transformation. The city, with the help of
post-modern architecture, on the one hand becomes a spectacle in order to
make it an attractive space for tourism and consumer spending.

On the other hand, the city devotes itself to the construction of
infrastructures of whatever kind that are highly valuable for corporations
and quality customers, as convention centres, business areas, highways,
airports and so on. In this frame of competitiveness and in this process
of converting a city into a spectacle is where we must set the recent
obsession with mega-events.

This obsession is perfectly illustrated with Barcelona since they have
hosted the 1992 Olympic Games. Since then, it has hosted the Forum this
summer and, in between, has organised a myriad of minor tourism-based

Now, let’s focus on the so-called advantages of these kind of events.
Besides being able to heal the citizen’s psychological discomfort, as we
previously noted, politicians constantly brag about two other virtues of

they are believed to be the perfect occasion for the city to fulfil its
longstanding general need for infrastructure and installations.
they can stimulate the economy and generate employment
. This last claim reads as follows: the mega-event turns the city into a
global focus of attention, providing a top-quality kind of marketing and
advertising that contributes to sell the city’s image all over the world;
as a result, the city will capture a huge amount of tourists and will also
attract a lot of corporate headquarters and new events, with the resulting
growth of economic activity in the long run and the creation of new jobs.


3. Upon Further Review: An Examination of Sporting Event Economic Impact
Studies,Victor A. Matheson, 2001


As pointed out by Soonhwan Lee (2001) in a recent issue of The Sports
Journal, there exists a great deal of debate about the validity of
economic impact studies on sporting events. Economists widely believe that
league and event-sponsored studies exaggerate the economic impact of
professional franchises and large sporting events on local communities.

These overstatements are a result of several factors.

First, the studies often ignore the substitution effect. To the extent
that attendees at a sporting event spend their money on that event instead
of on other activities in the local economy, the sporting event simply
results in a reallocation of expenditures in the economy rather than a
real net increase in economic activity.

Next, studies usually ignore the crowding out effect. Many large sporting
events are staged in communities that are already popular tourist
destinations. If hotels and restaurants in the host city normally tend to
be at or near capacity throughout the time period during which the
competition takes place, the contest may simply supplant rather than
supplement the regular tourist economy.

Third, the studies may fail to address whether the money spent at a
sporting event stays in the local economy. Much of the money spent by
out-of-town visitors goes towards hotel rooms, rental cars, and
restaurants. To the extent that these firms are national chains, profits
earned during the event at these businesses do not increase the welfare of
citizens in the local economy but rather accrue to stockholders around the
country. Similarly, revenue from ticket sales is often paid to the league
or the sport’s ruling body instead of local organizers.

Fourth, non-economic costs such as traffic congestion, vandalism,
environmental degradation, disruption of residents' lifestyle, and so on
are rarely reported (Lee, 2001).

Finally, since economic impact studies are often used by sports boosters
to justify public expenditures on sports infrastructure, ultimately, the
real question faced by any observer is whether an analysis conducted by
agents with a vested interest in the outcome of the study can ever be
considered an objective examination of the true economic impact of an

Victor A. Matheson, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics and
Business, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest, IL, USA

More at: The Sport Journal

4. London’s Olympic Myths, Kevin Blowe, November 2004

After the disaster of the Millennium Dome, the delays and spiralling costs
of the new Wembley Stadium and the abandoned plans to stage the 2005 World
Athletics Championships at Picketts Lock in Enfield, you would expect us
all to be sceptical of the government’s competence in handling
international events or large-scale ‘regeneration’ projects.

But organisers of the bid to stage the Olympic Games in London in 2012,
including the government, London Mayor Ken Livingstone and London business
leaders, have apparently pulled off a remarkable achievement – convincing
around sixty percent of Londoners in a recent poll that there are nothing
but benefits to hosting the Games in the capital. They have done so
largely by portraying the two-week sporting event itself as incidental to
the ‘positive’ social, economic and environment impact on east London.

As a result, anyone raising concerns about the astronomical £2.375 billion
that will have to be spent between 2005 and 2012 is likely to be written
off as ‘opposing much needed regeneration’ of a socially deprived area’.
This has been a very effective strategy in closing down public debate
about the implications of hosting the Olympics and the misleading claims
of the bid’s supporters.

However, if London is chosen as host in July 2005, a multi-million pound
Olympic industry will have already gathered momentum and it will be too
late for public scrutiny to have the effect it can have in the first six
months of 2005.

see also the Attachment entitled "London Olympics Myths pt 2.doc"
at end of article, at:

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