Event infrastructure and legacy

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What are the impacts of event facilities ?

          Over the last decades, the events industry reached many more people and therefore organisers try to assess the benefits and the impacts of their event, not only during the event but also once it is over. However, the concept of event legacy merely came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s. If the idea was to broadly ascertain what an event brings to and leaves behind in a location, it appears that the financial fiasco of Montréal 1976 Olympic led to the necessity of conducting a legacy plan. Nonetheless, this article will emphasise the issues surrounding event infrastructures and their legacy. Therefore, the following content will focus on the economic, environmental and social impacts of facilities built and exploited using various mega events.



Economic Impact

      Events have been used by policy makers to stimulate economic development. For example, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia are contemporary examples of events that have had an economic impact on the development of these countries. These governments were eager to host those events and have justified their actions on the grounds of the long term macroeconomic and sectoral gains they reportedly bring.

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Countries that host mega events such as the Olympic Games, invest billions of USD expecting to see growth and development in their economy in terms of increased tourism spending and infrastructure updates. Some countries thrive and gain a return on investment while some others pile on debt that can take decades to pay off. Some academics think that hosting a mega event such as, the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup can be a gamble, past research studies have shown that some host cities such as, Barcelona in 1992, who was once a struggling city, revitalised after hosting the Olympic Games. On the other hand, a city such as Athens, put Greece in debt by $14.5 billion after hosting the Olympic Games in 2004 when the country was already struggling economically (Wills, 2018). Russia, during the 2018 FIFA World Cup, added more than $14.5 billion to the economy, more than 1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. The report, prepared by Russian World Cup organisers for the football conference in Qatar,  also highlighted that the event created up to 315,000 jobs per year in the country and would still have an impact on the Russian economy over the duration of the next five years (The Straits Times, 2018).

    Cities hosting mega events gain jobs due to infrastructure improvements that continue benefiting the cities into the future. For example, Rio constructed 15,000 new hotel rooms to accommodate tourists, Sochi constructed non-sports infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Beijing spent billions of (USD) on constructing roads, airports, rails and on environmental clean-up (Li, Blake and Thomas, 2013). During these periods of time, the employment rate in these cities increased which suggests that hosting mega events has the potential to decrease the unemployment rate even if it is temporary.


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After the 2014 World Cup, many of the 12 stadiums built and renovated by Brazil for the event ran at a loss and others are incapable of hosting local league national games due them being expensive. The Estadio Nacional in Brasilia for example, which is the most expensive of the stadiums cost $550 million and was used as a bus parking lot (King, 2016). Other countries such as France, Finland and China went through a similar experience. This is due to the costs behind maintaining these stadiums hindering the economies and specifically the tax payers (Müller, 2015).



Environmental Impact

         In terms of infrastructure, the first thing that must be considered when hosting an event is the urban regeneration. More specifically because it is the cornerstone that determines the environmental impact of the event facilities. For an event, urban regeneration are sets of actions and strategies planned and undertaken which affect a specific space over a certain period (Smith, 2012). Whilst event-led regeneration concerns the development of new structures or the improvement of existing ones, event-themed involves demolitions and modifications to the built environment in concord with the event.

What has been done so far ?

            There is good evidence that event facilities, such as venues, stadiums, roads and accommodations, have a dramatic ecological impact on the location. Festivals and mega-event structures increase pollution notably due to traffic congestion but also waste and usage of chemical products. However, it is notable to understand that the construction of infrastructures in a virgin ground or in a populated one is not the environmental problem itself. It is the way those facilities will be used, during and after the termination of the event and contributed to the development of the local environment. For instance, aware of its poor air quality, Beijing’s focused on afforestation to properly host the Olympics 2008. To this end, they built a 60 kilometers road route out to the rowing and canoeing venues, lined with newly planted trees to improve the future air quality (Masterman, 2014). As a result, Beijing 2008 is now known as the ‘Green Olympics’.

            Another example is the 2010 FIFA World Cup. South Africa invested nearly $4 billion in their infrastructures, notably for a carbon offsetting system which used sewage gas to generate electricity, for the implementation of solar arrays and for upgrading its transport network with the Gautrain rail to diminish the traffic congestion and CO2 emission (Egan, 2014; Bason, Cook, and Anagnostopoulos, 2015; Molloy and Chetty, 2015). Nevertheless, despite all goodwill, substantial investments lead sometimes to opposite effects.

The ‘white elephant’ the nemesis of event infrastructures

            “Under-utilised facilities that are expensive to maintain are known as ‘white elephant’” (Smith, 2012).

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            For a country or city hosting an event with superfluous and onerous venues is a poisoned gift. If it shows off the greatness of the location during the event, it will continue to drain its resources even after. ‘White elephants’ are frequently the result of the incapacity to find an after-use for those facilities and of poor strategic thinking. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is a striking example. Among the $3.6 billion spent on building and refurbishing stadiums, Brazil erected a new “FIFA-quality stadium” in the middle of Amazon rain forest. The major ecological issue of the newly Arena da Amazônia is its construction that required the uprooting of hundreds of acres when a stadium was already home of the Nacional football team (Kellison and Casper, 2017). In the most dramatic situation infrastructures have utterly no after-use just as Sarajevo’s 1984 and Sochi’s 2014 Winter Olympics, where accommodations, ski slopes and even Olympic villages were simply abandoned. This type of ‘white elephant’ have disastrous impacts on the environment because their edifices, especially the massive ones (stadiums, arenas, swimming pools), are built with non-biodegradable materials, they release chemical and polluting residues, such as paint, plastic soiled water, and they are subject to become immense dumpsters. However, it seems that for large-scale events designing sustainable facilities with green materials is more costly (Chernushenko, 2002).

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Social Impact

        Global events or mega events are large scale cultural events that have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance. These events such as the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup attract an increasingly global audience, shape world tourism patterns, highlight new tourism destinations and create lasting legacies in the host cities or countries (Horne & Manzenreiter, 2004).

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Social Regeneration ?

      Using the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa as an example, Studies have shown that,

  • The average length of stay in the country during the event for visitors was over 10 nights.
  • Gauteng (Johannesburg, Pretoria), Western Cape (Cape Town) and KwaZulu-Natal (Durban) were the most visited provinces. The most common activities tourists engaged in were shopping and nightlife, apart from watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup (Cornelissen, Bob, and Swart, 2011).
  • South Africa as a leisure destination increased by 9% after the FIFA World Cup (Humphreys, 2010).
  • Negative perceptions on safety and security issues were improved post-event (Fourie and Gallego, 2011).
  • About 5% of the 2010 FIFA World Cup tourists indicated that they visited other African countries during their trip to South Africa. (FIFA.com, 2010). 

       These findings highlight some of the positive outcomes that resulted from hosting a Mega Event. However, using the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro as an example, Infrastructural developments that were not directly related to the event, such as, leisure facilities, commercial centres and open spaces which were aimed at improving the physical appearance of the city and was used to trigger large scale urban improvement, had negative impacts on the local communities.  Houses that have been in these areas for years were knocked down to make space for the new developments, another one of the cases showed that  homes were being demolished to create an access path to the city’s main Olympic venues. Hundreds of families who have lived in these homes for over 20 years, protested to remain in their homes and had no power to prevent this. In return they were offered buyouts and alternative housing (Charner, 2016). 

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What now ?

        People may remember where an event took place and what happened there for a few years, but for sure they will remember the negative impacts of it. Nowadays, those traces left by events lie in their infrastructures. Indeed, the construction of event facilities stimulates the local economy with job creation and can still be the cause of the country/city over-indebtedness just as Montréal who suffered surtax for the 30 years following their Olympics. Evidence of their environmental and social legacy is their ability to have an after-use or not. For instance, the City of Manchester Stadium built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games became, a year after, the new home of Manchester City FC. However, some infrastructures are built not to improve the social and economic situation but no more than to hide the poverty, insecurity and inequality like in Rio 2016. There is therefore a crucial need to thoroughly implement legacy plans for infrastructures during the bidding process.  


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Bason, T., Cook, D. and Anagnostopoulod, C. (2015) ‘Legacy in Major Sport Events: Empirical Insights from the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa’. CHOREGIA: Sports management International Journal, 11(1), 44-61.

Chernushenko, D. (2002) ‘Sustainable sports facilities’. Paper delivered at the IOC–UIA Conference: Architecture and International Sporting Events, Olympic Museum. Held 8th-9th June 2002 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Cornelissen, S., Bob, U. and Swart, K. (2011) “Towards Redefining The Concept Of Legacy In Relation To Sport Mega-Events: Insights From The 2010 FIFA World Cup”. Development Southern Africa 28 (3), 307-318

Egan, M. (2014) ‘South Africa’s World Cup warning to Brazil’. CNN [online] 10 June. Available from <http://money.cnn.com/2014/06/09/investing/world-cup-south-africa-brazil/> [19 December 2018].

(FIFA.com) (2010) 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – News – Study Reveals Tourism Impact In South Africa [online] available from <https://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/study-reveals-tourism-impact-south-africa-1347377&gt;

Flora Charner, C. (2016) Rio 2016: Neighborhood Demolished To Clear Path For The Olympics [online] available from <https://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/10/sport/rio-olympics-2016-favela-demolition/index.html&gt;

Fourie, J. and Santana-Gallego, M. (2011) “The Impact Of Mega-Sport Events On Tourist Arrivals”. Tourism Management 32 (6), 1364-1370

Horne, J. and Manzenreiter, W. (2006) “An Introduction To The Sociology Of Sports Mega-Events”. The Sociological Review 54 (2_suppl), 1-24

Humphreys, B. (2010) [online] available from <https://www.forbes.com/2010/06/15/world-cup-economics-south-africa-opinions-contributors-brad-humphreys.html#64a670b73d7f&gt;

Kellison, T.B. and Casper, J.M. (2017) ‘Environmental legacy of mega sport events’. In Legacies and Mega Events. Ed. By Brittain, I., Bocarro, J., Byers, T. and Swart, K. London: Routledge, 135-156.

King, H. (2016) Rio Olympics 2016: Economic Gain Or Loss? [online] available from <https://www.worldfinance.com/infrastructure-investment/rio-olympics-2016-economic-gain-or-loss&gt;

Li, S., Blake, A. and Thomas, R. (2013) “Modelling The Economic Impact Of Sports Events: The Case Of The Beijing Olympics”. Economic Modelling 30, 235-244

Masterman, G. (2014) Strategic Sports Event Management. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Meurer, R. and Lins, H. (2017) “The Effects Of The 2014 World Cup And The 2016 Olympic Games On Brazilian International Travel Receipts”. Tourism Economics 24 (4), 486-491

Molloy, E., and Chetty, T. (2015) ‘The rocky road to legacy: Lessons from the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa stadium program’. Project Management Journal, 46(3), 88–107.

Müller, M. (2015) “How Mega-Events Capture Their Hosts: Event Seizure And The World Cup 2018 In Russia”. Urban Geography 38 (8), 1113-1132

Smith, A. (2012) Events and urban regeneration. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

The Straits Times (2018) Football: World Cup Boosted Russia’s Economy By Over $20B, Say Organisers [online] available from <https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/football/football-world-cup-boosted-russias-economy-by-over-20b-say-organisers&gt;

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