Articles & Publications
Mega Sport Events and Public Space
Mega sport events (MSEs) are profit-making ventures for their owners, providing them with the opportunity to generate revenues with which to service their supranational mission: to develop sport on an international basis (Forster 2016). In the context of the Olympic Games, the IOC facilitates revenue generation through signing a Host City Contract (HCC) with a host city that confirms the share of costs and revenues borne by each partner. It also sets out the obligations upon hosts to create and protect the conditions for commercial exploitation of the Olympic brand. Since the 1984 LA Olympic Games – one of the first commercially successful incarnations of the event – the IOC has become extremely adept at maximising revenue from managing Olympic broadcasting rights. However, crucially for this lecture, it has also extended its commercial tendencies into the very fabric of the urban locations that host the Games. Successful bidding cities are contractually obliged to pass exceptional Olympic Games legislation that overrides existing local or national legislative arrangements (McGillivray and Frew 2015). This legislation includes decrees that affect planning, the use of public space, the protection of Olympic assets and the ability to secure exclusive access for the Olympic multinational corporate family, including the creation of a clean-city so that the host destination can be dressed in the five rings regalia (Eick 2010). Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter serves to protect the commercial interests of the IOC and The Olympic Partners (TOP) by disallowing any counter advertising or publicity within or around sport venues, but also within other areas deemed part of the event (Boykoff 2017). That means, in practice, that large swathes of the Olympic
city are given over to official commercial partners to exploit before and during the Games itself (McGillivray and Frew 2015).
Related to these trajectories, within the contemporary Olympic city, in the last two decades, temporary event zones have been created which act to enable, or constrain, specific flows and circulations of visitors and residents through the Olympic city (Duignan and Pappalepore 2019). These zones alter uses of existing public and collective civic spaces and often (temporarily) reimagine them as sites of touristic consumption: open to easy mediation by a watching world (Smith 2016). During the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the organisers placed the city at the heart of the Games experience by providing co-ordinated crowd entertainment outside official venues. In the wake of these so-called “Live Sites”, other mega sport events have also developed temporary event zones, including the 2004 European Football Championships in Portugal, and the FIFA World Cup in Germany (which attracted 13 million visitors across 10 Fan Parks from Berlin to Munich). The success of Live Sites means that hosts are now contractually obliged to provide them. However, in this lecture, I explore whether these temporary alterations to public space have other unintended consequences for host cities and those living there.
Accelerating urban development: Event zoning and circulation
The literature on mega sport events provides strong support for the notion that they are powerful vehicles for growth and accelerated forms of urban (re) development (Müller 2015; Gaffney 2015). However, mega sport events, including the Olympic Games, create uneven spatial effects on the host destination, whether by providing a fix to a particular problem (Müller 2015), or by prioritising prestigious real estate projects that benefit more powerful actors over others (Broudehoux and Sanchez 2015). This is only possible because awarding bodies have been able to successfully enforce their rules upon public authorities. They have extended jurisdictional powers covering branding, commercialisation and security arrangements which are instrumental in creating what Powell and Marerro-Guillamon (2012) have called Olympic states of exception (ality).
The local state actively supports mega sport events awarding bodies in this process, whether through subsidy (e.g. resourcing the bidding and planning stages) or when agreeing to stringent conditions in the Host City Contract (McGillivray and Frew 2015). What remains is a self-reinforcing arrangement whereby event owners enforce demands, including the passing of legal exceptions that afford these bodies, quite literally, a blank canvas upon which to paint the desires of the mega sport event project. Broudehoux and Sanchez (2015) argue that this creates a situation akin to “state-assisted privatisation and commodification of the urban realm” (p. 109). It is argued that local actors are rendered relatively impotent to the onward march of event projects that favour neoliberal multinational corporate enterprise over local socio-economic activity.
In preparation for mega sport events, strategic plans often involve segmenting the city into discrete zones, containing official sport venues and other ancillary Games-related spaces. The choice of venues and transit routes between each zone serves to encourage a particular, selective, tourist gaze (Urry and Larson 2012), directing visitors to what the organisers and the host city wish visitors to see, interact with and consume, representing “the very narrowness of conceptions of the city that are deployed by policy-makers” (Raco and Tunney 2010, p. 2070). Event organisers intentionally control both space and the visitor’s gaze to generate additional footfall and expenditure in priority places and spaces (Duignan and Pappalepore 2019). Both McGillivray and Frew’s (2015) analysis of the London 2012 Olympic Games (hereafter referred to as ‘London 2012’), and Steinbrink’s (2013) of the pre-event Rio 2016 reveal that some spaces emerge invisibilised across the host city while the visitor’s attention is directed toward newly zoned city routes, event spaces, and sites of exclusive, multinational corporate entities invited to leverage global event visitor economies. Special, or exceptional arguments are made to secure planning permission, removing civic spaces from public use, and imposing additional restrictions on behaviours. Essentially, host planning authorities and Olympic organisers coalesce to create the conditions within which consumption practices can flourish.
Creating “safe” consumption spaces in the Olympic city
The success of the strategy to enable multiple consumption opportunities in the Olympic city is dependent on the creation of safe spaces to ease the means of consumption. Potential visitors, athletes, international sporting federations and political actors need to feel at ease if they are to contribute to the economic success of the mega sport event, for hosts, awarding bodies and sponsors alike. There is a close relationship between the delivery of a safe and secure Games and its commercial success (Coaffee 2015). Coaffee suggests that the objective to reduce or eliminate threats in the Olympic city led to increasing use of surveillance technologies and fixed cordons to secure space. Similarly, Osborn and Smith (2016) argue that securitisation measures and what they term the brandscape simultaneously takes place with “city dressing, branding and health and safety all bundled up into one approach” (p. 141). Beyond the physical manifestations of security that now accompany the Olympic city, Coaffee (2015) also argues that “ideas of enclosure and social control, and techniques of ordering, become normalised” (p. 200). One prevalent approach for normalising enclosure and containing event visitors are the previously men tioned temporary event zones, which operate as brand exclusion zones before and during the Olympic Games. Spaces that were previously open to public assembly and with multiple uses, are reconstituted as environments requiring state-imposed and subsidised security. Appropriate behaviours are enshrined in the security apparatus, written into the physical design of the spaces, regulated and policed by local organisers and their private security partners, whether in person or via surveillance technologies. These behaviours include adhering to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter by not violating advertising or publicity guidelines and only being able to purchase official Olympic partner merchandising and food vendors.
Event zones represent contained physical spaces to encourage visitor movement and celebration, but they are also orchestrated media events (McGillivray and Frew 2015), carefully managed to produce the place impressions anticipated by organisers and the event owners, alike. As Steinbrink (2013) suggests, “an optimum of international media coverage has to be guaranteed so that commercially effective images of happiness and heroism can be sent out to the world” (p. 130). Moreover, as Chalip (2017) argues, they engender communitas, a group’s pleasure in sharing common experiences that creates a heightened sense of community among those present. They also aim to ease the circulation of economic capital, with venue regulations discouraging spending on alternative local products. Safe spaces are provided not for everyone, but for the right sort of people – predominantly for visitors, and those with the economic capital to participate in what can be considered multinational corporate, neoliberal spaces (Osborn and Smith 2016).
Indeed, there are a number of drawbacks emanating from the architectural features and security apparatus that accompany event zoning, including restrictions on lawful protests. As Coaffee (2015, p. 207) suggests, these approaches produce “uneven spatial consequences…cleansing and purifying the Olympic city”. Temporary exceptions are often permitted and presented as being in the greater good of the host city: a key strategy to maximise economic legacies for the host population. However, some exceptions are anything but temporary, nor do they tend to produce benefits in terms of local economic development. Broudehoux and Sanchez (2015) have shown how, in the lead up to Rio 2016, archipelagos of extraterritoriality were created that sought not only to maximise revenues during the Games, but also to improve specific areas of the city so that they would leave a tourism consumption legacy for years afterwards.
Long term implications of mega sport events and public space
What is clear then is that over the past two decades public spaces, including urban parks, streets and squares, have been more extensively utilised to host events in temporary venues across the Olympic city. Hagemann (2010) calls this the “urbanisation of events”, a term which highlights the ways that mega sport events have spilled out of traditional venues into the urban public realm. There are both positive and negative outcomes associated with these developments. First, mega sport events can act as “Trojan horses” which allow new systems and practices for the management of public space to be implemented under the convenient cover of the event. Several authors have used this analogy, including Casaglia (2018), who argues that recent mega-events in Italy (including the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games) have been used to roll in new ways of configuring and organising urban public space. For example, these events have created new institutions, militarised sites and changed legislation that governs people’s access rights. When mega sport events are staged, new installations, procedures, and technologies are introduced to urban public spaces which may be conveniently retained post-event. In normal circumstances these changes might be regarded as inappropriate or unacceptable, but the prestige, festivity and deadlines associated with staging a mega sport events means people are perhaps more willing to accept changes if they are deemed necessary sacrifices which allow a prestigious event to be staged (Smith et al. 2019). The tight and immovable deadlines associated with staging mega sport events also help new approaches to be rolled in, with time constraints conveniently used as an excuse to override robust scrutiny and consultation
procedures (Smith 2012).
Second, mega sport events help to normalise the idea that public spaces are appropriate venues for commercial events. As the preceding discussion has illustrated, public spaces have been reimagined as places that serve private interests, where the space’s exchange value is prioritised over its use value. Mega sport events like the Olympic Games have provided the foundations for host cities to programme public spaces as commercial venues in the legacy phase, overshadowing less lucrative uses. Some parks and squares are now hired out to event organisers for significant parts of the year, potentially making them less accessible to regular users. London provides a clear illustration of this trend.During the 2012 Games, several parks were used to host venues and live sites, and these spaces have been used more intensively as venues post 2012, for sports events, new music festivals and football fan zones. The perceived success of park-based Olympic events seems to have provided the mandate and precedent to reimagine these parks as major event venues.
However, while mega sport events can produce damaging effects that challenge the democratic use and management of public spaces, they can also generate new potentialities. Some events are responsible for closing down public spaces, but others can open them up, attracting new populations to frequent and use them. As this process is one involving the event-led revitalisation of space, Smith (2016) refers to it as eventalisation. Festivals and events can be useful vehicles for attracting audiences that might not traditionally access public spaces, creating contact zones and opportunities for increasingly diverse populations to encounter one another. Festivals and events, as celebrations of sociality, can produce interaction and exchanges between strangers, including families, visitors, local residents and new populations to share space, generating other positive effects. There is potential for the investments associated with these events to reimagine the ways public spaces are designed, used and managed. Lehtovuori (2010) helps explain how events can help to “open up” public spaces, by challenging conventional identities and by encouraging people to relate to them in different ways. Mega sport events can provide excellent ways of highlighting the potentialities of public spaces – allowing people a chance to experience what public spaces could be like. And these experiences may influence the ways public spaces are designed, managed and used in the future. It may be that in hosting the Olympic Games, the host city can redevelop underused or disused spaces
in parts of the city that leave a better civic realm – albeit it is important that gentrifying effects are considered and avoided. Streets can be reimagined as spaces for people rather than only motorised vehicles.
In this lecture I have argued that mega sport events like the Olympic Games generate effects on the cities that host them. These effects are differential, depending on the political, economic and social context in which they are hosted. Mega sport events can operate as Trojan Horses, allowing new systems, practices and features to be implemented under the convenient cover of the event. Many of these changes can be linked to the greater securitisation, commercialisation and privatisation of urban public spaces, generating questions about who and what these spaces are for. Mega sport events also create the precedent and mandate for public spaces to be transformed into event sites. Even though these events are often justified as exceptional occurrences or once in a lifetime occasions, they provide the foundation for a series of more regular events, with prominent parks and squares repurposed as venue spaces in the post-event era. Whether this trend should be regarded positively or negatively depends on what types of events are staged. Unfortunately, in an era when cities are keen to realise the exchange value of public spaces, and one where there is an imperative to promote public spaces (to increase footfall for businesses), commercially oriented events dominate.
The influence of urban entrepreneurialism is significant here. Entrepreneurial discourses legitimise exclusive / exclusionary uses, and associated control measures that are introduced by the local state and its commercial partners. “Consultation” with citizens is often about rubber stamping the appropriation of public spaces in the name of local economic development. Some actors have more power and influence than others to shape or determine the acceptable uses of public space(s) and those with an inclusive, accessible and consultative vision for public spaces are often overwhelmed by the spectacular, consumption-oriented city.
And yet mega sport events can also encourage social interactions and exchanges in public space and provide the inspiration for better public space provision and management. Hiller (2012, p. 79) notes that during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010, “the concreteness of urban space was given new flexibility”, with the animated streets encouraging a new energy and pro-social behaviour in previously dead spaces – creating the sort of intersubjectivity that turns open spaces into public spaces (Kohn 2004). The examples discussed here show that these effects are not necessarily confined to the period of the event. Somewhat paradoxically given the discussion above, these effects are also due to events that have been staged to extend mega sport event legacies. Accessible events can be utilised to enhance civic engagement, social justice and healthier living. Rather than occupying or appropriating public spaces, these events can actually make spaces more public: they produce public spaces by carving out spaces for social interactions from sites traditionally dominated by motorised traffic and commerce. This can demonstrate to citizens and authorities what their public spaces could be like.
This lecture draws on extracts from two of my recent publications:
McGillivray, D., Duignan, M. B. & Mielke, E. (2020) Mega sport events and spatial management: zoning space across Rio’s 2016 Olympic city, Annals of Leisure
Research, 23:3, 280-303, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2019.1607509
Smith, A. & McGillivray, D. (2020) The long-term implications of mega-events for the provision of urban public spaces, Sport in Society (forthcoming)
Boykoff, J. 2017. Protest, Activism, and the Olympic Games: An Overview of Key Issues and Iconic Moments. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 34
(3-4): pp. 162-183
Broudehoux, A.-M., and Sanchez, F. 2015. The politics of mega event planning in Rio de Janeiro: contesting the Olympic city of exception, in Viehoff V. and Poynter
G. (eds) Mega Event Cities: Urban Legacies of Global Sport Events. London: Routledge, pp. 109-123.
Casaglia, A. 2018. Territories of Struggle: Social Centres in Northern Italy Opposing Mega-Events, Antipode, https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12287.
Chalip, L. 2006. Towards social leverage of sports events, Journal of Sport and Tourism, 11 (2), pp 109-127.
Chalip, L. 2017. Trading Legacy for Leverage, in Britton, I., Boccaro, J., Byers, T., and Swart, K. (eds) Legacies and Mega Events: Fact or Fairy Tales? Routledge: London.
Coaffee, J. 2015. The uneven geographies of the Olympic carceral: From exceptionalism to normalisation, The Geographical Journal, 181(3), pp. 199–211.
Duignan, M. B., and Pappalepore, I. 2019. Visitor (im)mobility, leisure consumption and mega-event impact: the territorialisation of Greenwich and small business exclusion at the London 2012 Olympics. Leisure Studies (forthcoming – awaiting DOI).
Duignan, M. B. and McGillivray, D. 2019. Disorganised host community touristic-event spaces: revealing Rio’s fault lines at the 2016 Olympic Games, Leisure Studies,
Eick, V. 2010. A neoliberal sports event? FIFA from the Estadio Nacional to the fan mile. City, 14(3), pp. 278–297.
Ferreri, M., and Trogal, K. 2018. ‘This is a private-public park’. Encountering architectures of spectacle in post-Olympic London. City, 22(4), pp 510-526.
Forster, J. 2016. Global Sports Governance and Corruption, Palgrave Communications 2, Article number: 15048
Gaffney, C. 2015. Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8): pp. 1132-1153.
Hagemann, A. 2010. From the stadium to the fan zone: host cities in a state of emergency. Soccer & Society, 11, pp. 723-736.
Hiller, H. 2012. Host cities and the Olympics: An interactionist approach. London: Routledge.
Johnson, A. J., and Glover, T. D. 2013. Understanding urban public space in a leisure context. Leisure Sciences, 35(2), pp. 190-197.
Lehtovuori, P. 2010. Experience and conflict: The production of urban space. London: Routledge.
McGillivray, D. and Frew, M. 2015. From Fan Parks to Live Sites: Mega events and the territorialisation of urban space, Urban Studies, 52 (14), pp. 2649-2663.
McGillivray, D., Duignan, M. B. & Mielke, E (2020) Mega sport events and spatial management: zoning space across Rio’s 2016 Olympic city, Annals of Leisure Research, 23:3, pp. 280-303, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2019.1607509
Müller, M. 2015. The mega-event syndrome: Why so much goes wrong in mega-event planning and what to do about it. Journal of the American Planning Association, 81(1), pp. 6-17.
Osborn, G., and Smith, A. 2016. Olympic Brandscapes. London 2012 and the seeping commercialisation of public space. In G. Poynter et al (Eds.) The London Olympics and Urban Development. pp.139-153. Abingdon: Routledge
Pløger, J. 2010. Presence-experiences - the eventalisation of urban space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(5), pp. 848-866.
Powell, H., and Marrero-Guillamón, I. 2012. The Art of Dissent. Adventures in London’s Olympic State. London: Marshgate.
Raco, M. 2014. Delivering Flagship Projects in an Era of Regulatory Capitalism: State-led Privatization and the London Olympics 2012. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(1), pp. 176–197.
Raco, M., and Tunney, E. 2010. Visibilities and Invisibilities in Urban Development: Small Business Communities and the London Olympics 2012. Urban Studies, 47, pp. 2069-2091.
Smith, A. 2012. Events and urban regeneration: The strategic use of events to revitalise cities. London: Routledge.
Smith, A. 2014. “Borrowing” public space to stage major events: the Greenwich Park controversy. Urban Studies, 51(2), pp. 247-263.
Smith, A. 2016. Events in the City: Using Public Spaces as Event Venues. London: Routledge.
Smith, A. 2018. Paying for parks. Ticketed events and the commercialisation of public space. Leisure Studies 37(5), pp. 533-546
Smith, A. 2019a. Event Takeover? The Commercialisation of London’s Parks, in Smith, A. and Graham, A. Eds. Destination London. London: University of Westminster Press.
Smith, A. 2019b. Justifying and resisting public park commercialisation: The battle for Battersea Park. European Urban and Regional Studies 26(2), pp. 171–185.
Smith, A., Ritchie, B. W., and Chien, P. M. 2019. Citizens’ attitudes towards megaevents: A new framework. Annals of Tourism Research, 74(C), pp. 208-210.
Steinbrink, M. 2013. Festifavelisation: mega events, slums and strategic city-staging – the example of Rio de Janeiro, Die Erde, 144 (2), pp. 129-145
Vainer, C. 2015. Mega-events and the city of exception: Theoretical explorations of the Brazilian experience, in Gruneau, R., and Horne, J. (eds). Mega-Events and Globalization (pp. 109-124). London: Routledge.
Articles & Publications
Articles & Publications