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London 2012 and its legacy

2014 April 8
Posted by Dr John Beech
CIMG2388

A fortnight ago I visited the southern part of the London Olympic Park.  While the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has just opened to the public (1) over a year and a half on from the closing ceremony, I was curious to see how much progress had been made around the main stadium.  What I found was a vast building operation, with little sign of a ‘cost’ reaching the stage yet of being considered a ‘benefit’.

As you exit the DLR station at Pudding Mill Lane, you are immediately into a maze of blue-painted builders’ hoardings, with no clue as to where you actually are.  You then climb up onto the raised London sewer now optimistically renamed the Green Way.  From this pedestrian walkway you can clearly see the activity of converting the Olympic stadium into a reduced seater stadium for Premier League club West Ham, a private company.  The scale of activity and the fact that it has been going on for well over a year give some credence to the fact that the cost of this conversion has needed to be covered in part by a loan of £40 million (2), coming from the council tax payers of Newham Council.  The Council is not noted for its restraint in spending, having considered vacating a £110 million building after just three years (3).

On the one hand, the scale of spending certainly sits ill with the fact that Newham is London’s second most deprived borough.  On the other, the need for regeneration is all too obvious.  The core question is about opportunity costs – could the money have been better spent on, for example, schools and housing.  Would it have, or would it have just disappeared into the Council’s budget?

At present, there are still many signs of the need for regeneration – barren brownfield sights, graffiti, and empty factories – but there are much more positive signs too – new high rise housing, improved road systems, and a Porsche dealer close by.

The main impression I took away with me was that the study of London 2012 and its economic impact is far from over.  It will be a good few years before any definitive assessment can be made.

[Further photos of my visit to this part of East London can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/john.beech/media_set?set=a.10152666560638362.1073741865.540658361&type=1]

Contributed by John Beech

Mega-events as a platform for protest

2014 March 27
Posted by Dr John Beech

The Scoop.It! news portal which has been developed over the last few months to support the book at http://www.scoop.it/t/the-business-of-events-management is fully operational.  As I write, there have been 751 news items posted, all of them traceable from the front page through a system of Tags.

In general, it has been straightforward to add tags – they relate either to the specific event featured, or to the business function which is embedded in the news story.  Top tags include the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2014 Brazil World Cup unsurprisingly.  Popular topics include, for example, music festivals, security and sponsorship.

To my slight surprise, I have found the same news item attracting tags from more than one event, although only in the case of mega-events.  The most obvious example of this is with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics – both, of course, will be held in Brazil, and the linking factor has been public protest over the issue of opportunity costs, or the question of whether the large amounts of money being spent on infrastructure for the two events might have been more wisely spent housing, hospitals and schools.  There is a clear case to be made that the answer is ‘yes’, and hence the protests.  This does however beg the question of whether the money would have been spent on housing, hospitals and schools, to which the answer is probably ‘no’ – it would have been spent throughout the government’s much wider budget.

A particularly interesting case of dual tagging is with a news item on the surface about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, probably the world’s largest event for this community.  What had made the news, however, was that the Mardi Gras parade had provided a focus for protest against President Putin’s policy towards homosexuals, which had itself become an issue in the context of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  This may yet prove a significant issue and a trigger point for protest at the 2022 FIFA World Cup due to be held in Qatar.  This event has already become contentious over the allegations of poor human rights for the guest workers building the stadiums in Qatar.

Protest in the context of mega-events is not confined to this form of ‘ambush anti-marketing.  Increasingly the internet has provided an effective platform those who simply wish to protest against a place bidding for a mega-event on softer grounds such as, if you’ll forgive the pun, the event’s potentially negative environmental impact.

Protest of whatever form surrounding an event, whether ‘mega’ or somewhat smaller, reminds us that events take place in the broader context of society and are not just of concern to the event’s organisers, participants and spectators.  Protest, whether on the streets or in cyberspace, is likely to become a more common feature of mega-events in particular.

Contributed by John Beech

Students’ visit to the Sochi Paralympics

2014 March 27
Posted by Dr John Beech

Within the framework of an elective concerning the social sustainability of the Paralympic Winter Games and the Special Olympics World Winter Games five SKVM students accompanied by Prof. (FH) Dr. Robert Kaspar travelled to Sochi (Russia) to get an inside view into the organisation of a mega sports event and to visit the 11th Paralympic Games from March 10th to March 16th 2014.

Their main task was to examine the social sustainability of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Russia and how the public opinion about disabled sports and the infrastructure for handicapped people changed and will change in the future in the host country.

In the course of this week the students encountered some unexpected findings and gained great new experiences concerning the hosts’ enthusiasm as well as the adjusted infrastructure although these adjustments were partly only temporary.  Besides the academic mission there was also time to cheer for the Austrian athletes.  The students were able to watch three Alpine Skiing and Snowboard competitions and even one sledge ice hockey match. The performances of the top athletes were overwhelming and the students showed their respect with applause and cheers of encouragement.

As well as his employment at FH Kufstein Tirol Prof. Kaspar, who made this journey possible, has a lectureship at the Russian International Olympic University in Sochi and therefore he was  able to organize some very interesting discussions with national and international decision makers, for example with Petra Huber, general secretary of the Austrian Paralympic Committee, and Jürgen Padberg, sport manager of the International Paralympic Committee.

Back in Kufstein, the students now have to collect and compare their impressions, and to review the effects of the 11th Paralympic Winter Games 2014 on Sochi and Russia in general.

Contributed by Robert Kaspar

The frequency of ‘events’

2012 November 20
Posted by Dr John Beech

Defining the term ‘event’ in the context of the academic study of event management is fraught with difficulty.  I’m reminded of Lord Denning’s observation on the similar problem of defining ‘pornography’ – ‘Difficult to define, but we know it when we see it’.  Perhaps we should be guided by that great philosopher Humpty Dumpty who declared in Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Although a generally definition is elusive, that does not mean that we should not think about what the elements of a definition might include.  Recently a colleague, Robert Kaspar, brought up the issue of frequency.  He felt that a theatre performance should not fall within such a definition – repeating the identical event on a daily basis should surely not fall within the definition.  A ‘first night’ perhaps, with  media presence, or possibly even a ‘last night’ with a cast party, but not a normal, regular, run-of-the-mill performance surely.

I think he has a point.  Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is now in its sixtieth year, and has seen over 24,000 performances.  It does not make sense to argue that each of these was one of 24,000 virtually identical events.  They have exhibited less variance than 24,000 evenings at a restaurant that has been running for sixty years, and we wouldn’t include a restaurant being open for the evening as an ‘event’.

What then of a football match?  The frequency here is fortnightly for much, but not all, of a year.  Would there be a concensus as to whether these are ‘events’?

At the other end of the scale, there are issues too.  The Oberamagau Passion Play is performed once every ten years, and, at an even longer frequency, the Preston Guild occurs once every twenty years.  In the latter case in particular, the gap is so long that there is little continuity between successive events, and it only makes sense to to look at each Preston Guild as, in effect, a one-off event.  Their considerable longevity encourages us to view them as a series of events, and their rich heritage no doubt encourages their organisers to view them likewise.  But is that realistic?

More typical of the events we choose to study (and thus implicitly define as ‘events’ to the exclsuion of other happenings, for want of a better word) are those that take place annually.  For mega-events, such as the Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, we are happy to extend our ‘comfort zone’ with respect to frequency to four years.

Is frequency of a repeated event a key element in whether we class something as an event or not?  I have no problem with classing a one-off event as ‘an event’, but, if it occurs too frequently, does it fall outside the illusive definition of ‘an event’, and simply become something significantly less describable as ‘an event’?

Contributed by John Beech

The cost of London 2012′s emergent legacy

2012 November 17
Posted by Dr John Beech

The legacy currently being planned – I write a couple of months after the finish of the Games – is rather different from that envisaged earlier.

The earliest plans for legacy were:

A legacy for sport
A cluster of five specific facilities:
Stadium; Aquatics Centre; Velopark; Hockey Centre; Indoor Sport Centre

A legacy for the community
Economic regeneration; health and well-being; accessibility & inclusion

A legacy for the environment

In fact, just what the International Olympic Committee would want to hear from a bidding city.  As the actual Games approached, the plans were scaled back, and there was a re-emphasis in general:

Olympic village; Olympic stadium; Aquatics centre; Broadcast and press centre
The rest had been re-profiled downwards

The new emphasis was on infrastructure, and extended beyond sporting infrastructure.  This might be interpreted as a shift from the idealism of a bidding city to the realism of a host city.

Before the Games had taken place, the Olympic Village had been sold to a Qatari property developer for £557m, leaving the UK taxpayer to cover a loss of £275m.  As Julia Kollewe of the Guardian explained it:

Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, hailed the sale as a “fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return and shows how we are securing a legacy from London’s Games”. The village cost £1.1bn to build, but the ODA insisted it never expected to recoup building costs. “It was an entirely empty site, it didn’t have any infrastructure, roads or parks. There was always going to be a public sector contribution to help put those in,” said a spokesman.

The Olympic Stadium proved particularly problematic.  At a capacity of 80,000 seats it was far too large to be economically sustainable as an athletics track, and yet London had promised the IOC it would be retained as an athletics track.  Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United both expressed an interest in taking it over as a football stadium, but Tottenham withdrew their bid because of the difficulties of conversion.  Closer by Leyton Orient objected to either club moving there (their present stadium is approximately two kilometres from the Olympic Stadium, much closer than either Tottenham’s or West Ham’s).  At the time of writing, the matter remains as a dispute to be settled in court.  Meanwhile, it has been admitted that the conversion is likely to take longer than originally planned, and the earliest that football might be played there is probably August 2016, four years after the Games ended.

The UK government announced its further legacy plans shortly after the completion of the Games.  These now include:

  • £125m per year funding for elite sport over the next four years – up until Rio 2016.
  • £300m investment to turn the Olympic site into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, open to the community.
  • Bringing 20 major sporting events to UK by 2019, with more bids in progress.
  • Sport England’s £135m Places People Play legacy programme to fund new facilities, volunteering and participation programmes.
  • £1bn investment over the next five years in the Youth Sport Strategy, linking schools with sports clubs and encouraging sporting habits for life.
  • Government support for the Join In programme to build on the spirit of volunteering seen at the Games by getting people to volunteer at their local sports club.
  • Introduction of the School Games programme sponsored by Sainsburys to boost schools sport and county sport festivals.
  • More done to ensure PE in schools is available to all.
  • £1.5m funding to the English Federation of Disability Sport to increase participation in sports by disabled people.
  • Continue funding for International Inspiration, the UK’s international sports development programme, to 2014.

All of these incur costs which had not been planned for previously, and few carry explicir costs.  Those that do add up to over £3.4m.  Whether these costs should be added onto the costs of the Games themselves is debatable of course, but I will not be holding breath to see the uk governement rcognising that any of them should be included.

After all, they have adopted a ‘creative’ approach of late.  Last month they proudly announced that there had been an underspend of £377m on the Games.  “London 2012 was a tremendous success and it is a significant achievement to deliver this large and complex programme on time and under budget” purred  Sports minister Hugh Robertson.  Well, it’s true that there was this underspend on the 2007 budget figure, but this completely ignores the ever-rising estimate of the total figure up until then.  When London made its bid in 2005, the total cost of the Games was expected to be £2.4bn.

There have been numerous ommissions, underestimates and additions to the total bill for the Games.  This initself was only to be expected given the complexity of the undertaking.  But their sheer scale and the fact that new costts are poured into the mix after the Games have finished is deeply worrying.  Will we ever know what the total cost has been?

Contributed by John Beech

Introduction

2012 November 17
Posted by Dr John Beech

This blog has been established to provide a platform for news and views on Events Management.  It will cover all types of events, focussing primarily on sports events and culturalevents, but extending beyond these two topics to include business events and public events.