about Legacy


Legacy and Olympic Games – The conference topic

Holger Preuss, Professor at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz;
IOC Commission member “Sustainability and Legacy”


The population of several bid cities in Europe and North America recently called for referendums that led to a number of cities to withdraw from Olympic bids. Some of these bids were even stopped by politicians before it came to a referendum. With Budapest 2024 the IOC had to accept the 10th bid withdrawal in just 5 years and most of them were related to Olympic Winter Games. The most common reason behind each withdrawal was that the staging of the Winter Games had lost its balance between expected costs and potential benefits.

This high number of withdrawals indicates that the interests of stakeholders may change over time and that the inherent value of hosting Olympic Games is not shared any longer among a city’s population and local politicians. Why’s that?

The gigantism of the Games has reached a point that makes it difficult to balance public costs and often intangible benefits for the host. However, it is important to state that the Olympic Games are not solely an event to maximise profits. Cities that are in for the money only should invests elsewhere. The Olympic Games are different. The Olympic Games are the world’s greatest peaceful event of humankind. It is a festival where all cultures meet, compete peacefully against each other and interact. They are a festival in which every culture shares the same understanding of rules. This is a high value in itself, in particular at a time, when nations tend to isolate, built up walls and join the arms race. The World Sport Minister Conference in Berlin 2013 (MINEPS V) has explicitly noted in its “Declaration of Berlin” that major sport events should be used as “platforms to raise awareness on societal issues and for opportunities for cultural exchange” (§2.36).

However, the increasing financial burdens associated with the Olympic Winter Games – such as providing security, accommodating new sports and serving ever more visitors and media representatives in rather small cities – makes it difficult to keep the costs and capacity demands at a level that can be utilized after the event. Additionally, political and economic driven opportunism in the host nation adds to the costs. Politicians like to piggyback additional infrastructure investments by using the argument that those are needed for the event. The choice of suboptimal locations for a venue or the bloated construction increase the costs. Pyeonchang 2018 and its costs for a high-speed train from Seoul, as well as Sochi 2014, are just two prime examples of extreme Olympic Winter Games overspending.

The withdrawal of bids, the financial burdens and other controversies (e.g., doping, security, commercialisation, corruption) have resulted in organizers re-thinking the Olympic bidding process. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved Agenda 2020 in Dec 2014, a strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement composed of 40 recommendations. One of the key areas of change is the bidding procedure, with a new philosophy to invite potential candidate cities to present a project that best fits their sporting, economic, social and environmental long-term needs. In other words, the IOC wants cities to prove that the investments they plan have a positive legacy. Thus, IOC president Thomas Bach created a new IOC commission for “Sustainability and Legacy” which has been working since 2015 to develop a legacy framework and legacy measurement. Just recently, working groups inside the IOC started thinking about how to restructure the bidding process as well as the Host City Contract.

At almost the same time, the European Commission incorporated “legacy” in its EU Work Plan 2014-2017 and established an “Expert Group on the Economic Dimension of Sport”. One of the three subgroups presented “Recommendations on major sport events, in particular on legacy aspects” in January 2016. These are based on the “Declaration of Berlin”, which was signed in 2013 by 121 sport ministers. The main points touching the need for a better legacy inclusion when planning an event are as follows:

§2.13 “Stressing the importance of increasing the positive effects of major sport events in terms of participation in and through sport, creating new sport programmes and providing new and/or improved sports facilities;”

§2.15 “Acknowledging the data which shows that many oversized stadia are not financially viable post-events (while generating maintenance costs);”

§2.28 “Commit, when hosting major sports events, to the sustainability of sport infrastructure for physical education, sport for all and high-performance sport and other community activities, in order to ensure that all concerned stakeholders can participate in and benefit from such events;”

§2.39 “Ensure that investment in infrastructure and facilities for major sport events complies with social, economic, cultural and environmental requirements, notably through the reuse of existing facilities, the design of new venues for ease of dismantling or downsizing, and the use of temporary facilities;”

Therefore, our 9th international sport business Symposium in Chuncheon addresses a very urgent, current, and important issue, particularly because legacy research is fairly new. However, for a long time legacy was only seen as the value of sport facilities and public improvements turned over to communities or sports organisations after an event. Being aware of the importance of sustainable changes events such as the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup bring to a host city must be considered and has resulted in initiatives such as the  IOC’s  Congress on “The Legacy of the Olympic Games: 1984–2000” in 2002. However, although many cases were presented, no satisfying definition of any type of legacy was available. One reason was that legacy was often assumed to be self-evident, so that there was no need to define precisely what it is. However, after 2006, the research about mega event legacy became more prominent and is now being fully acknowledged, as can be seen by the recommendations made by the European Commission, the UNECOs “Declaration of Berlin” and IOCs Agenda 2020.

A definition of legacy by Preuss (2007) is:
“Irrespective of the time of production and space, legacy is all planned and unplanned, positive and negative, tangible and intangible structures created for and by a sport event that remain longer than the event itself.”

However, after reconsideration and several papers that followed as well as discussions in the European Commission and the IOC, I came up with a little more manageable version in 2016:

“Legacy is any action (practice) in a given area (e.g. host city) and time driven from structural changes initiated by staging of the Olympic Games.”

Therefore, one can say, that legacy derives from of all “structural changes” caused by staging the Olympic Games. The Games change a location (space) and people (humans). Legacies exist right after a change was made, which can be far before the mega event starts. The legacy exists as long as the “structural changes” exist, which permanently offers opportunities for action. This makes measurement difficult because sometimes the change takes some time (sometimes years) to take effect. To me, it is important to not confuse legacy (actions driven from structural changes after) with the primary (direct) impacts of the mega event. The latter are the directly initiated activities due to the mega event, such as the economic impact from tourism derived from the event or advertising effects due to worldwide media interest during the event.

To not overlap the areas of changes, in detail, “structural changes” take place in space:

  • Urban development
  • Environment enhancement

and in humans:

  • Policies, Governance
  • Human development (skills, knowledge and networks)
  • Intellectual Property
  • Social development (beliefs and behavior)

These six structures have consequences on several fields and describe possible legacies, which will be the focus at our symposium in 2018. For example, the sport legacy is composed of new facilities (urban development), regulations to help high performance sports (policies) and more people practicing sports (social development). Furthermore many people learn new sport skills (human development) and the national sport federations are better connected to other national federations or the world federation (networks in human resources). Another example is the economic legacy. It is achieved by higher productivity or new businesses based on better structures (better traffic systems, better labour policies, better skilled workers, strengthened networks).

In these days, a new book named “Legacies and Mega-Events: Fact or Fairy Tales” will be published. The authors are Ian Brittain, Jason Bocarro, Terri Byers and Kamilla Swart. They attracted outstanding scholars from all over the world, who provide tremendous content and will help readers gain a deeper understanding of this ever-growing importance of this topic. Our symposium hopes to add to that book by discussing the legacies and to collect further papers to be published in our special issue at the “Journal Global Sport Management”.