Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity


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Mega-sport events as “Circus Maximus”: Short-Term Thrill, Long-Term Agony

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The chapter “Bread or Circuses?” from Andrew Zimbalist’s book, Circus Maximus, examines the intricacies and complexities associated with hosting mega-events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup. The main issue that Zimbalist is trying to understand is if it’s worth the economic gamble that the host cities must undertake to put on these extravagant events. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Simply put, the answer to these questions is most definitely, NO.

The IOC (International Olympic Committee), and FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) claim that hosting these mega-events is a boon to the economic development of the host city/country. They claim that much of the expense in hosting is connected to improving infrastructure, which will support the long-term development needs. They claim that hosting brings short-term employment gains. Furthermore, they claim that host cities will benefit from long-term legacy returns, such as business and/or tourism opportunities. When examining each event individually it may seem like some of these claims are true. However, once you dig deeper it becomes convincingly clear that they are able to create that perception through the use of systematic corruption and manipulation.

In regards to the claim that improving infrastructure will support the long-term development needs of a host city, this may be true, however, to be successful it requires very careful and clever planning. Unfortunately, this is rarely done properly. The best example of this being done is Barcelona when they hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. The case of Barcelona is very unique though. City planners had begun to re-conceptualize the city in 1975 and put their plan to use over the next decade before they even considered hosting. Hosting was seen as a vehicle to put their plan into action. Therefore, Barcelona used the Olympics; the Olympics didn’t use Barcelona. Cities have tried and failed to copy Barcelona’s blueprint. The difference being that they are on the clock and don’t have the time to strategically and organically implement their infrastructure plans.

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The layout of venues for the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.

Regarding the claim that hosting brings short-term employment gains, again this may be true, but fails to tell the whole story. The people that stand to gain the most are the local business elite, mainly the construction companies. The costs budgeted in the bid are always massively understated, in order to get political and public consent. This leads to the government having to borrow money and pay it back over the ensuing decades, which reduces funding for other government projects and reduces public employment in the future. The local population do not usually benefit from the increase in employment opportunities. Instead, the construction companies that are contracted to build the facilities and infrastructure bring in imports from other countries for cheap labor. For example, Qatar has brought in an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Philippines to undertake the massive construction for the 2022 World Cup.

Additionally, the long-term legacy return that the IOC and FIFA claim that host cities will benefit from has been unfounded. If any does take place it happens decades down the line and is very hard to quantify. What has become most common among host cities is the number of “white elephants” that have been left behind. These “white elephants” are the Olympic venues that cost billions to build and millions annually to maintain, along with the mountains of debt that must be paid back over the ensuing decades. For only 19 days of action is it really worth such a large investment? If there is no plan post-event for the venues it can be catastrophic on the community and its economy.

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Abandoned Softball Stadium from 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.

Athens, Greece, host of the 2004 Summer Olympics is an example of the worst-case scenario. Athens ended up spending approximately 16 times its initial bid budget to put on the Games. The majority of the venues built have since been abandoned with no use to the people. This act of financial mismanagement was a main contributor to bankrupting Greece when in 2010 the debt crisis began. The government was forced to stop maintaining the venues and they have become a great source of embarrassment for the city of Athens, which happens to be the birthplace of the modern Olympic era.

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Abandoned Diving Pool from 2004 Athens Summer Olympics.

Since 2001, the number of bidders to host has diminished greatly due to the negative image caused by the outlandishly excessive mega-events from Beijing (2008), South Africa (2010), Sochi (2014), and Rio (2014, 2016). The increased coverage of these events and the pitfalls of hosting have scared government officials and the public away from bidding. To put this into perspective, there were 12 bidders for the 2004 Summer Olympics, but since has steadily declined to 10, 9, 7 and then just 5 bidders for the 2020 Summer Olympics. The Winter Olympics have been hit even harder. There were 9 bidders for the 2002 Winter Olympics, but that number has decreased steadily all the way down to 2 for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

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KIN 6300 Discussion: Sports Media Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in Sports

This past Tuesday our graduate class had a great discussion on the topic of Sociology in Sports.

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What is sport sociology? It is the study of the relationship between sports and society (Crossman 2014). It examines how culture and values influence sports, how sports influences culture and values, and the relationship between sports and media, politics, economics, religion, race, gender, and youth. (Crossman, 2014)

The discussion in our class was based on an article written by Ken Reed of League of Fans called “Sports Media Dropping the Ball on Social, Cultural and Economic Issues in Sports”. The purpose of the article was to investigate whether or not sports media is going to continue to be about entertainment sports coverage, and putting profit-at-all-costs above the journalistic and corporate responsibilities, or will they aspire to be something higher.

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As the article suggests, the way in which we consume sport has changed drastically over the last half century. Gone are the days of just being able to watch your local sports team. Fans can follow their teams across the country and all over the world. This is mainly due to the relationships that sport has developed with the media. This relationship has allowed for more access to sport and has de-territorialized sport for long-distance fans. However, the growth of sports media has come with some huge drawbacks. Sport has now become increasingly distorted at all levels, due to the Win-At-All-Cost and Profit-At-All-Cost mentalities. The focus for sports media has been on what generates ratings, not on actually what is good for sports. Sport media has done a great job at identifying issues and describing problems in the world of sport; however, sports media struggles when it comes to following up with features that dig deeper into the root causes of issues.

Symbiosis of Sport Media and Commercial Sport

As mentioned earlier, a huge reason for sports growth in popularity can be attributed to its relationship with the media. This relationship has the characteristics of a symbiotic relationship. A symbiotic relationship is the living together of two dissimilar organisms (Reed, 2011). This relationship came about when pro-sport organizations saw television as an excellent medium to build a larger audience beyond their geographical area. Since then, sport has depended on sport media for free publicity of their product. Sport media have long depended on sports to help boost readership, listenership, and viewership.

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