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The issue of Olympic Games

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The issue of Olympic Games Legacies is immense and greatly articulated in details in published material. Olympic Games as mega-events are widely accepted to cost host cities enormous investments and founding. Although International Olympic Committee (IOC) is nowadays controlling the financing of the Games (since examples of previous Olympics Games proved that host cities are in need of extensive expertise and knowledge) financing the infrastructure still becomes problematic. Games in Montreal 1876 left a city in depths for 20 years due to lack of appropriate planning which is a legacy IOC and any bidding city urge to avoid. Vast amount of money invested in Olympics Games force cities to justify their spending by planning, implementing and monitoring Games legacies. Not only positive one has to be regarded but also negative one.

This essay doesn’t attempt to find the best answer, as this would require greater secondary and primary researches. The goal is modest, to provide an overview of existing Olympics legacies definitions. Then it attempt to critically review two previous legacies, London 2012’s legacy plans, subsequently moving to evaluation for the London Development Agency of the fulfillment of their Olympic legacy plans in two chosen areas. Finally the paper concludes significant efforts which are made by IOC, host cities and Games organizers to make sure that host cities and their citizens are left with long term positive legacies.

Definition of Legacy

Coe (2006) as cited by Culf (2006) suggests that: “Legacy is absolutely epicentral to the plans for 2012. Legacy is probably nine-tenths of what this process is about, not just 16 days of Olympic sport.”

Olympic Legacies become a prominent issue in last decade. World focused their attention on not only providing commercially successful Games also long-term positive and negative impacts for host cities or even host countries. Poynter& MacRury (2009:314) stated that: “(Olympic) Games are not longer seen as an ends in themselves. They become a means – a means for good. That ‘Good’ is legacy”. Legacies became part of the Olympic Games, used to describe post-events benefits to local community. As mega events often brought disbenefits, term is often modify and term such as ‘sustainable legacy and ‘legacy momentum’ are used instead (Gronostowa 2011:7). Recognizing need for comprehensive research the IOC, in 2000 launched ‘Olympic Games Global Impact’ project (which measure triple-bottom impacts: social, environmental and economic, in period of 11years – from the moment of bidding stage through 2years after the Olympics, which is too soon to measure long term legacies), followed by a congress on ‘The Legacy of the Olympic Games: 1984-2000’ in 2002.

However finding definition of legacy still proved problematic (Gratton & Preuss, 2011:1923). While used by IOC, ‘legacy’ seems to be entirely positive expression, re-naming negative ‘legacies’ as unforeseen (and unpredictable) consequences. Gratton & Preuss (2011:1924) are raising another two issues: while legacy definition is used by IOC, there is consensus that legacies benefit the host community and there isn’t a need for precise definition as ‘legacy’ term is self-evident thus their definition provide broader perspective: “Legacy is planned and unplanned, positive and negative, intangible and tangible structures created through sport event that remind after event”. Cashman (2005) identifies six fields of legacies: economics; infrastructure; information and education; public life, politics and culture; sport; symbol, memory and history. Legacies can be also confined as ‘soft’ (civic pride, community reunion, etc.) and ‘hard’ (e.g. steel and concrete infrastructure of new sport facilities). The assurance of ‘legacy’ along with the cost is the eye of organizing committees as a measurement of the Olympics credibility.

Over last 20 years IOC developed social, economic, cultural and environmental criteria in evaluating the candidate city bid, requiring in 2000 host cities to undertake comprehensive Olympic Global Impact Study mentioned briefly above. However, such researches are carried out for official bodies inclined to host the Olympic Games, thus studies might be bias and focus on short term impacts.

This view is supported in the work of Hughes (2012). Measuring legacies encounters further difficulties: it’s impossible to predict what would have happened to a city economics, if the Games where not hosted. Centre for cities suggests measurement of the direct impact of the Olympics as mistaken, which are only to used to justify hosting the Olympics. Moreover, wide rage of methods utilized in different Olympic cities lead to limited comparability of data. Owen (2005) suggests that none economic study on Olympic Games has ever proved empirical evidence of significant economic impact. He also argues that public investment on Olympic building projects tend to be count as benefits rather than a burden. Consequently there is a need for prominence in the depth research and the seriousness of legacies measurement and their definitions.

Hard Infrastructure and urban renewal

“How a city looks and how its spaces are organized forms a material base upon which a range of possible sensations and social practices can be thought about evaluated, and achieved” (Harvey 1990: 67).

One of the most vivid justifications for wishing to host Olympic Games has been urban regeneration associated with enhancement of fundamental structural changes in a city. Staging Olympic Games require the construction or upgrading of sport and other Olympic related facilities. In addition cities are engaged in other areas of development: transportation system, other infrastructure (water treatment, garbage control) telecommunication infrastructure, housing and enhancement of city physical appearance which can provide long- term changes in lives of host city citizens. All above can lead to higher living standards and contributing to tourism grown by “raising infrastructural standards to levels appropriate for international tourists” (Essex and Chalkley 1998: 196-197).

Bowdin et al (2010:57) adds that integrated strategies such us urban planning, commercial development, art, cultural development and tourism can serve as a powerful driver in changing the image of destination and bring new life and prosperity to communities. However ad hoc planned urban regeneration can lead to ‘a self-serving commercial circus of property developers, construction companies, equipment suppliers and commercial sponsors’ who do not have the local community’s best interests high on their agendas’ (Keating in Essex and Chalkley 1998:191) and the community may be opposite of driving vast amount of money from projects which are regarded more important such us housing, education or employment improvements.


Two of the most vivid examples showing that hosting the Games create the opportunity for extensive urban renewals are Barcelona and Sydney. Barcelona is regarded as successful example of using Olympics in transition from industrial city into post-modernist city. Essex and Chalkley (1998:198) regards that the economy of Barcelona, based on engineering and other forms of manufacturing has been greatly damaged in 1970s and 1980s by global recession, restructuring and the effect of global competition. The Olympic Games were highly credited for transforming city itself and rebranding city as 6th most popular European tourist destination and 4th in ranking of the best cities to do business in Europe. The Barcelona legacy was simple; minimize organisation cost related to items not usable after the Games and investment in infrastructure and facilities which will continue to serve the city in the future. Staging Games required vast amount of construction work, total spending linked to the Games over the 1986-1993 period accounts for more then 10billion $.

A total of 61.5% of Olympic founding was allocated for building work and only 10% went on new stadia (Brunet 2005:6). Sporting venues including: 15 new venues, 10 refurbished and 43 slightly alerted existing facilities were allocated in 4 different parts of the city connected by 30-mile road link, which would alleviate road congestion after event. The building of Olympic Village for 15,000 athletes was designated in 130 ha of then derelict docklands in the east part of the city, Parc de Mar, which now consist of shopping mall (converted from athletes dining area), GP’s surgery, 2.000 flats and 17-screen cinema. The makeover of the area, now known as Port Olympic is the major legacy of the Games.

The Olympic provided justification for redevelopment involving reconstruction of the rail network, extension of the Metro linking it to city centre, new marina for sailing events, development of Olympic Village, reconstruction of sewage system and regeneration of coastline. The renovation of the seafront area, transferred more than five kilometres of costal landscape into popular tourist destination offering leisure and recreational opportunities for both residents and tourists alike. Here the new beaches and waterfront facilities have transformed the landscape and will potentially alter the shape of the future growth of the city” (Essex and Chalkley 1998:199). In Addition, regeneration spread even further east, with development of 19th century warehouses into film studios, new media centres and loft apartments.

However, critics pointed out two major concerns. Sporting infrastructure require vast amount of re-investment to avoid the threat of evaluation as a result of inter cities competition. Olympic stadium and other infrastructure are used rarely, especially since Espanyol FC moved to purpose build stadium after complains from fans that watching their team running across track killed the atmosphere. However, more important criticism is drawn by impact on housing market.

In 2007, the UN-founded Centre for Housing Rights and Eviction (COHRE) which realised a report reviling that in the last past twenty years, more than two million people were evicted, stating Games as major cause of displacement and real estate inflation in the world. COHRE(2007) states that: regeneration of east part of Barcelona is responsible for 2,500 evictions, escalation of property prices to 139% for sale and 145% for rent in period from 1986 to 1993 alongside with 76% decrease in public housing availability. Evictions disproportionally affect the homeless, the poor and ethnic minorities (90% of Roma population was displaced from Olympic Village area) and in long term working classes, who can afford to stay in the area. As a consequence Barcelona witness housing boom (partly caused by joining European Union) and influx of foreign investment, discriminating rights of its own citizens.


The Sydney Games 2000 are another example of urban regeneration as a result of investment in sustainable development of the city. The IOC approved Sydney bid as it incorporated environmental sustainability as one of the principles. All the new constructions were aiming towards ‘green principles’ such as energy conservation and recycling (Essex & Chalkey 1998). However to which degree there were implemented raise concerns (Breise 2001). Undisputedly, urban renewal related to Olympics was not a secondary aim of organising committee but a fundamental raison d’etre as history proved ‘Olympic effect’ cause enhancement of city global attractiveness. Following Barcelona example, the Olympic Park was built in former industrial area and was the city major infrastructural project. That’s where all new venues were located, in area previously known as Homebush Bay, situated 14km from city centre.

Homebush was region full of toxic waste used for dumping and industrial refuse (Essex & Chalkey 1998). Homebush Bay Structure Plan, 1994 aimed to adopt environment sustainable practices e.g. solar power generators, water recycling in creating ‘greener’ community. The Olympic park was surrounded by Millennium and Bicentennial Parks, which provide opportunity for both passive and active activities and included Olympic Village which was supposed to function as self efficient community.

Unfortunately, in years following Games, Olympic Park (which became suburb of Newington) was frequently empty and inadequately serviced by public transport. Park became ghost town and ‘wasteland of white elephants’ (Bowdin 2011:115). Host city planner admitted that the host city should have focused more broadly on legacy programme for the Olympic site. However, thanks to strategic plan developed on behalf of the New South Wales Government for Sydney Olympic Park in 2007 Olympic Park site witness residential and commercial building boom resulting in permanent population of 30.000.

Negative legacy of Sydney Olympics are ‘sinks’ of public founds into Olympic infrastructure, resulting in ‘white elephants’ and “Sydney Jurassic Park” as Olympic park was renamed after serving largely as a tourist attraction. Public funding of Olympic Games restricted investments in other, more necessary sectors and what’s more resulted in further budget cuts to sponsor modification of original Olympic plan. Additionally, Sydney residents observed rents astonishing increasing by 40% from 1993 where city was selected to host Olympics to 1998. Neighbour city, Melbourne experience only 10% increase (London East Research Institute, 2007). Case of Sydney represents importance of integrating the concept of an Olympic Games into its long-term urban policy planning.


From the day London won the Olympics in 6 of July 2005, organising committee started building plans not only to stage ‘best Olympics ever’ but to create most sustainable Games ever and develop ‘Legacy Masterplan’. Barcelona Games are often seen as a model for London, yet there is no suggestion that London require such extensive regeneration program that Barcelona sought in 1992. Major plan focus on regeneration of East London – five host boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower of Hamlets and Waltham Forest. (Bowdin et al 2011:213) suggest that majority of 9 billion pounds poured into Games were soaked into transformation of the heart of East London, upgrading public transport and building Olympic venues.

There were securitize plans for reuse new sporting venues in Olympic Park and Olympic Village (deconstructing 5 temporary structures, reconstructing purpose build facilities to serve community, amending Olympic Village into affordable housing units, etc.) yet critique is raised who are real Olympic profiteers. Experience from previous Olympics suggest that it is often practiced to regenerate deprived area by replacing low income population with those from higher social economic background. In effect, this process of ‘gentrification’ tends to change location of social groups rather than enhance social integration. East London has been the poorest area in UK and has the highest concentration of non white people; home of the Olympic Village- borough of Newham is most ethnically diverse area in a country.

The process of urban renewal started with eviction of 450 residents of Clays Lane Housing. Part of the city around Olympic site, as far as Langdon Park also faced process of ‘beatification’ forcing residents to leave they homes. Council-appointment agents are selling-off public land and previous housing building to private developers, which are transforming them into luxury apartments. Such displacement is not only government-driven, some private landlords in east London evicted tenants by increasing their rent 15 times prior to Games and advertising their flats as ‘Olympic lets’. Local communities’ reports are suggesting that communities are rarely consulted or included in post-Olympic development of new housing throughout provision of affordable houses, where ‘affordable’ means 80% of market value, which is undoubtedly within reach of single professional of yearly income of £30.000, not low income families.

Employment Legacy

Measurement of employment and skills legacy creates a challenge as the impacts of the Olympics are defined differently and by various parameters in different countries . Gornostaeva (2011) states that the main methods of estimating the employment and skills legacy is by ‘multipliers’, adding that such studies are not free from criticism.

According to Kasmati (2003) there are three types of multipliers: sales/direct transaction multipliers (measuring the direct and secondary effect of the money injected in business and turnover), household income multipliers (direct and secondary effect on household income) and employment multipliers (numbers of new full time jobs resulted from money injected in the economy). Gronostaeve (2011:9) further concludes that employability multipliers proved to be least reliable: ‘their basic assumption of full utilization of existing employees may create errors in calculating the increase in the employment, particularly for ‘one time’ mega sporting events such as summer Olympic Games”. Growth of employability undubtly takes place.


The Olympic Games in Barcelona resulted in 33.000 jobs in construction sector between 1987 and 1991(much less than was predicted, considering that 75% of the total investment went toward constructing job), in addition most of them were temporary. In hotel and catering sector 20.000 employees where hired for duration of Games, much less that expected, as most existing employees where asked to work overtime or perform other tasks. In addition vast volunteer base filled up job in other sectors. During 1992 numbers of jobs were continually decreasing (Olmo, 2004). More optimistic view is represented by Brunet (2005). pointing that Barcelona’s general unemployment rate fell from 18.4% to 9.6%, while country unemployment rate fall by only 5..4% in period from 1986 to 1992.

Reduction of unemployment was related mainly to preparation for Olympic Games. Therefore, unsurprisingly unemployment rate rose after the Olympics, costing 21.000 people their job and only 20.000 full time permanent jobs were secured after the Olympics, mostly sustained by private service sector investment. High unemployment rate in Barcelona after event can be attributed to global recession and Olympics it selves couldn’t be expected to challenge worldwide crisis, yet “The material legacy of staging the Games a decade ago was a godsend to Barcelona. The city was able to tackle the very hard economic crisis that followed in 1993 far better than other regions of Spain precisely because the Olympic investments had been planned with the permanent needs of the city in mind and with the temporary demands of the Olympic Movements” (Abad 2002).


Employment legacy in Sydney was significantly lower than predicted and increase in activity was only temporary (Treasure 1997). The grown of employment according to work of Preuss (1998) in Sydney was temporary and bases around: build environment (construction), staging the games (events management, management, technology and/IT, security, transport, ticketing) and in showcasing. In 1993 KPMG estimated that the New South Wales would tackle unemployment by creating 10.000-12.000 jobs every year from 1996 to 2004. In 1996 organising committees and Labour Council of New South Wales set up plan relating to employment, document included development of multi skilled force, providing high quality training and development of employability opportunities (Experian 2006).Long term employment was link to rise in tourism and new investments in region caused by enhance image of the region. Post-Games studies indicate that only 1.150 jobs were secured in 2000 by inward investment and another 1.219 as a result of post-Olympics initiatives.

Temporary employment (mainly in construction industry) reached peak – 24.000 in two years leading to Games. Failure in achieving set goal has few dimensions. Unemployment rate were standing at 4.5% per annual in the period leading up to Olympics and shortage of unskilled labour was addressed by Olympic Labour Network and recruitment companies. Conversely Lenskey (2000:115) states that: “many Olympic constructors wanted people who were already employed, skilled and having ‘right attitude’ to work, while a lot of unemployed were not getting Olympics jobs. […] The widespread use of volunteer labour in the hosting of the Olympics has been justly criticized in the past for its negative impact on unionised labour and its displacement of volunteers from work on greater social value”. The Olympic Impact Coalition adds that lack of target approach generated many jobs, yet long unemployed have been largely unaffected by staging Games and volunteering didn’t provide skills necessary to find a post-Olympic job.


The Olympics has been an opportunity to create jobs in a recession but the long term impact is likely to be primarily around improving infrastructure, services and using the job opportunities that are created to focus interventions designed to provide local people with relevant skills and work experience. It is not yet clear whether the impact will be captured spatially in the five Boroughs or whether it will be experienced more by higher skilled areas in London or the UK as a whole. (The Work Foundation 2010:7).

London employment legacy plan concentrates on stimulating London poorest and most disadvantages area. East London 19% unemployment rate is twice higher than national average. The Olympic Park will provide local people with job and trainings opportunities. Westfield shopping centre (situated nearby Olympic Park) has already provided 8.000 new jobs it self, yet their employment legacy can prove negative: new shopping mall can lead small shops to bankrupt.

The University of Nottingham has estimates the number of full time jobs created as a result of hosting the Olympics (through anticipated increases in expenditure and investment) in years from 2005 to 2016 as 38.000 in London and 8.000 in UK (Department of Culture, Media and Sport. (2005). The Work Foundation (2010) on the other hand estimates the net number of jobs (including jobs that are likely to be created anyway, in the absence of Games) created between 2005 and 2020 an annual average of around 4,500 in London and 20,200 net jobs in London in 2012.

Table 1: Summary of expected impacts on employment

|Table 10: Summary of expected impacts |Pre-event (2005-2011) |During |Legacy/post-eve|Overall | |on employment Spatial level | |event |nt (2013-2016) |(2005-2016) | |
| |(2012) | | | |UK |2,955 |3,261 |1,948 |8,164 | |London |25,824 |3,724 |9,327 |38,875 | |North East London |7,344 |311 |311 |7,966 |

Adapted from Department of Culture, Media and Sport (2005:10)

London employment growth is anticipated all over the city in the next decade however not equally in every borough. The five Olympic boroughs are suffering from highest level of economic inactivity, lack of skills and unemployment. There are also inequalities between London’s white and ethnic minority population where even prior to recession employment rate was 14% lower for ethnic minorities. 50% of Olympic host boroughs are from ethnic minorities’ background, which highly demonstrate spatial concentration of deprivation and struggle of particular boroughs in shifting to more knowledge intensive economy.

London employment legacy thus concentrate on improvements in educational outcomes and increasing skills level in East London but in exception of Tower Hamlets’ Canary Wharf area host borough are nowadays in risk of missing opportunities created by Olympics. Apart from raised concerns about inequalities, impact of the Olympics on the employment in London and UK as a whole is relatively modest, job created are associated with constructions and catering sectors and tend to be only temporary. However, those who completed Olympic associated contracts are more likely to find future employment, hospitality and construction sector is predicted to grown therefore training obtained in these sectors may increase individual’s employability.

London Development Agency

“The London development Agency (LDA) is the Mayor’s agency responsible for London’s economic growth and its role is to ensure that ‘London and Londoners maximise the long-term benefits that hosting the Games will bring’. In July 2007, the LDA delivered control of the land for the construction of the Olympic Park and for the long-term regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley to the ODA. Working in partnership with the ODA the LDA is continuing with its planning for the legacy development of the Olympic Park. The LDA is also spearheading a wide range of business support programmes and skills initiatives. It is also providing £250 million towards the costs of the infrastructure and venues for the Games and is investing £220 million in the clean-up of the Park, which the ODA is managing on the LDA’s behalf.” (Ryan-Collins &Sander-Jackson 2008:17)

Olympic Delivery Authority was made responsible for delivering the venues and infrastructure for 2012 and their use after the Games with emphasis on physical legacy and redevelopment of Lower Valley while Olympic Park Legacy Company had to plan, develop and manage the Olympic Park itself after the Games (Bowdin et al 2010). Therefore they are responsible for transformation of the heart of East London yet out of many challenges of Olympic Games none is more challenging in achieving urban regeneration through hard infrastructure legacies. London Development Agency promised to help regenerate one of the UK’s most economically disadvantages areas, the Lower Ley Valley. Olympic Park itself was supposed to provide 10,000 – 12,000 homes of which 4,000 would be affordable and 11,000 new jobs.

LDA planned future use of new sporting facilities and Olympic Village to avoid legacy of underused buildings and stadia. Permanent sporting facilities, including swimming pools, new tennis court are left behind for communities and competing training use, other venues, which legacy can’t be assured were temporary and are currently destroyed. The Games will also provide the largest park in London since Victorian Times. In terms of employment LDA wanted to fill Olympic created jobs by local people. By the end of 2010 ODA’s National Skills Academy for Construction provided 3,250 training intervention and only 20% of jobs in Olympic Park have been taken by residents of the host boroughs (The Work Foundation 2010).

Most of founding for the regeneration program comes from National Lottery money and Londoners council tax. It’s hard to predict if this public investment will actually benefit residents of East London, general public or elite of large commercial organisation and existing asset holders as it is too soon too measure legacy of the London 2012 Olympic Games.


The success or failure of the Olympic Games depends on legacy their left behind. Olympics are bringing opportunities to their host cities as well as challenges. Displacement of communities, ‘white elephants’ structures, disproportionate share of the benefits and costs, failure to attract tourists and business investment etc make focusing on legacy planning from early stages particularly important. In addition: “the intensity of the media coverage means that the Games need to be well run and staged, and that small mistakes may be amplified in the eyes of the world” (The Work Foundation 2010:1).


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