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Sustainability and legacy myths in sport

Sporting events and initiatives need to consider their sustainability and legacy. This article takes a closer look.

As Dame Louise Martin, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, explains in the video: “It’s not just a Games for a Games sake. This is a game-changer. And we have to keep remembering that sport is just the beginning of it.”

The delivery of a legacy

Most major sporting events focus on the delivery of a ‘legacy’. They must now have a conscious, credible and defined legacy policy, programme or plan that meets public expectations.

Invariably, major sporting events will claim to have boosted sports participation, reduced the event’s carbon footprint, attracted more tourists, boosted a city or country’s profile and reduced the cost of staging future events. All of these claims require testing, comparing and evaluating.

Funders and participants expect such claims to be evidenced, especially as there are significant costs involved and not all outcomes from such events are always positive.

Legacy potential

The Olympics and other major sporting events raise important questions around ‘legacy’ potential. The ability to put on such events is uneven across the globe.

The promise of urban or rural regeneration is realised by some events, but the extent to which sporting success or failure impacts the wellbeing of host nations needs to be considered.

Critics argue that communities are often displaced, and ordinary people are excluded from involvement in the planning and ownership of legacies, e.g. the Rio 2016 Olympics or FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Legacies can be difficult to capture and evidence – and one always needs to consider the human costs.

Legacy Examples

International Inspiration was the sport and development legacy project of the London 2012 Olympics.

Evaluation reports of the South Africa World Cup and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games highlight the following key points:

  • Robust evidence of impact is limited, varies greatly and tends to focus on the short-term
  • Evidence to support the idea of economic growth and employment is mixed and there is no clear evidence of an automatic trickle-down effect from hosting a major sports event and positive legacy outcomes
  • There is a need for long-term planning and perspective
  • To have a legacy, it is important to have good organisational capability and community engagement

The Commonwealth Games Value Framework is an example of good practice, designed to help the Commonwealth Games Federation, host cities and other stakeholders assess the costs and benefits of hosting the Games.

It is important to be realistic about the impact that an event or initiative can or should generate.

Furthermore, it is now regarded as essential for events to not only have a sustainable legacy but also to adopt a human rights-based approach in all stages of the event cycle.

Considering the impact, legacy and exit strategy of your programme or policy, not just the desired end goal, needs to be part of your wider implementation plan and discussion with partners. Your initiative may not last forever, so you may need to plan for the end, as well as implementation.

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Sport for Sustainable Development: Designing Effective Policies and Programmes

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