Challenges of Hosting a Big Sporting Event

The voices of the streets represent a unifying message -- these events must prioritize legacy and what will remain after the race is run and the final whistle blows. If not, the shareholders won't even reach the qualifiers, let alone the players.
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According to United Nations 70 percent of the global population will live in cities by 2050. Within this new world order, conurbations play the lead role and are fiercely competing for supremacy. Yet our global economy does not respect the traditional political boundaries defined between nations. Political movements are now spreading on a global scale and more quickly than ever, something we have witnessed at street level with public demonstrations taking place in Brazil and around the world.

Such disputes are vital to so-called "global cities" -- a term coined by sociologist Saskia Sassen. These large-scale metropolises have become an international metaphor for the global community, vying amongst themselves to become key economic hubs, centers for decision-making and policy and home to internationally renowned cultural institutions. New York, London, Singapore, Tokyo and Rio are all part of this select club.

Attracting world-class events such as the Olympics and the World Cup is now regarded as a fundamental strategy to help these global cities and their countries elevate themselves. The question of who will host the next Olympic Games is now a geopolitical concern. When Seoul hosted the Games in 1988 it became a symbol of the Asian Tigers' ascent onto the world stage. In 1992, the Barcelona Olympics represented the unification of Europe. And when Rio plays host in 2016, it will reinforce the growing importance of Brazil and Latin America as a whole.

Hosting the Olympic Games of course guarantees the world's attention but there is more to it than simply bathing in the global spotlight. Most importantly, host cities can use the opportunity to create a positive and lasting legacy, resulting in both tangible and intangible returns to local communities. Leveraging the event can drive enduring change, something Barcelona achieved in 1992. Once described as an old industrial town with its back to the sea, the Games facilitated reinvention, helping the city reclaim neglected waterfront, boost tourism and establish a whole new creative landscape over the following decades.

Sadly, winning the Games does not guarantee success and the benefits of hosting such events are not always clear to society. This has resulted in political tumult throughout the history of the Olympic Games. Political movements and mega sporting events have always gone hand in hand. In 1980 there were Cold War boycotts in Moscow and again in 1984 during Los Angeles Games. Post-1990, demonstrations of differing sizes and degrees became the norm and the World Cup is also no stranger to controversy.

The latest protests in Brazil are an example of strong public will. What started as a small march in São Paulo and Rio against an increase of ten U.S. cents on bus fares developed into street demonstrations in dozens of large cities within days. The rallies gained pace and were amplified by complaints regarding corruption, inflation, a constitutional amendment, and last, but by no means least, investments in the 2014 World Cup, which will be held in 12 cities across Brazil.

Approval ratings indicate that support for such events is V-shaped -- initial excitement welcomes the opportunity, but approval drops as urban interventions and heavy spending causes confusion and anger, before support finally swells steadily as the city readies itself and citizens become increasingly excited with the arrival of visitors and athletes. But the voices of the streets represent a unifying message -- these events must prioritize legacy and what will remain after the race is run and the final whistle blows. If not, the shareholders won't even reach the qualifiers, let alone the players.

Much more than simply raising and renovating sports facilities, there is a huge case for big events to have a positive impact on the lives of a city, a country and its citizens. Here in Rio, hosting the Olympic Games has provided the opportunity for us to make positive changes to the very fabric of society. We are already feeling the benefits of the Olympic legacy as we expand our high capacity transport system and the much-needed and long-awaited renovation of the Port Area is well under way in partnership with private investors and better coordination between federal, state and local government. The Games are also helping us achieve our key goals of improving health and education for all. And then there is the intangible legacy -- an emotional legacy -- a chance for us to show that the city can commit wholeheartedly to planning and also deliver results on time or ahead of schedule.

We have been listening to the voices in the streets with intent and we have discovered a great deal about ourselves in recent days. We are reminded that Brazil is a strong democracy and one that is advancing healthily and at pace. We have learnt that there is a powerful movement that is passionate about change and that in itself is encouraging. We have been listening, but if these current discussions are framed solely in terms of sporting infrastructure then we are less likely to make the leaps and bounds that are due to everyone. Transparency in spending and investments in mobility, urbanization, and public services are much more important than simply providing venues in which to host events. It is therefore the responsibility of the authorities, policymakers and sports directors to communicate this positive legacy with more urgency and clarity.

Eduardo Paes is the mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Follow him on Twitter @eduardopaes_ and on Facebook at

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