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  • Op Ed: Legacy Latest Pillar for Olympic Movement


    02/02/08

    This shift in paradigm, pointed out by Olympic bid consultant George Hirthler during the Legacy Lives 2008 conference this week in Barbados, is now driving billions of dollars of investment into projects in upcoming Olympic cities. It’s the same story in dozens more places around the world where other sports events are coming.

    In Barbados and the other island nations that hosted the 2007 ICC World Cup, the pinnacle event for cricket has meant new facilities away from the pitch. These include medical facilities, road works and hotels. Brenda Pope, the head of Legacy Barbados, says Barbadians also took away soft legacy items such as experience as volunteers and renewed national pride.

    In China, as much as $40 billion will go into infrastructure construction for the Games in August. Only a fraction of that sum will be spent on Olympic venues.

    The remaking of Athens and its creaking transportation infrastructure for the 2004 Olympics is hailed as one of the leading benefits of hosting those Games. But while new highways are used daily in the Greek capital, former Olympic venues languish, their long-term value to Athens and Greece still a question mark.

    London is headed down the same track as Athens and Beijing, with big plans for remaking the city outside the Olympics. But as London 2012 chair Sebastian Coe pointed out in comments to Legacy Lives, London may be the first to carefully think beyond the Games to create a legacy that comfortably fits a city when the euphoria of Olympic fever fades with the flame of the Games.

    Coe admitted that while the push for legacy is a separate mission from hosting the Olympics, he realizes organizers cannot overlook the need to deliver long-term benefits to a community.

    In his remarks for Legacy Lives, Vancouver 2010 CEO John Furlong linked the drive for legacy with a human craving.

    “All of us want to live lives of significance. To make a difference. To know that we matter. That we count. That what we do will live on after we are done doing it,” he said.

    “The longer we live, the more we care about our legacy. Will we be remembered and why?”

    Furlong applauds the physical elements of legacy, but goes on to say that a much more difficult challenge faces Games organizers: reaching people.

    “I will feel, as will my colleagues, a great sense of shame if these Games do not change lives, really inspire children and youth … touch the soul of our country to such a degree that a new pride and love for Canada will result,” says the Vancouver 2010 CEO.

    In this legacy era, successful management and operation of the Olympics is no longer the sole testament of a great event. The bar has been raised on what a city must deliver.

    But at what cost? With the IOC keen to hold down the complexity of staging the Olympics, an “arms race” for the best physical legacy from a Games may become another barrier to small cities and nations that are unable to finance public and private works to the same degree as larger bids.

    It is hoped that realism will guide the thinking of the IOC as it considers the plans of the cities bidding for the 2016 Olympics. A judicious review of legacy promises should separate the grandiose from what will really work for a city nine years from now.

    But the ability of a city to deliver the human side of legacy cannot be evaluated with a cold analysis of numbers and demographics.

    It’s up to the IOC, to FIFA, to sports organizations around the globe that award major events to make their own judgments of human nature. They have to look bid leaders in the eye, deciding which have the charm, the dream -- the fire -- to deliver an event that makes people better.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: comment@aroundtherings.com.