'Legacy' [Primer #6]

‘Legacy’ [Primer #6]

Deeply exaggerated claims for positive Games impacts have been formulated and expressed through a ‘Legacy’ framework. This framework was first associated with the Sydney Olympics 2000, and has become, since the Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002, a central feature of Olympic and Commonwealth Games sporting events. We’re going to look in particular in this primer at ‘legacy’ related to regeneration for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014. The legacy framework for the Glasgow Games is predicated on the idea of lasting benefits not only for every person in the city of Glasgow, but for Scotland overall. The urban regeneration of the East End in particular has been central to these promises. Similarly Clyde Gateway makes much of the wider public benefit they claim will arrive from related regeneration in the area.

However, we argue that ‘legacy’ claims are one of the primary means to legitimise, and deflect attention from, massive public expenditure on Games events. This expenditure on urban spectacle is almost always for the benefit of business; the bread and circuses of the spectacle is a great way of alienating people from the exploitative realities of land-grabbing, displacement, and gentrification. Glasgow City Council Leader, Gordon Matheson, intends to sell “two weeks of magic” to an increasingly suspicious public.

But expenditure over-runs are becoming increasingly severe in sporting mega-events events. For instance, an initial budget for the London Olympics 2012 of £2.4 billion in 2007, increased to £9 billion in two years, and has since risen to £11 billion officially. The Manchester Commonwealth Games 2002 meanwhile ran 120% over budget, and the Delhi Games 2010, 280% over budget. Despite repeated claims that Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games are on time and on budget, projected public expenditure now sits at £563 million, a 50% increase on initial budget estimate of £373 million. It should be noted that this figure is based on an estimate from December 2012, that the £45.8 million emergency contingency fund is now depleted, and that the peak spending phase will be ongoing until at least September 2014. The overall cost is very likely to rise significantly – strongly affecting any cost-benefit analysis or legacy claims. It is also important to stress that the contingency fund will in no way meet the needs and demands of the local population as expressed in a recent online petition.

Such public cost over-runs may put the very future of the Commonwealth Games at risk. As of yet there are no concrete bids for the Games in 2022, following Australia’s Gold Coast event in 2018. Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, has even suggested that reducing the number of sports to the minimum of ten might alleviate “the cost structures” associated with hosting the event. Could the truth be that these events are effectively a massive public subsidy for private developers, causing anger and resistance and creating a ‘crisis of legitimacy’?

There is a massive disparity between public benefit claims related to large-scale sporting mega-events and the reality of gentrification in the form of rising rents, displacement and class cleansing. In 2007, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) conducted a study of mega-events, Olympic Games and housing rights. The study revealed that large-scale forced evictions, exponential rent-rises, discrimination against racial minorities, and target­ing of homeless people, are as much a part of Olympic events as swimming and the discus throw:

In Seoul, 720,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes in preparation for the Olympic Games in 1988. In Barcelona, housing became so unaffordable as a result of the Olympic Games that low income earners were forced to leave the city. In Atlanta 9,000 arrest citations were issued to homeless people (mostly African-Americans) as part of an Olympics-inspired campaign to ‘clean the streets and approximately 30,000 people were displaced by Olympics-related gentrification and development’. In Athens, hundreds of Roma were displaced under the pretext of Olympics-related preparations”.

In the lead up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the report estimated that over 1.5 million people may have been displaced due to Olympics-related urban redevelopment (Ibid). Others estimate that the figure is closer to £2 million (Shin, 2012). But large-scale displacement is not just limited to the Olympics. The Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) has estimated that since 2004, at least 200,000 people in Delhi were forcibly evicted as a result of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. In the UK context, the scale is considerably less, but demolition of housing, displacement, and rising rent and house prices were central features of the London Olympics experience. Up to 450 homes were demolished on the Clays Lane housing estate after eviction by Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), while 700 units have been earmarked for demolition and renewal on the Carpenters estate adjacent to the Olympic Village, despite sustained and ongoing resistance by the Save Carpenters campaign.

According to a mass of academic commentators, the evidence base required for an evaluation of regeneration legacy and expenditure from major sporting events is either absent or inadequate (Davies, 2011). Legacy often becomes “little more than a chimera augmented by suspect political agendas and research methodologies” (Matheson, 2010, p.20). Summarising the impacts of Summer Olympics events in the modern era, Short (2008) concludes that the “rudimentary” analysis of hosting these events is a “fiscal mystery” made more complex by the partisan nature of those supporting Games events and funding cost-benefit analyses. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest the impact is often very negative. Gratton et al (2005) found that economic benefits have been “poorly researched” and that there is a distinct lack of “adequate evidence” to support such claims. In a systemic review of health benefits associated with one-off sporting events over thirty years (1978-2008), McCartney et al (2010) found “insufficient evidence” to confirm any economic or health legacy benefits,  a position backed by our primer on the sporting legacy of the Games

A host of academic reports on ‘legacy’ argue that promised benefits for local communities are rarely realised, even as private companies and games organisers benefit enormously. The way that cost-benefit analyses of Games and regeneration events proceeds is often highly partial, funded by precisely those interests who have a vested interest in presenting positive accounts. As ill-defined legacy frameworks have become increasingly bound up with expensive competitive bidding processes premised on the idea of copious social, symbolic and economic rewards for host cities it isn’t surprising that these claims have become absurdly exaggerated. Projects which have already been funded anyway, get a legacy label slapped on them regardless of the fact that no legacy funding is added. The M74 is a great example. The project was planned, funded and approved in 2001, long before the Games bid was submitted in 2007, but it is retrospectively positioned as a central Games legacy. Notably, however, the cost of ‘the most expensive road in the UK’, which spiralled from £245m to £692m on completion in 2011, is absent from the budget of the Games.

One of the primary ideas behind legacy frameworks is the encouragement of ‘community’ and ‘stakeholder’ support for events (Matheson, 2010). The bid process is premised on cultivating a city-wide feel-good factor – a kind of ‘common-sense’ – that makes the questioning of economic or social realities seem disruptive or treacherous. This factor makes Games events almost impervious to rational debates about cost-benefit analysis. As a senior planning officer from the Manchester Local Authority explained of Manchester’s Commonwealth Games in 2002:

Once you adopt a strategy of pursuing sports-led urban regeneration, politically it is very difficult for it to be allowed to fail, so what happens is that it gets declared a success, really irrespective of what happens on the ground” (Davies, 2008).

It helps if you have the local media in your pocket. The Herald and its sister paper The Evening Times are official media partners for the Commonwealth Games – they are hardly likely to kick up much of a fuss. Meanwhile, the recent BBC documentary series – Commonwealth City[xiv] – chose the local councillor and his cousin as two of the main characters in their film. There was nothing about the demolition of the Accord Centre (a day care centre for people with severe disabilities) for a temporary bus park on the programme. There was nothing about the ‘show people’ who are being removed from their long-term sites in Dalmarnock for office space, despite paying rent in the area for 40 years. The blocking of the ‘housing crisis’ meeting that Glasgow Games Monitor 2014 tried to organise at the Bridgeton Community Learning Campus is just one example of the way that critical voices have been suppressed in the East End.

The main beneficiaries of mega-event regeneration strategies are seldom those who are positioned as the targets of regeneration. The distribution of costs and benefits tends to be regressive, with most of the costs borne locally (disruption, pollution, rent rises, displacement), while most of the benefits accrue to private business and the global media market. The more than 1,500 people displaced from the Games Village site are evidence of that. Recent angry meetings in Dalmarnock suggest the ‘disbenefits’ of the Games go much deeper and wider. This deeply uneven outcome should not come as a surprise in the absence of social redistribution systems – or more accurately the ‘redistribution’ of social security and public budgets into the pockets of the wealthy. More typical is the ‘public pain, private gain’ formula: the costs are borne by public authorities, funded by taxpayers, while the revenues are privatized by private organizations that are neither democratically elected nor publicly accountable. Some legacy.


Davies L E (2008) Sport and the Local Economy: The Effects of Stadia Development on the Commercial Property Market, Local Economy, Vol.23, No.1, February, pp.31-46

Davies L E (2012) Beyond the Games: Regeneration Legacies and London 2012, Leisure Studies31(3), 309-337

Gratton C, Shibli S and Coleman R (2005) Sport and Economic Regeneration in Cities, Urban Studies42 (5-6), pp.985-999

Matheson C M (2010) Legacy Planning, Regeneration and Events: The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Local Economy25(1), 10-23

McCartney G, Thomas S, Thomson H, Scott J, Hamilton V, Hanlon P and Bond L (2010) The Health and Socioeconomic Impacts of Major Multi-sport Events: Systematic Review (1978-2008), BMJ: British Medical Journal340

Shin H B (2012) Unequal cities of Spectacle and Mega-Events in China, City, 16(6), pp.728-744

Short  J R (2008) Globalization, Cities and the Summer Olympics’, City, 12(3), pp.322-340