The 17th Asian Games is underway in Incheon, South Korea. Numerous other mega sporting events took place in last few months across the globe and another few are scheduled for coming months, both in the developed as well as developing economies. Earlier, India’s interest in bidding for 2019 Asian Games was renewed, only to finally miss out the deadline for proposal submission. Enormous protests across Brazil against hosting the Football World Cup earlier this year and controversies surrounding 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG) makes it imperative that we ask whether hosting mega sport events (like World Cups, Olympics, regional championships, Commonwealth Games (CWG) etc) is worth all the trouble, especially by nations that house significant population of underprivileged people?
The ambition to host mega sport event is fueled by the understanding that hosting will generate significant economic benefits and will boost employment. 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, for example, had considerable positive impact on the city as well as the province of Catalonia. It is also believed that hosting mega events contributes to enhancement of transportation, communication, and security network of the host city/state. 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games was the first such event to realize urban regeneration.
Hosting mega events created legacies and enhance a nation’s image. It furthers the desire of developing nations in becoming a significant actor in the international system. Both China (2008 Beijing Summer Olympics) and South Africa (2010 Football World Cup), arguably have successfully exploited the respective opportunity to their advantage. But in nations where millions are still under acute poverty, a commonsense question does arise – whether hosting a mega event is the most suitable way to boost the nation’s image?
However, on the positive side the host state, by and large, gets a confirmed participation in the event. On the other hand, remaining participants have to secure participation by competing in qualifying tournaments. Added participation is a major advantage and notably increases the probability of winning medals. Research also indicates that playing at home has positive influence on athletes and they tend to perform better than expected. Investments made (on athletes and infrastructure) in the run up of an event also help individual sportspersons improve their preparations.
A lion-share of spending by host city/state is made towards constructing and/or restructuring existing stadiums. With world class sporting infrastructures, more people might be tempted to take up physical activity on a regular basis. This is an intangible outcome that could be derived out of hosting mega events. Regular physical activity improves physical, psychological and mental well-being of an individual and radically decreases the risk of cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity and other non-communicable diseases, thus, contributing to the economic growth of a nation in an indirect way. Catalans’ notable increase in sports participation is said to be an outcome of Barcelona Olympics.
There is no denying that hosting a mega sport event generates new jobs and boosts economic activity, it requires that attention be paid on the quality as well as the duration of these jobs. Prior to, and during the events, most jobs are created in the hospitality/service sector, which often happens to be low-paying and/or short-lived. Very few permanent and competitively paid jobs are created. Except for a few occasions, host countries have not made major economic benefits out of hosting games.
On top of that, it is the international federations/associations, instead of the host nation, which benefit from the profits generated through broadcast rights, corporate sponsorships, and other means during the events. The hosts, on the other hand, have to deal with gross and systematic violation of labor laws at construction sites. Lower than legally assured minimum wages and using children as laborers at game venues were widely reported during the New Delhi CWG.
Similar apprehensions have echoed at different occasions. Protecting children from physical & psychological violence, and sexual exploitation along with strengthening child protection policies have been major concerns surrounding these mega events, especially when they are being hosted by developing nations. These events also witness an increase in organized crime such as drug peddling and human trafficking/sex-slavery. Generally, the unprivileged sections of the society are exploited by the mafias for these purposes, which increase the difficulty of bringing them out of impoverished conditions.
Amongst other issues that have marred organizing mega sport events in recent past, the crucial ones are that of charges of corruption in securing the right to host an event and misappropriation of public funds meant for organizing the events, for personal benefits. What has further generated widespread public distrust towards hosting games is huge cost overrun on the budget allocated at the time of submitting the bid. It is also complimented with broken promises by the governments to deliver on reforms.
Nonetheless, hosting mega sport events endow us with an opportunity to look into, and constructively resolve the problems of a nation. Heightened media attention could be used to make government deliver on its promises. Also, the benefits should not be looked only in terms of immediate economic returns from hosting. For example, infrastructure projects such as roads and transportation (and communication) links will cause long term benefits to the inhabitants and will facilitate economic activities in long run.
To reap social, political and economic benefits out of hosting mega sport event, the decisions and policies surrounding the event have to be made in a way which is pro-growth without discriminating against the poor. Research demonstrate that hosting mega event have the potential to considerably improve social cohesion. A large amount of work is carried out by volunteers in close association to each other, which helps reinvent social ties and infuse a sense of community. In a divided nation such as ours, which is divided by both caste and class, such phenomenon could play a much needed constructive role without having to pay a separate attention towards it.