Olympic legacies: #melbourne2024?
For one month every four years, the world is utterly enthralled by sport. The BBC reports that its coverage of the 2012 London Games was watched by 90 percent of the UK population, delivering what has been described as the ‘largest TV audiences since the pre-digital age’ – and that’s just the home nation! Global figures are in the billions. It’s huge, and with careful stewardship, can be a real catalyst for growth. What city or country would not want this type of positive exposure?
On the other side of the world, meanwhile, Australia is in the midst of a summer of sport, with record-breaking crowds attending the recent Australian Open and fans flocking to the regular summer cricket series. The Asian Football (Soccer) Confederation Asian Cup drew great audiences (not to mention a win for Australia!) and the Cricket World Cup has just kicked off. Everywhere you look, there’s sport, and where there’s sport, Melbourne is fully involved. For Melburnians, it is part of the summer norm.
Justifiably, Melbourne was named winner of the 2014 Sport Business Ultimate Sports City Award, large city category – for the second time – and has also been recognised as the world leader in sports venues and in event strategy. Melbourne has previously been named the Ultimate Sports City in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and runner up in 2012. Melbourne puts a lot of time, planning and passion into the sporting events that it hosts and offers some of the finest sports and event facilities in the world.
With such a strong sports foundation and enviable global reputation, why wouldn’t Melbourne bid to host the 2024 or even the 2028 Olympic Games?
To maintain and grow Melbourne’s sporting prowess there is a need to broaden the city’s international sporting horizons, and a bid for the Olympics could be an exciting addition to Melbourne’s sporting calendar. A few quotes from Melbourne’s business and political leaders late last year about the potential to host the Games continues to trend internationally, and we see Melbourne being listed alongside Rome, Paris, Boston and Istanbul. But, are the costs – even just to bid – worth the return?
Hosting an Olympics presents a moment to be seized that can bring immediate benefits and improvements that reach much further, lasting long after the Games have ended. The approach to the Games should not just be for a week or fortnight of sport, but should be an approach that can help a community and city to thrive for years to come. It is about understanding the political, community and economic sensitivities that drive the need to deliver low-cost, high-impact Games which will not just deliver spectacle, but will act as a catalyst for economic uplift and wider-scale urban change.
The Games have their critics and there are examples where the benefits have not been delivered and cities are left with debt and missed opportunities, but this comes down to the experience and commitment of those involved to truly capitalise on the opportunity to host them.
London, with its commitment to legacy and urban regeneration, has not only seen an industrial wasteland transformed into one of the world’s greatest Olympic Parks, but also a vibrant new community that will include 7,000 new homes. For every £1 spent on creating the park and hosting the Games, 75 pence has remained invested in the future. London also used the Games to modernise its construction industry and grow its international reputation for planning, design and delivery. By contrast, there are accounts that Russia spent an estimated $US51 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics, and Beijing $US44 billion on the 2008 Summer Games. With such absurd figures it is not surprising that people are questioning the benefits of hosting the Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has become sensitive to the criticism and has recently announced its reform agenda – Agenda 2020 – which strives for a more cost-effective Games with a stronger focus on legacy. The IOC is encouraging a more dynamic approach to hosting the Games, with candidates allowed to propose decentralised bids, potentially with dual cities hosting, or even national bids as opposed to a single city. This will present some interesting options and hopefully reduce the associated budgets to more acceptable levels. In the case of Melbourne, it could be interesting to re-use some of Sydney’s venues from the 2000 Games, or bid in collaboration with Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Melbourne, though, is in a unique position in that with the exception of an athlete’s village, it could competently host the Games in existing venues, complemented with a range of demountable facilities.
Some will argue that Sydney 2000 is too recent, that the Australian market is too small for the associated global sponsors, that the time difference is too great for the American viewing audience, or that we are just too far away from the rest of the world. Remoteness has not stopped us before. Melbourne could demonstrate how to deliver a spectacular Games that is cost-effective, but not compromised, and which continues to enhance Melbourne’s reputation as a true sporting capital. Isn’t it worth the discussion?
If a tilt at the Games is a stretch too far, perhaps a focus on the second and third-tier sporting events such as the World Games, which advocates no new venues to be constructed, or the World University Games, might present new opportunities for Melbourne.
What do you think?
Adam Williams (email@example.com) is director, Global Sports leader, Asia Pacific, AECOM. Based in Melbourne, Adam is currently leading AECOM’s work on the Rio 2016 Olympic Master Plan and venues, and previously lead AECOM’s work on the London 2012 Olympic legacy masterplan.