In recent years, the debate surrounding the hosting of major sports events has intensified. Unfortunately, the naysayers have been getting the upper hand, as major events have been heavily criticised for all kinds of things –environmental impact, budget overruns, “gigantism”. So far, rights-holders and host cities haven’t been able to articulate a convincing and appealing response to all this criticism. The promise of creating “a great legacy for many years to come” has been overused and thus has become less effective.
It seems that whenever the idea for hosting a major international sports event is presented, the people behind the initiative almost immediately move into a position where they have to defend or even excuse themselves for bringing up the idea. This defensive position only stimulates the opposition.
Now, add Covid issues to the list of worries linked to major events. Big crowds from around the world gather together in one place in a rather uncontrolled way with all the health-related implications this could have. Why should governments spend money on such a non-essential activity while their focus should be on spending huge sums to re-stimulate local economies? The current negative mood in Japan regarding the upcoming Tokyo Games, where a clear majority in several polls of the population are in favour of cancelling or postponing the Games, is just one example and many more are certain to follow.
So, what to do?
Perhaps now is the right time for everyone involved in the staging of international sports events – from the supply side (International Federations and other rights-holders) and the demand side (host cities/regions) – to stand up straight with their shoulders back. We should hear a confident statement from all stakeholders saying: “Yes, we want to stage major sports events now. Yes, we can host them in a way that will be safe and deliver a lot of positives for the communities in which they will be hosted. And yes, right now is the right time, more so than ever, to do so.”
Here are just a few examples of strong arguments that can be used:
- Major events will bring together crowds that obviously still need to be managed carefully, but they will do so in a positive setting, sending a strong signal of both resilience and hope. The financial support from governments would be a well-spent, targeted economic stimulus that is needed now more than ever.
- The planning and hosting of a major event is a very powerful tool to mobilise a wider group of institutions and industries – tourism, education, transport, economic development, culture. All of these sectors can see the value of such a project if it is done in a smart way, tackling the big issues of our time like health, protection of the environment, technological innovation, integration and equality. The hosting of a major event can link all of these sectors and be the platform upon which they work together with focus and energy to re-stimulate their own processes that may have been impacted by the pandemic.
- As a result of globalisation and fierce competition between destinations, there is an increasing need to raise awareness and positive perceptions of a place, not least in a post-Covid world. Cities and countries are constantly looking for opportunities to tell the world a story about themselves, their people, their plans and their potential. Major sports events provide an extremely strong and attractive stage for such international promotion.
- Nothing, whether it be a big international political meeting, major cultural event or an international exhibition, comes even close to sport in terms of generating appeal to a global audience across basically all demographics and income groups. Major sports events are second to none in terms of attracting international crowds – onsite and/or online.
- Not only can major sports events create a very strong platform to tell the world about the host city or country, events also allow the host to demonstrate the same story by implementing key messages in the way the event is organised. Good marketing talks, great marketing talks, and a major sports event can do this in unique and exceptional ways.
For any decision, there are always pros and cons to be considered. Now, however, is the right time for rights-holders and host cities to come forward and present the case. It should not be that difficult because we all know that major sports events can do great things for the places hosting them. We just need to hear it expressed with self-confidence and in a more convincing and compelling way.
While recently reading former US president Barack Obama’s latest book, I was reminded of his famous slogan. A slogan that was reintroduced after a major loss in the 2008 primaries when his campaign was hitting a low. I hope that everyone involved in the planning and staging of major sports events can be inspired by him and repeat his mantra: “Yes, we can”.