Olympic Cities: Legacies

With the question of legacy weighing heavily on the upcoming 2012 London Games, Future Cape Town considers the lasting legacies in the Olympic Cities of the past two decades:

Los Angeles 1984: Setting the standard for the modern Games

The first Olympic Games to make a profit since 1932, the LA games changed the way modern Olympics were run. The city made adjustments to existing stadia, constructing only the velodrome and aquatics centre specifically for the Games- helping to bring the total profit of operating the Games to $222.7 million, with the wider economic impact for Southern California estimated at $3.3 billion. Corporate sponsorship, television rights and ticket sales took the burden of paying for the event off the tax-payer, and 40% of profits from the Games was directed into over 1,000 youth sports organisations and programmes.  The bulk of the profit, however, went to the US Olympic Committee which used the money to support the country’s Olympic interests

Picture: © Glowimages/Getty Images


Seoul 1988: Tourism and trade out of isolation

Initially a controversial choice as a host city, some now argue that the Seoul Games contributed meaningfully to South Korea’s transition to democracy. Political demonstrations, coupled with the wish not to jeopardise the event with a military dictatorship and riots contributed to the June 1987 declaration which removed President Chun from power and led to democratic elections in December of that year. The large profits from the Games were channeled into the city, kick-starting the flow of business and investment into Seoul and helping to boost South Korea’s economy to become the third largest in Asia. Seoul itself received a much-needed tourism and trade boost, helping to drag South Korea out of isolation.

The 1988 Games brought South Korea a previously unheard of sporting legacy; training programmes and sport leagues flourished were there were none previously. Yoon Kang-ro, a Korean sports diplomat told the Korea Times in 2007. “After hosting the Olympics, the goals became much higher.” At the 1984 Games, South Korea won 19 medals, but at the Seoul Games, the country’s medal total shot up to 33.

Picture: © Jon Asay Photography/Getty Images


Barcelona 1992: New beaches and a business boost

Widely regarded as a model for staging a successful Olympic Games, Barcelona used its 1992 hosting duties to rebrand itself and to transform the landscape of the city itself. The Games served as a catalyst to modernise the city and establish Barcelona as one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.

The Games yielded a $5 million profit and the city benefited from major regeneration efforts. One of the primary features to benefit from these efforts was Barcelona’s beaches, with around 3.2 kms of beach created at the time of the Games and another 1.6 kms added since 1992, coupled with the rise of numerous restaurants and leisure amenities. This increased access to the Mediterranean sea provided major impetus for the city’s subsequent tourism boost.  The city also constructed a new port which, aside from providing some of the most photogenic Olympic venues, helped to boost Barcelona’s reputation as a centre of commerce. Poblenou, a previously dilapidated industrial neighbourhood, was transformed by the Olympic Village and the new port

The infrastructure and inspiration left behind after 1992 also helped to boost Spain’s sporting prowess- yielding champions from tennis, to soccer to cycling- much thanks to the superior facilities and coaching capacities which remained after the Games. At the 1992 Games themselves, Spanish athletes won more medals (22) than they had in all other Olympic Games combined.

Picture: © sbk_20d pictures/Getty Images

Atlanta 1996: Green space and new homes for the city’s sports teams

Atlanta enjoys one of the strongest Olympic legacies of modern times, despite a chaotic Games which suffered under transport problems, criticism for commercialisation and a fatal pipe bomb. Commercial sponsorship of Atlanta’s 1996 Games meant that the city broke even and was not left with large debts. The two main stadia constructed for the event transitioned well, having been designed with after-use in mind, and are now home to the city’s baseball and football teams.

Atlanta’s inner-city benefitted most from the legacy of the Games. The Centennial Olympic Park provided the centerpiece of the downtown revitalisation, which attracted a number of high rises, museums and a number of other attractions along its periphery. At the time of construction, the Park was the largest urban green space to be created in the U.S. in 25 years, and today attracts millions of visitors annually. 20 percent of the tax generated from the Games was channeled into the city’s poorer areas, and other investments by the city into rundown neighbourhoods have spurred on an urban renaissance in the city which is still ongoing.

Picture: AP


Sydney 2000: An under-utilised Olympic Park

Despite hosting a well-organised and largely successful Games, the legacy that Sydney has enjoyed from its hosting duties have been relatively minimal. The budget was overshot- not uncommon for Olympic host cities- almost tripling to $3.8 billion before the Games had begun, a third of which was paid for by the public. Sue Holliday, former chief planner for the Sydney Games, reported that the host city should have focused more broadly on a legacy program for the Olympic site, saying “Sydney is now paying the price.”

The Sydney Olympic Park formed the centerpiece of Sydney’s promise to deliver a ‘Green Games’. 160 hectares of degraded land was transformed into an environmentally-friendly Olympic Park for the 2000 Games. Today, the Park and its surrounding features total around 640 hectares- making it one of the largest urban parks in Australia. Despite this, the Park sat unused until 2005 when a more long-term plan for its use was finally implemented. Post-event studies also confirmed that the Games had failed to attract the predicted number of tourists to the city and that participation in sports did not experience a significant boost either. Australia’s medal total did increase with the Sydney’s hosting duties and some lasting, functional sporting facilities remain in operation twelve years after the 2000 Games.

Picture: WikiMedia Commons/Yellow Monkey


Athens 2004: The Athens International Airport

Despite a successful Games, the Grecian capital city suffered from a Games that ran badly over budget- contributing directly some believe to the country’s current financial crisis. Estimates directly after the 2004 Games placed the shortfall at around 50,000 euros for every Greek household- but no official figures for the total cost have ever been published.

A failure to capitalise on the modernisation momentum started by the Games means that Athens’ Olympic infrastructure today lies largely unused. Adding to this, promised parks were never delivered and new transportation infrastructure caused problem including flooding and increased traffic. The government of the time also chose to finance the full cost of the Olympic venues from the public investment budget, although in the absence of a long-term strategy for post-Game use.

One lasting positive legacy of the 2004 Games is the Athens International Airport. The airport was expanded and modernised for the Games, and since then has become the country’s main airport and received a higher share of European air traffic. The city’s subway system also benefitted from expansion work through the construction of a two-line, 28 station system over 27 kms.

Picture: Flickr/Leonid Mamchenkov


Beijing 2008: An exercise in cleaner air

Despite being the most expensive Games in history, Beijing’s 2008 Games did not leave the country in debt. With enough capital to fund new stadiums, subways and roads, the Games left Beijing in a position to benefit from these infrastructure improvements. A new airport terminal, new subways and highways, along with improved public spaces and parks brought investment into the city without crippling debt.

While some facilities have been utilized after the 2008 Games ended, for example those dedicated to the China Agricultural University and to the Beijing Science and Technology University, others- most notably the landmark Bird’s Nest National Stadium- have remained largely unused.

Following the announcement of Beijing as the 2008 host city, a number of health concerns were raised concerning the poor quality of Beijing air. A number of athletes expressed concerns about competing in the Chinese capital, forcing Beijing to implement drastic measures to clear the pollutant smog associated with the city. Measures include the temporary shutting down or relocation of factories, banning around 300,000 heavily polluting vehicles and chemical plants and power stations were forced to reduce emissions by 30 percent.

The most drastic measure saw half of Beijing’s car prohibited from the city’s roads a month ahead of the Games. Cars with odd number plates with restricted on odd days and even cars on even days, reducing Beijing’s usual 3.3 million commuters by 50 percent. These measures saw carbon dioxide levels reduced by 47 percent. Although most of these clear-air policies proved to be temporary, the 2008 preparations proved that even a city as large and dense as Beijing could improve urban air quality if motivated.

Picture: AP