David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.


Some ruminations on EventScotland’s international event management conference

On Tuesday I attended my second EventScotland conference held at the beautiful Perth Concert Hall.  Given that the event is trailed mainly as an opportunity for the industry to come together, academia has been relatively poorly represented, at least until this year.  Thankfully the organisers had the foresight to invite two students from the country’s main providers of event management education (for free) to accompany their tutors and learn more about the strategy for the next five years, Scotland: The Perfect Stage.  Whilst education was well represented numerically at the event, my impression was that the principles of academic discussion and debate were rather less in evidence.  As is the way of these sorts of event, there was an oversupply of back slapping and positive reinforcement for a ‘job well done’ and a noticeable absence (with some exceptions – read on) of critical commentary on the main beneficiaries of events (or not, as the case may be) and a discussion of the sorts of events we ‘should’ be looking to attract (or, more importantly cultivate) to our shores in order to enhance the quality of life for citizens and communities.  After all, that’s why are investing in events in the first place – isn’t it? Perhaps I was being overly optimistic to think that we might have generated a debate about the relative merits of Event Policy as a means of allocating scarce resources, but I do think the organisers need to create more space for robust discussion, continuing dialogue and, in the achievement of both, an engagement with the sizeable educational community.  

To the content – there were lots of speakers talking about the global marketplace and the intensification of competition for top tier sports events, in particular.  Craig McLatchey of Event Knowledge Services (EKS) was particularly astute in his analysis of the global challenges for the liberal democracies of the west as they face competition from the emerging nations of the east.  It’s worth looking at the emergence of the BRIC nations when thinking about the most recent major sporting events held and those coming over the next couple of decades – Beijing Olympics, Delhi Commonwealth Games, Brazil’s World Cup and Olympics and Russia’s World Cup in 2018. One of the main insights I took from the conference as a whole was the realisation that there is very little, technically, that the UK, USA, Australia and parts of continental Europe can do to compete with these emerging nations – being democratic, having technical expertise and promoting yourself well means little if the major event owners (i.e. the IOC, FIFA and other sports federations) want to make a political statement, or see greater ‘rewards’ from awarding their events to parts of the world which remain unaffected by the phenomenon that is mega events.   Lars Lundov, Chief Executive of Sports Events Denmark, argued that they use sport events to animate their urban areas, to secure a greater identification with place and to put a small European nation on the map.  Whilst he failed to quote the work of Hall, Law, Eisinger or Whitson and Horne, nevertheless he was clearly referring to the victory of urban entrepreneurial governance as a mode of governing our cities and regions – an often uncontested discourse which certainly got an easy ride at the conference on Tuesday.  With the exception of two outstanding presentations…

First, Mark Coyle, editor of BBC London 2012, provided a refreshing presentation on the potentialities and possibilities which the digital media brings for engaging a wider range of stakeholders with the Olympic Games.  He talked eloquently of the sheer scale of online consumption which will accompany the 2012 Games and the challenges this creates for BBC in reporting this event in a new media age.  Check out David Jarman’s (@dsrjarman) insights on Mark’s presentation for a fuller appraisal of its content. For me the most intriguing aspect of the online Olympics is whether it will lead to greater citizen engagement as a means of more accurately reporting the experience of the everyday before, during and after the Games.  As Mark mentioned, Live Sites offer great potential for togetherness (though mediated) though my ex-colleague Matt Frew (@graffiticloud) and I have suggested elsewhere in connection with Germany 06 that fan experiences are too often turned into opportunities for commercial gain as opposed to communitas.  

That said, the reach and accessibility of the social media in 2012 means that London 2012 will be more than the Twitter Olympics of Vancouver 2010.  Colleagues at the University of the West of Scotland, led by Professor Andy Miah (@andymiah) have launched their alternative #media2012 blueprint which we hope will lead to a greater level of citizen media engagement and the creation of another narrative of the Olympics around the UK.  Sign up as as partner to create a media festival and a meaningful cultural legacy from these Games.  Best to contact Jennifer Jones (@jennifermjones) to learn more.  Perhaps we can engage with Mark Coyle to blend ‘official’ or ‘accredited’ digital media platforms with the ‘unofficial’ or unaccredited’ citizen media to provide UK coverage of local and place specific Olympic narratives.  

Finally, a word for Leonie Bell, Creative Programmer for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Based in Creative Scotland, she talked passionately about the importance of culture in the debate about events.  Of particular note were her comments about thesport being a fundamental part of Scotland’s cultural life (true) and the fact that culural criticism needs to form a part of our discourse on major sporting events – allowing space to provoke, critique and, dare I say it, protest.  Alongside the contribution from Kath Mainland from Festivals Edinburgh, I think Leonie provided the most engaging commentary on the relative merits of the ‘make’ or ‘buy’ decision – if we concentrate more on making then I think there is a much greater chance of sustainability and meaningful community (in its widest sense) participation and support.  Of well, roll on the 2012 event…



David McGillivray • December 16, 2010

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