Mega events, soft power and ‘hijacking’ the platform
Recently, along with my colleague Professor Gayle McPherson I was invited to talk at a conference on cultural diplomacy and human rights at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Here is a copy of the presentation.
The presentation was followed with some really interesting questions from the audience. These included:
how can we judge the Athens 2004 Olympic Games given the extent of economic catastrophe in that country and the crises that have been evident since?
My response was that these Games were indeed deeply problematic. The gigantism of the Olympic movement was in evidence here and, since then, there has been significant criticism of the IOC and the Olympic movement more generally for the requirements they place upon host cities.
what evidence exists for proactive oppositional activities (i.e. what works) post-bid and in the lead up to delivery?
Again, I answered that there is little evidence of truly effective oppositional campaigns once the bid has been won because of the urgency and necessity to deliver which is a more general feature of the mega event syndrome. In London, for example, there were several oppositional groups in existence but they tended not to work together to counteract the powerful PR machine of the Organising Committee (LOCOG) and therefore their messages failed to really reach the wider public. That said, there is evidence that coalitions of social movements are now coming together to oppose ‘bids’ for mega sport events. For example, Boston pulled out as a candidate city for the 2024 Summer Olympics in part due to an effective campaign by No Games 2024 who effectively used digital and social media to generate attention in the mainstream media and draw attention to the cost to the public of bidding. Subsequently, this organisation worked with fellow oppositional entities in Hamburg, Germany, to ensure that it also withdrew after being unable to secure sufficient public support via a referendum.
Overall, a really interesting discussion, with lots to ponder, as cities and nations in the advanced literal democracies are increasingly reluctant to bid for mega sport events, whilst emerging nations and territories continue to pursue these mega spectacles to help project an image of themselves that the international community can respond positively to.