Defining and measuring social legacies of sport events
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What are the legacies of Mega Sports Events, and how can sport for development outcomes be conceived, implemented and measured as sustainable legacies?

The Organizing Committee of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo implemented different initiatives in preparation for the Games, trying to use them as “a springboard to push the city's legacy forward and enrich the lives of its people for years to come”. The purpose of these initiatives is the creation of tangible and intangible legacies. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused complications in the creation and delivery of legacies planned by the organizers before, during and after the Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

The conception of a legacy starts with the definition of a legacy. What is legacy? 

When Mr. John Furlong, the former President and CEO of the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games was invited to the “Dream Together Seoul Forum” in 2017, he began with the following words:  

“It is interesting listening to people talk about legacy and I think probably everyone in the room perhaps has a different definition of what it is. We would describe it differently but the one thing I think everyone would say is, however you describe it, whatever you have to say about it, it is important”.

This means that for each Olympic Games, legacy outcomes should be measured based on the specific vision, objectives, and local context, posing a challenge for the standardization of measurement methodologies.

Additionally, because of the lack of proper measurements and communication to citizens, the legacies of previous Olympic Games and other Mega Sports Events have been also charged with symbolism. According to a systematic review on Olympic Legacy Reports, made in 2017 by Preuss and Scheu, 39% of the 204 Legacy Reports analysed were only conceptual or commentary type studies, representing the largest percentage of studies/reports. Most of these papers describe legacies in a narrative way, but do not draw on empirical figures. 

For example, one of the initiatives planned by Tokyo 2020 was to foster an enduring Olympic and Paralympic spirit in the next generation through educational content. According to the document named “Building the Legacy - Beyond 2020” published by the Tokyo 2020 Games organizers, this initiative will create the following legacy: 

“The irreplaceable mental and physical legacy that remains in each child: The memories that children have of the thrill of the Games will be a legacy that feeds into their futures.”

How can this type of legacy be measured? Would attaching monetary value to it help to measure and communicate the results of the initiatives related to intangible legacies?    

SCORE Lab session - A conversation on social legacies

In the spirit of fostering dialogues and exploring new horizons, SCORE – a Sport Think Action Tank based in Lausanne – organized a SCORE Lab, a meeting which draws on expertise from within and outside of sports to address, in this case, problems and challenges faced by organizing committees, hosts cities and other stakeholders (local population and governing bodies) in the context of sport events legacy (i.e., measurement and communication).

The initial purpose of the session was to explore a system where Sport for Development outcomes (S4DO) have a known monetary value in order to help to convey the holistic socio-economic opportunities for the host communities. However, the participants discussed and identified challenges and methodological issues related to the definition, conception and measurement of social legacies, as sport events account for many intangible legacies, which are harder to quantify. Participants also highlighted the importance of involving additional stakeholders (citizens representatives and event managers) and discussed additional opportunity costs in using resources to measure social legacies - if certain resources are used to measure social legacies, the economic or tangible legacies may decrease. 

Questions and different considerations for better accountability mechanisms to measure social legacy were raised: 

  • Why are events focused on only delivery?
    Legacies and their measurements are not considered a priority, as organizers must produce a perfect event, with the focus being on the appearance of the venue and the TV production result. Thus, the involvement of surrounding communities is often disregarded. Limited time and resources open the door to the lack of good governance (corruption) during the preparation of the event. 
  • How is legacy actually defined and conceived?
    People have different definitions of legacies and it was raised that the Olympic Legacy definition does not fit most sports organizations. What legacy is should be defined by event organizers according to their capacities, objectives and vision.

  • How are local stakeholders' needs included in the event strategy?
    S4D is a great opportunity to connect sports events to the social context. However, organizers may not have the correct information, or may not engage the right partners to understand the reality and needs of the host community. Different proposals shared by the participants found common ground on the need to communicate and dialogue with citizens early on.
  • Do small-scale events represent a better opportunity for hosts?
    Without hosting the event, alternative investments would have been made and would have created other legacies. The city of Hamburg was mentioned as an example. The German city has created different social initiatives and hosted smaller events to improve its citizens’ well-being, without hosting the Olympic Games. These opportunity costs are often missed in discussions. 
  • Can measuring S4D outcomes be misleading and counter-effective? How accountable are event organizers for the intangible legacies they claim?
    Because of the difficulty in proving social outcomes/legacies, sports organizations have relied on indirect metrics that imply the benefits generated by the sports initiatives. However, the outcomes can be very broad and the causality of the legacy can be questioned, because an implied benefit does not establish a clear relation between the two variables. A mix of methodologies and the importance of the implementation on different phases (pre-event, during, and post-event) were discussed. Participants also discussed the capacities of the stakeholders and having the correct team to measure social legacies.
  • What are the risks of attributing monetary value to legacy outcomes?
    This may lead to new challenges or even a risk of attaching monetary or quantitative values to legacies. As one of the articles shared by a participant of the SCORE Lab stated, (“What Data Can't do” by Hannah Fry ) “numbers can be at their most dangerous when they are used to control things rather than to understand them”.

Considering the questions raised during the SCORE Lab session, especially the one related to measuring, how can organizers and host cities demonstrate strong causality between the actions implemented and their effect on citizens? And bringing back the Tokyo 2020 initiative, how can stakeholders establish the mechanisms to promote and measure a clear relation between “the memories that children have of the Games”  and the actions and decisions they take in the future?

Trying to tackle the issue of causality, the Organizing Committee of Paris 2024 and other stakeholders have launched several initiatives where the integration of local players and disadvantaged neighbourhoods play a key role. According to the Economie Sociale et Solidaire platform (ESS 2024), three principles are embedded in every initiative:  

  • Commitments from project managers in the context of the agreed objectives.
  • Rigorous reporting.
  • Implementation using national processes and local players for employment, social integration and economic development.

These principles are aimed at helping organizers demonstrate a clearer impact of the initiatives and reach the objective of “organizing the first inclusive and solidary games of history.”  

Will the Paris 2024 Games reach the objective?