Chapter VIII: Legacy & Impact

Excerpt from Chapter:

“Over the last 10 years, two words have shaped the strategic development, management structures and resource prioritisation of Olympic host cities more than any others: impact and legacy.

However, they are also words that are often conflated within debates about the effects of an Olympic Games. Here, we introduce these terms in very specific ways. We refer to impact as measurable, direct effects of the Games, such as the number of visitors that come to an Olympic city during the Olympic period. They are defined by reasonably tightly bound indicators, which can be measured either quantitatively or qualitatively with some reasonable assurance of connecting them to the Games period. In contrast, legacy refers to effects over a longer term, which may be difficult to identify in isolation since they may have been shaped by the Games as well as other related interventions over time. In the case of Olympic Games visitors, the legacy may include the feelings they have towards the city that persist in their impressions over a period of 20 years. Furthermore, one may argue that the Barcelona 1992 Games created a legacy for the city that was about its transformation into a prime tourism destination many years after the event was over….

impact may have to do with the immediate opportunities as well as risks that an Olympic Games presents for a city, be it possibilities for economic growth or potential environmental damage. In this context, legacy is referred to as having forethought about those possible risks, to ensure that what is left behind is something that has enriched a city, rather than become a burden. As such, strategic thought around the legacies of the Olympics is required to ensure that the impact is optimal rather than a negative consequence of the Games. In short, being able to ‘promote a positive legacy’ (IOC 2010a) from the Games implies having a good understanding of their impact and mitigating against any risks.

This chapter outlines some of the key issues facing the definition of legacy and impact evaluation targets within the Olympic Games, while raising questions about the meaning of each. We begin by offering some further historical context to the recent debates within the IOC about legacy and impact. Next, we focus on the development of discussion about legacy as a broad term and aspiration that encompasses urban and environmental as well as economic, social and cultural fields. Subsequently, we consider how impact assessments have been developed within the Olympic movement, examining the growing attention paid by respective local hosts as well as global partners to capturing Olympic impacts, and how this translates into a sophisticated international framework for research, evaluation and transfer of knowledge. Throughout this inquiry we discuss what kinds of legacy the Olympic Games leave for their host cities and whether they are sustainable. Furthermore, we consider what kind of evidence base exists to ensure that lessons are learned and shared from one Games to the next.