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Essay: 'Mega events'

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  • Published: 12 September 2015*
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This paper will aim to cover the topic of mega events through examining the definition and description of the term by considering the thoughts of academics on the subject matter. The impacts and legacies associated with the occurrence of such events will also be evaluated through reflecting on the thoughts of leading academics and comparing and contrasting different academic viewpoints and assessing how these measure up to real life examples.
Mega events
The term mega-event defines those ‘events that take place for a global media audience and/or that have significant, long-term impacts on economies and societies'(Bladen et al 2012). The immense size and global appeal distinguishes mega-events from others, examples being the World Cup and Olympic games. In contrast to Bladen’s definition of a mega event, Getz (2007) believed that if the term ‘mega’ was solely associated with events such as the Olympic games, it secludes events smaller in size, but still has a mega impact on the host community in terms of tourism, sociocultural, economic benefits or disruptions, thus, creating the challenging of labeling events as ‘mega events’. Getz (2007) suggests ‘mega events, by way of their size of significance, are those that yield extraordinarily high levels of tourism, media coverage, prestige, or economic impact for the host community, venue or organization’. Roche (2000) further expands on this by saying ‘they are typically organized by variable combinations of national governmental and international non-governmental organizations’. In comparison, Roche identifies key organizations that are essentially responsible for creating these mega events, and furthermore, without their involvement these events would not be achievable.
Though academic authors have various viewpoints on defining the term ‘mega-event’, there are key elements that all mega events have in common. According to Bladen et al (2012) the planning stage for all mega-events can be divided into the pre-event period, the event period and the post event period. ‘The first stage in the pre-event period is bid to stage a mega-event’ (Bladen et al 2012). The bidding stage of these events is most important, as this is the stage at which a host city is chosen for the event. In examples such as the staging of a mega sporting event such as the Olympics, firstly, a ‘National Olympic Committee’ is formed by each nation wishing to host the games. ‘The bid process is launched nine years before and lasts for a period of two years’, (Olympic website) during which the ‘International Olympic Committee’ will carry out a series of two phases to select the winner of the bid.
As a result of its large-scale and lasting impacts on the host nation, it is also very common to see a dominant political involvement in the planning of mega-events. The funds to produce these events usually come from direct public investment and partnerships between the public and private sector (Bladen et al 2012), as events of this magnitude is very costly to produce. Political involvement is also key in altering public perception of these events, which is how positively of negatively the public view these events in terms of the impacts they will have on their society. According to Bramwell (1997:170) there is an ‘opportunity cost of a substantially reduced ability to invest in other, possibly more effective urban regeneration projects’ due to majority of public funds being injected into creating these events. Bladen et al (2012) also agrees with Bramwell’s perspective on this topic as he says, ‘a key element of the management of mega events in the pre-event period is the marketing of the event’to the population of the host city’.
The ability of mega-events to attract global media attention is also a feature of commonality amongst these events. For Beijing 2008, European broadcast rights were sold for $443 million, and accounted for 53% of the total income for the Olympic games (Bladen et al, 2012). Bramwell (1997) also highlights the importance of the media in the 1991 World Student Games in Sheffield, focusing on the fact that media attention promoted a positive image of Sheffield and was a symbol of the city’s regeneration. Both Bramwell and Bladen highlight the fact that the media and public consumption of these events on a global scale separates these events from the production of other events. In contrast, Bladen points out the link between media and security at these events, highlighting the fact that the presence of the global media makes the site of these events significant targets for terrorism and other forms of protest. Increases in threats against the national security of the host country have made counter-terrorism strategies key themes in the staging mega-events (Giulianotti and Klauser 2012).
Due to its immense size, it is also common for mega events to have mega impacts on the host nation, from the creation of growth and development opportunities to adverse impacts on the social, economic, culture and environment of the country (Malfas et al 2004). Firstly, citizens of the host nation develop a sense of civic pride in their culture and traditions, as their nation becomes the center of attention for the world. This can ‘strengthen regional traditions and values, and increase local pride and community spirit’ (Malfas et al 2004:213). This also generates a positive sociocultural impact on the host nation as it creates a sense of cohesion and bond amongst citizens as they work together to create an experience for the international audience.
Mega events are also seen as an opportunity to ‘fully embrace the triple bottom-line (people, planet, profit) evaluation by giving the required weighting to social and environment impacts (Jago et al 2010:225). Governments will use the hosting of a mega event to implement urban regeneration plans to ‘redevelop rundown parts of the host destination’ (Jago et al, 2010:227), and during this planning process, will allow an appraisal/review of the management of infrastructure such as transport, and factor in important elements of development such as achieving sustainability. However according to Jones (2001), the social cost associated with this redevelopment is the stress placed on the local housing property, resulting in forced evictions and displacement of the ‘socially excluded’. Jago et al (2010:227) also agrees with Jones conclusion stating, the ‘lower socio-economic groups who live in these rundown districts are often relocated’with little or no voice in the matter’. Evidence of this seen in the upcoming World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil, as massive construction and reconstruction has led to residents living near stadium faced a series of evictions and relocations, resulting in degradation in their quality of life from the demolition of their homes.
Mega events such as the Olympics act as a catalyst for job creation, which relieves unemployment in a country, an example being the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia which created 580 000 new jobs between 1991 and 1997 (Malfas et al 2004). The creation of employment ‘provides opportunities for wealth redistribution through facilitating the entry of disadvantage individuals into the market economy’ (Jago et al, 2010:225), and this leads to an improved quality of life for the host community and creates a more skillful workforce. However, both Jago et al and Malfas et al highlight the fact that some jobs associated with the event tend to have a lifespan of the event of itself and are unskilled positions. Both authors emphasize that the duration and low quality of the jobs created is often overlooked which results in a short term positive impact on the host population, due to changes in the demand after the event period.
Volunteerism is also an immense part of a mega event, as ‘without their contributions, mega events as we have come to understand them could not take place due to the huge investment in human capital that would be required to employ a paid workforce’ (Bladen et al, 2012). Additionally, ‘mega event hosts seek to link volunteer programmes to skills development’in order to attract applicants’ (Bladen et al), which gives the host community the opportunity to become directly involved in event, and creates a sense of the event ‘belonging to them’. Yu et al (2010:61) also points out the importance of volunteerism amongst the local population as ‘Resentment by local residents due to the increased influx of tourists could affect the latter’s perception of the event and host city brands
Hosting mega-events stimulates a rapid influx in the growth in the tourism industry of the host nation, providing opportunities for destination branding, and some destinations will use it as part of a process to reposition themselves in the ‘eyes of the world’ (Jago et al, 2012:221). An example of the latter is seen in the 2008 Beijing Olympics which ‘helped demonstrate China’s capacity to ‘host the world’ and that it was keen to engage with other countries’ (Jago et al, 2012:230). This shows the capability of mega events to change international perspectives on a country, and the influence such events can have on a nation. However, to achieve planned destination brand, there needs to be a strategic fit between the event, host city, community support and event quality to enhancing host destination brand (Yu et al, 2010). Yu et al (2010:52) uses the Shanghai 2010 World Expo to describe a symbiotic relationship, which is developed between the host and the event brand, through creating the following theory: ‘local support for the World Expo will positively influences the Expo brand’ and ‘local support for the World Expo will positively influences the Shanghai ‘brand’. This illustrates the idea that the impact outcomes of achieving a desirable destination brand through a mega event will be dependent on how the host is able to adapt the event brand to its own requirements and use it to emphasize their destination, whilst maintain the quality and power of the event brand.
However the image portrayed of the host nation to the world is based on media perspectives, as the ‘mega events generate intense media interest, not just during the event, but in the time leading up to the event’ (Green et al, 2010:90). Both Green et al and Jago et al examines the idea of good and bad publicity, highlighting the fact that the media tends to seek negative stories, which can badly affect the brand image trying to be created from the mega event. Green et al (2010:90) suggests that media stories on the destination are intensely followed as ‘they are seen to be more credible because they are not controlled by destination marketers or event organizers’. Due to this, media coverage can be detrimental to the destination branding, and may potentially damage the future tourism brand of the country.
Events of such magnitude will inevitable cause negative impacts on the host nation, and whilst some are unavoidable, special committees are organized at the start of the planning process to ensure that these events will leave a lasting legacy to on the host population, and the world at large. Gratton and Preuss (2008:1924) defines legacy as ‘planned and unplanned, positive and negative, intangible and tangible structures created through a sport event that remain after the event’. However, Cashman (2005) argues that ‘legacy is often assumed to be self-evident, so that there is no need to define precisely what it is’, and goes further to describe the term as being ‘elusive’ and ‘problematic’, as organizing committees focus solely on ‘positive legacy’, overlooking the potential of ‘negative legacy’, in efforts to justify the bid to host such immense events that use up scarce resources and alter public perceptions to focus on the indeterminate positive outcomes. Cashman (2005) identifies six fields of potential legacies ‘economics; infrastructure; information and education; public life, politics and culture; sport; symbols, memory and history’.
Infrastructure refers to the purpose built structures for the event, transport and telecommunications, all of which left after an event should fit into the city’s development plans (Gratton and Preuss, 2008). ‘Hosting of a mega-event can act as a catalyst for bringing forward development opportunities’ (Jago et al (2010)), which will have a continued lasting effect on visitors and the host population. Ahead of the London 2012 Games, around ??6.5bn was invested in upgrading and extending transport links to increase capacity, and improve services to ensure its success and to leave a lasting legacy (TFL). However, a notable negative infrastructure legacy is the issue of many mega-sporting events, leaving oversized sport arenas that remain after the games. In examples such as the stadiums used to host the FIFA World Cup games in South Africa, some of the stadiums are described as ‘white elephants’, as they are no longer necessary, and due to the enormity of the structures, it is highly unlikely they will host such an immense event again resulting in a waste of public funds.
The legacy of education also presents itself through the host population educating themselves on issues affecting their country and gaining skills through work development schemes to enter the workforce (Gratton and Preuss, 2008). However, the skill legacy is often a missed opportunity due to specialist expertise being outsourced for the event and leaving the country after the event reducing the opportunity for locals to develop a high end skills base to get beyond entry level positions (Jago et al 2010). However, Gratton and Preuss (2008:1927) counteracts this argument with figures of ‘50% of 10,000 volunteers recruited for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester 2002 felt that they had acquired new skills and capabilities through their experience’. Whilst the figures presented by Gratton and Preuss (2008) does not reflect the legacy of all mega event, it can be inferred that due to the large amount of jobs generated the host population is given the opportunity to educate themselves and develop employability skills.

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