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Major sports events’ impact on the infrastructure system

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Major sporting events – such as the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup – serve as an opportunity to redesign cities, transportation networks and infrastructure. Indeed, mega-events have played a key role in driving urban transformation processes for cities the likes of Barcelona, London, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and Shanghai, by creating value for the host community and region.

In the collective imaginary, the Olympic Games and the World Cup are perceived as flag-waving, cheering and TV marathons events, but actually major sporting events carry significant changes through the investments they can bring to the area. They make it possible to justify, to both politicians and citizens, the implementation of a large-scale infrastructure programme which, in the long term, can foster economic growth with tangible benefits for the host city, while improving its global standing. This is because the huge inflow of athletes, journalists, officials and tourists from all over the world encourages cities to try out new urban models and schemes, as well as enhancing infrastructures for accommodating visitors.

But how do cities change? The most far-reaching efforts are being made to build or redevelop multifunctional facilities and arenas, as well as transportation systems and other critical infrastructures such as water supply, power grids, telecommunications, airports and accommodation facilities.

Ever more frequently, projects go hand in hand with promoting countries’ commitment towards environmental and sustainability issues. For instance, during the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL) was established as an independent body to monitor and to ensure that the event was sustainable.

However, the issue is also quite controversial, as the weaknesses of plans for mega sports events are often linked to the risk that, once the events are over, the buildings will not be unused again, resulting in a massive waste of resources. However, there are many successful examples of how major international sporting events’ legacies enhanced host cities’ status. Following the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park became a tourist attraction, thus enabling the redevelopment of the metropolis’ east side. Going back in time, the Munich 1972 Olympics acted as a boost to build an underground system that is still serving citizens today. Such a system would normally have taken 10 to 15 years to be built, but thanks to the Olympic timeframe, it was successfully delivered in just five years. Then in China, with the 2008 Olympics, Beijing International Airport’s Terminal 3 was developed in just four years, ranking among the top eight busiest airports in the world. Finally, in Barcelona, which hosted the 1992 Olympics, the volume of tourists in the city has doubled from 1992 to 2000, totalling 3.5 million per year. The Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, which hosted the 1982 World Cup, is now widely regarded as one of Europe’s most prestigious stadiums, attracting fans from all over the world to come and visit it.

Thus, where governments are committed to making the best possible use of the facilities they have built, by establishing long-term growth and employment plans in advance, mega sports events turn into an outstanding driver of infrastructure and urban development.

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