The Legacy of Mega-Events: Exploring the challenges in creating a lasting impact from the 2022 Commonwealth Games

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Large group of people sat in a field on a hill, facing towards a city

By Dr James Davies
Research Fellow, City-REDI, Birmingham Business School

With the 2022 Commonwealth Games taking over the city of Birmingham this summer, it’s a perfect moment to consider the raft of potential economic and cultural benefits to the region as a result of the games, whilst exploring some of the misconceptions and challenges that are presented when attempting to create a lasting positive legacy from an event of this nature. The 2022 Commonwealth Games were expected to attract over 1m visitors to Birmingham and the surrounding area over the course of its duration, as well as a global audience in excess of 1.5 billion.

Such events have become defined as ‘mega-events’ due to their size and scale. There are a variety of short and long-term benefits that have been identified through analyses of FIFA World Cups, Olympic and Commonwealth Games, as well as Formula One Grand Prix. Short term benefits are often visible opportunities directly related to the event, contracts with local businesses, live music events, local businesses within Birmingham benefiting from sponsorship or public grants, as well as increased visibility and international exposure.

Over the longer term, there is the expectation of increased tourism, both during and after the event, the huge increase in footfall for those attending the games anticipated to translate to a longer turn up take in tourism within the host area. This is something the government is keen to capitalise on, pledging £24 million over three years to support a Business and Tourism Programme.

There are longer-term economic benefits of the presence of a mega-event too. Mega-events are associated with the development of regional creative industry profiles and the development of local talent. Birmingham has a thriving creative sector, just last week the BBC has announced that BBC Midlands will be moving to a new home in the heart of the city in Digbeth. The creative industries have been growing at twice the rate of the general UK economy, with huge potential to make a contribution to economic growth, both regionally and nationally. Beyond thinking about money, the fact that it is the government department for Culture, Media and Sport hints to the variety of ways in which culture, creativity and sport interact. It is hoped that the impact of events like the Commonwealth Games will be seen on a more cultural and societal level, with more people starting to play sport, and more young people picking up a musical instrument. The benefits of these creative and physical activities have been linked to an increase in self-confidence, improved physical and mental health, combating feelings of loneliness, and healthy ageing. Finally, the contribution of cultural events to an increased level of local and regional pride in place.

It’s not all good news, however. Analysis of previous mega events, including the 2012 London Olympics and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, call into question the extent to which mega events are able to fulfil their promise, and deliver the legacy on which they are often marketed. More concerning impacts on communities include increased costs to locals (including rent) due to gentrification, local businesses being forced elsewhere, the marginalisation of minority groups, and the diversion of funding away from arts budgets in order to fund event infrastructure.

However – it’s not all doom and gloom! An event such as the Commonwealth Games has huge potential to deliver a raft of economic, societal and cultural benefits to Birmingham and the Midlands, but to achieve this requires targeted and sustained support from local and regional government to ensure the attention, investment and interest generated by the games can provide a lasting positive legacy to Birmingham’s cultural and creative landscape.

Unfortunately, unlike Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, it’s not as easy as: “If you build, it he will come.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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