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Past Olympic Games and London 2012 Essay


The Olympic Games are hailed as the world’s biggest sporting event and hosting the games bestows great prestige on a nation. During these games, the global spotlight is on the host city that acts as a world stage for the sporting events and the host city endeavours to make a global impression.

In the early years of the Game, the preparations made for the occasion were modest in nature. Pre-existing stadiums were used to stage the games and minimal changes were made in the host city’s infrastructure to accommodate the game. Gold and Margaret (2008) state that the Games have changed from the early pattern of low expenditure to the present trend of huge expenditure and this has made the Olympic event a mega-project.

The host city is now required to supply modern sporting facilities and hospitality venues for the visiting participants. Poynter and Macrury (2009) assert that the scale and cost of the contemporary Olympic Games demand that the organizers deliver a variety of non-sporting outcomes or legacies for the host city and nation.

With these undertones, this paper will set out to provide a critical review of two main legacies of past Olympic Games as well as a critical review of London 2012’s legacy plans in urban regeneration and environmental/sustainability.

Hosting the Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the body charged with the task of selecting the host city for the games. This body specifies the requirements that the candidate city must fulfil before it can be deemed eligible for hosting the games. The requirements include competition sites, transport and communication infrastructure, and cultural programmes.

Considering the international prominence of the game, the host city is monitored as it makes preparations to ensure that they are at standard with the stipulated requirements (Braun 2000). The policy makers in the host cities are forced to engage in rapid development of its infrastructure to meet the Olympic deadline. These developments often occur with public and political support owing to the enthusiasm that the Olympics seem to exude from all people.

Gold and Margaret’s (2008) observe that Olympics pose special problems over the above those caused by other mega-events since these events are not recurrent in the life of the host city. This is because the IOC tries to move the Games from continent to continent and if a country is lucky enough to host the Games for a second or even third time, the span between events is decades long.

While the IOC does not demand for extravagant facilities to be made for the games, nations have been known to build new facilities for the primary purposes of impressing the watching international audience and to symbolize the achievements of the host nation (Braun 2000).

When a host city engages in major construction efforts for the Games, it is not practical to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure, which will only be used for the Olympic Games. Host cities therefore engage in legacy planning to ensure that the investments made for the Olympics will continue to benefit the city after the games.

Defining Legacy

Leromonachou and Warren (2010) observe that while the term legacy holds different meanings for the vast number of stakeholders, design for legacy in the Olympic context can be defined as “creating structures, things, and processes that, post-Games, should be long-lasting and of permanent benefit to the host city” (p.334).

There are two major forms of legacy: soft/intangible and hard/tangible. The soft legacy includes the positive values that acquired by the city because of its status as host city. Examples of this legacy include port participation, skill and experience acquisition, volunteering, and international friendship.

The hard legacy is the visible outcomes of involvement in the game such as sport facilities, infrastructure development, job creation, and tourism promotion (Leromonachou & Warren 2010). Most host cities place greater emphasis on hard legacy planning with soft legacy receiving minimal attention.

While the major goal of the IOC in awarding the Olympic Games to a city is to foster competitive sport and promote athletic development, the motivations of the host city are significantly different. Rogan (2011) states that the Host City must be able to justify the huge costs of preparing for and staging the games to its population through some tangible benefits.

Legacy acts as a justification to the millions of dollars spent by hosting city since it is unlikely that the city will be able to recoup the cost during the three-week duration of the Games themselves (Gold & Margaret 2009). The capital investments used in the planning phase can only be recouped if the host city is able to use the tangible and intangible goods obtained because of the Olympics. Lack of legacy plans might lead the host cities into debt and hinder economic development (Gold & Margaret 2009).

For example, lack of good legacy plans in the Athens Olympics has led to Olympic sites and buildings becoming economically unsustainable, barely a decade after the games were held in the country. All host nations try to avoid this scenario by integrating Legacy plans during the preparations for the games.

Urban Regeneration Legacy

Large sport events such as the Olympics are strategically used by cities to achieve urban regeneration. According to Smith (2007), this practice is underpinned by the objectives of creating a big town image, increasing the marketing power to attract new industry and the establishment of new recreational opportunities for residents.

Staging the Olympics often involves investment in new venues, a situation that provides opportunities for the physical regeneration of host cities. While mere physical regeneration may not be tied to urban regenerations, the host city can implement strategies to ensure that the two complement each other (Smith 2007).

Case Study: Barcelona Games of 1992

Barcelona provides one of the best examples of a city that used the Olympics events as a vehicle for urban regeneration. Barcelona won the bid to organize the 1992 Olympics after four previous failed attempts at winning the bid. The London East Research Institute (2007) documents that at the time Barcelona won the bid to host the Olympics, the city of Catalonia had degenerated due to the decline in its economic base.

In the beginnings of the 1980s, a high density with poor infrastructure and equipment characterized the city of Barcelona (Brunet 1994). Dilapidated towns were commonplace and traffic congestions a reality for most residents. The docks and manufacturing industries that had forced the commercial base of the city had been declining for decades and this had had a negative impact on the city (London East Research Institute 2007). The Olympic Games were therefore seen as an opportunity to engage in urban regeneration.

The host city was keen to engage in regeneration efforts since the Olympic Games would focus global attention on the host city. Part of the motivation for the Barcelona preparations was to showcase the achievements of Catalonia to a global audience (Gold & Margaret 2009).

The local, regional, and federal government all pooled in their resources to help ensure that the Barcelona Games were a success. The Spanish government made significant investments in its infrastructure in preparation for the game. Poynter and Macrury (2009) state that the amount of money spent on infrastructure was over three times the sum spent upon the event itself.

Barcelona is regarded as a model for urban regeneration legacy since the city undertook ambitions projects that would benefit the city as a whole even in the years following the Games. Barcelona recognized that “the deepest impacts of the Olympic investments are in the long-term” (p.7).

When making the financial investments for the game, Barcelona tried to keep up with the sporting excellence ingrained in the Olympic spirit while at the same time minimizing the organizational costs of the game (Brunet 1994). The infrastructure and facility costs were on the other hand maximized since these features, which constitute the Olympic Legacy, would continue to benefit the city long after the Games.

The urban regeneration arising from the Games was achieved through massive construction work in the main Olympic facilities and around them. To begin with, Barcelona chose a contaminate site as the main centre for the games. For this reason, the 1992 Olympic Games involved the concentrated recovery of Brownfield sites.

Smith (2007) observes that efforts were made to reclaim the previously contaminated land where the Barcelona Olympic Village was built. Barcelona also engaged in the redevelopment of dilapidated sites in a manner aimed at fostering sustainable regeneration. To address this lofty ambition, the city made effective post-event use plans for the facilities. The two tower blocks that housed the 15,000 participants were later converted into hotel and offices

In addition to the buildings, the infrastructure was improved to foster accessibility to the area. The new roads built because of the games where a total length of 78KM and this represented a 15% increase over the roads existing in the city before the Olympic bid was acquired. The Metro system for the city was extended after years of neglect under the Franco regime. The sewage system in the country was old and inefficient with some of the affluent leaking into the water bodies. Barcelona engaged in a massive project to build a new sewage system for the city.

The Barcelona Games also promoted urban regeneration by opening up the sea to the local population (Brunet 2005). Regeneration efforts initiated to create a good setting for the Games led to a 5Km beach being cleaned up and made open to the public. Thousands of local and international visitors were encouraged to enjoy these newly created attractions.

Environmental/Sustainability Legacy

The environment has gained significance in the Olympic Games since the 1990s. UNEP (2007) articulates that since the mid-1990s, “environmental considerations have been increasingly prominent in Olympic planning, with each Game expected to leave a sustainable legacy” (p.12).

The IOC in 1994 added an “environment conscious” component to serve as a guiding principle for the host city in the games. LaSalle (2012) observes that for the first time since the inception of the games, sustainability was to be a key component in new Olympic constructions.

Case Study: Sydney Games of 2000

The Sydney Games of 2000 provide the most appropriate case study for environmental and sustainability legacy because of the focus given to the two issues in planning for the Games. Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Olympic Games in 1993 (Searle 2002). At the bidding stage, Sydney emphasized on the ecologically sustainable development that the games would bring about to the candidate city.

Campbell (2001) reaffirmed that the commitment to the environment was “at the heart of all planning, construction and operation of facilities and venues for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympics Games” (p.1). Australia was able to showcase her sustainability efforts to the world during the 2000 Games.

The chosen primary site for most of the Olympic venues and facilities underscored the focus on ecologically sustainable development by the Sydney games. This primary site, Homebush Bay, was a former domestic and industrial waste dumping ground. Preparations for the Olympics entailed turning this former dump into an eco-friendly place.

Musgrave and Raj (2009) argue that the Sydney Olympics resulted to the most impressive environmental and sustainability legacy in the country. To date, the Sydney Olympic Park is regarded as a benchmark for sustainability with the United Nations Environmental Program awarding the Global 500 Award for environmental excellence to this venue.

After the games, the Olympic city became the town of Newington. This previous dumping site was successfully converted into a residential area with a capacity for 5000 people. The sustainability legacy of the games is evident from the fact that Newington became one of the largest solar-powered suburbs in the world.

The organizers of the Sydney games also hoped to foster future reductions in the carbon footprint of the city (Preuss 2000). Sydney stressed on the commitment to ecologically sustainable development and developments were made to realize this.

Searle (2002) observes that a rail line to Olympic Park was constructed and the use of public transport by spectators encouraged in order to minimize the environmental impact of transportation. This transport networks continued to be used after the Games and therefore increasing the environmental benefits of public transportation in Australia.

A Critical Review of London 2012’s Legacy Plans

Today legacy in an integral aspect of planning for the Olympics and all nations make preparations for legacy plans. London therefore endeavoured to plan in legacy from the very onset of the planning stages (Vigor 2004). The previous London Olympic Games occurred in 1948. These games occurred at a time of great austerity since the world was recovering from the devastating economic effects of the Second World War.

The poor economic conditions resulted in the games making use of existing facilities with little infrastructural improvements being made because of the game. The 2012 Olympics exhibited a marked difference from this with billions of pounds being dedicated to preparations for the games.

From the moment that London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics, plans were already underway to ensure that the games would leave a lasting legacy on the city. The London legacy plans have been unique in that the project has been state centred with strong supporting role played by the local leaders and citywide agencies such as the LDA exercising influence (Lees & Raco 2009). The Mayor of London promised that the Olympics were “golden Games to be followed by an incredible legacy” (Official London2012 2012 p.1).

The commitment to public expenditure by the UK demonstrated an ambitious program of commercial and social renewal springing from the games. Even after discounting for the temptation by organizing committees to overstate the positive post-games impacts of the 2012 Olympics, evidence suggests that London inherited a rich legacy from hosting the Olympic Games.

Urban Regeneration

Just like the Barcelona games urban regeneration that was based on a citywide approach, London also made steps to achieve a citywide regeneration. The location of the new facilities made for the London 2012 Olympics underscores the employment of an urban regeneration strategy (London East Research Institute 2007).

The facilities were concentrated on the East London area and this spatial aggregation means that the planners hoped to achieve urban regeneration. The main regeneration efforts of the London 2012 games were focused on the Lower Lea Valley, which is not the location of the new Olympic Park. Before the Olympics, this section of East London was considered to be deprived with low living standards characterizing the region.

The state of the Lower Lea Valley region of East London made it home to the most deprived community in the country. The social amenities available in the area were inadequate and the infrastructure poor. The run-down environment in the region resulted in high unemployment and a poor public health record.

The East London region has suffered from contamination due to some of the traditional industries in the area such as brickyard, gas works, and distilleries. These industries led to air pollution and intense land contamination. Planning for the Olympic Games involved land remediation and 1,850 KM3 of soil was processed with the pollutants extracted and non-contaminated soil imported to meet the deficit.

Cleansing the polluted areas has made the region attractive to more people and it can be expected that the East London community will experience an increase in population as people immigrate to it. This will stimulate economic growth as investments in the region increase. Even before the games began, the London 2012 project was already having an indirect impact upon urban renewal in the city and beyond.

London East was undertaking the regeneration of shopping areas in anticipation of the investment that would come in the area because of the Olympics (Lees & Raco 2009).

The London 2012 Legacy was linked to challenging and addressing the socioeconomic problems of East London including lack of available and affordable housing for local people. The additional housing provided by the Games mitigated the housing problem prevalent in the East London region.

The Olympic village was built specifically to be used after the Games and the additional new homes constructed around the village projected to house 12,000 families (Official London2012 2012). These houses are going to be sold to the local community and plans are already underway to sell the homes in an open market. The 2012 London Olympics benefited the region with better transportation links.

The Games required high level of access to the Olympic sites and to ensure this, new land bridges were build across rivers and railway links and roads provided all over the East London region. This transportation links will continue to be used by the residents of the area. In addition to this, the improved transportation will open up the region by making it more accessible from other parts of London.

Environmental Sustainability

The London games were closely associated with achieving the non-sports related environmental legacy. The planners of the London 2012 Olympic Games conceded that sustainable development was paramount within legacy planning in order to protect the environment. LaSalle (2012) notes that London planners maintained that the games would be the “greenest Games in History”.

Sustainability legacy does not simply entail reducing the carbon footprint of the games but also fostering a culture of sustainability in the city indefinitely. As such, London 2012 hoped to achieve long-lasting environmental and sustainability goals.

The Olympic venues were designed with sustainability in mind. All venues were made to use 40% less water than their conventional models and recycling was implemented in all venues. This sustainable design of the new buildings will continue to benefit London for years to come (London East Research Institute 2007).

The London 20121 Games inspired the development of a new international standard for event management, ISO 20121, which will provide a framework for future events. The environmental and sustainability impacts of these standards are significant since it has the potential to be implemented on a regional, national, or even global scale.

Environmental sustainability was a major consideration in the transport legacy of London 2012. The Olympic Delivery Authority hopes to establish a vision of sustainable transport, which had for decades eluded the country’s policy makers (London East Research Institute 2007).

The Olympic Park made no provision for private vehicle access and parking but provided multiple bicycle docking points and public transportation to the Park. The success of the “green transportation” system used in the Olympics could act as a foundation of sustainable transportation in urban cities all over the UK.

Evaluating the London Development Agency’s Progress

The prospect of the legacy that hosting the Olympic Games would bring was a key element of London’s bid and the London Development Agency (LDA) was designated as the interim legacy client for the venue and infrastructure after the Games (National Audit Office 2008).

By planning combining the legacy and Game plans, the ODA and the LDA increased the chances of the Games resulting in a long lasting legacy. To provide greater clarity over how venues will be used and infrastructure developed after the game, the LDA developed a Legacy Master plan Framework. This master plan has been under implementation since the end of the 2012 Games.

The successful bid for the London 2012 Olympic Games was centred on the plan to use the event to regenerate a large part of East London which as according to Smith (2007) “suffered disproportionately from the effects of industrial decline” (96). The total investment made for the regeneration of East London was in excess of 6 billion pounds. The region received a major transformation due to this large cash injection in the area.

It can be expected to lead to sustainable urban regeneration because of the plans the LDA has in place. The LDA promised that the London Games would leave a lasting mark on London and Britain as a whole with a lasting legacy of sustainability and urban regeneration in East London.

The LDA is committed to leave a positive local legacy for the East London community by providing tangible benefits to the residents. The LDA has promised to make 50% of the houses used for the Olympic available for sale at an affordable price to the local population.

Legacy transformation is underway and the venues of the Olympics are undergoing significant transformations. The LDA has plans to decommission venues that will not operate with a viable legacy and the temporary structures are being demolished to free up the space and avoid unnecessary maintenance costs (London Development Agency 2012).

Plans are underway to convert the permanent venues on the Olympic Park for legacy use. The main stadium will be used for staging future athletic events and other sports such as football and/or rugby. The indoor sports centre that was used as a handball arena will be converted into a multi-use sports facility for community use. The centre will also be used to host small to medium scale events.

The Olympic Park is meant to act as a model of sustainable development with a strategy already in place to help reduce carbon emissions from the built environment by 50%.

To help quantify the environmental impact in post-Olympic period, a new methodology for measuring carbon foot printing was proposed by the LDA and this methodology is going to be used to see if the 50% reduction in carbon emissions has been reached in the year 2013 (London Development Agency 2012).

The LDA is working on developing a network of footpaths and cycle ways through the park and the routes will help to connect communities and also foster environmental sustainability by decreasing the use of vehicles.

The buildings constructed for the Olympics fulfilled the environmental requirements that the LDA had stipulated in its document outlining the principles of the design of the Olympic urban quarters (London Development Agency 2012). For this reason, the infrastructure for the London 2012 games are already a beacon of environmental friendly development and the London Development Agency hopes that the relevant industries will follow this trend and make their constructions environmentally sound.


The task of staging the Olympics is great and the host cities are keen to secure long-term legacies from the Games in order to justify the initial capital investments. This paper set out to critically review two legacies from past Olympic Games and discuss two main legacy plans for London 2012. It began by providing a background to the process of hosting the Olympics and then defined legacy as “creating structures, things, and processes that, post-Games, should be long-lasting and of permanent benefit to the host city.

The paper has reviewed how both Barcelona and Sydney were able to use the Olympics as a springboard to urban regeneration and sustainable development respectively. Both cities continue to enjoy the benefits of their Olympic Legacies many years after the Games took place.

A review of the Legacies of London 2012 has been made and from this, a conclusion can be reached that London will enjoy the long-term rewards accrued from hosting the Olympic Games. Undoubtedly, the games will act as a catalyst to regeneration for East London and in adjoining areas. The environmental sustainability plans implemented will have a positive impact for generations. From this paper, it can therefore be authoritatively stated that the London Games were a big success since the huge expenditure involved in hosting the Games can be legitimised from the non-sports related legacies of urban regeneration and environmental sustainability.


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