The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was a pivotal experience for the city and its people. This is not to say that there was not controversy and criticism of specific aspects of both the delivery and certain dimensions of the legacy. My point in this post though is whether or not lessons are learnt and applied to future undertakings. It is undoubtedly true however that Glasgow has demonstrated that it has the technical capacity, the facilities and the wherewithal to compete as a host for major events. The success of those 11 days in 2014 in these terms and for the city in the sense of jobs, visitor numbers, festival effects, investment in facilities, etc. now means that Glasgow can host other major sporting events: the world gymnastics, cycling, swimming and the Davis cup to name four since 2014.This is a remarkable achievement if we cast our minds back to just a few years ago.
I understand the critics of what are referred to as post-industrial neo-liberal urban policies fixating on heritage, tourism and culture or sports and also concerns about the ability to bend such programmes towards reducing inequality and proactively supporting multiple disadvantaged communities. But does being an event host competitor and winning these events make a broader kind of economic logic? It depends on whether we think the opportunity cost of event delivery is outweighed by the economic, social and more indirect tor implicit benefits of such activities. The raft of legacy research findings on economic returns, jobs, visitor spend and the like do seem to be additional – but they are also an investment if facilities can be reused not just by citizens but for further events, too. Other legacy lessons about volunteering, physical activity, community development and sports clubs, etc. are much less clear cut. Many of these debates will actually need a longer time period to be resolved.
My point in this piece is more that the city is on a journey and is being transformed into a place which can deliver these mega events (and sport-specific international events too), and if properly constructed this can add value to the city-region economy and change the way we think about it. It could enhance rather than displace other investments, job creation and economic activity (though there is no necessity for this – it requires careful design and constant attention).
It is in this context that I should declare an interest – I was a member of the cross University legacy research partnership that the City Council and Glasgow Life established for the 2014 Games. As part of that role I agreed to facilitate a workshop this week. The meeting sought to learn lessons from 2014 both operationally and in legacy terms, and apply them to the development of the delivery and legacy plans associated with Glasgow’s co-hosting of the summer 2018 inaugural European championships. Working with Berlin this will involve bringing together a series of European sporting championships for individual sports into one mega event. Glasgow and satellite venues will host cycling, swimming, triathlon, golf and rowing, among others; Berlin will do the athletics.
My role the other day was really just to hold the coats and keep things to time but it was nonetheless a thought-provoking morning and a fascinating insight into how partners (lead officers in the council, Glasgow Life and other relevant public agencies) are thinking their way through the challenges of the event. A few things struck me in particular.
First, a considerable amount has been learned about what works and what does not work as a result of the 2014 experience. This ranges from the locus of control and the relationship with other non-local partners integral to a mega events programme, but includes issues over community engagement, communication, managing expectations and trade-offs (e.g. seeking to widen inclusivity among volunteers but also selecting those with the right skills). However, people clearly recognised that there are limits to the transferability of these experiences because of the different nature of the two events.
Second, there was a complete absence of complacency and instead a shared desire to work in partnership with neighbouring councils involved in delivery, with Berlin, European broadcasting, the business community, local sports clubs, volunteers and the specific sports organising bodies. People present were both aware of and thinking hard about identifying and managing risks.
Third, it is clear that Glasgow has changed and is changing as a result of the 2014 experience. This is not just branding and the after glow of the festival effect from 2014. There is a palpable capacity to maintain and strengthen Glasgow’s recently won position as an international mega event host and to lever economic and social benefit from it. While they do not happen by themselves and are easily over-estimated, we should equally not dismiss the potentially major long term effects this may have on the city and indeed for Scotland.