Define and measure the social legacies of sporting events


The Organizing Committee for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo has implemented various initiatives for the Games, trying to use them as “a springboard to advance the city’s heritage and enrich the lives of its inhabitants for years to come ”. The goal of these initiatives is the creation of tangible and intangible legacies. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in complications in the creation and delivery of the heirlooms planned by organizers before, during and after the Tokyo Olympics.

Designing an inheritance begins with defining an inheritance. What is inheritance?

When Mr. John Furlong, former President and CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, was invited to the Dream Together Seoul Forum in 2017, he began with the words following:

“It’s interesting listening to people talk about legacy and I think probably everyone in the room maybe has a different definition of what it is. We would describe it differently, but the only thing everyone would say is that no matter how you describe it, whatever you have to say about it, it matters ”.

This means that for each Olympic Games, legacy outcomes need to be measured against the specific vision, goals and local context, posing a challenge for standardizing measurement methodologies.

In addition, due to the lack of appropriate measures and communication with citizens, the legacy of the previous Olympics and other mega-sporting events has also been loaded with symbolism. According to a systematic review of Olympic legacy reports, carried out in 2017 by Preuss and Scheu, 39% of the 204 legacy reports analyzed were only conceptual or commentary studies, representing the largest percentage of studies. /reports. Most of these articles describe legacies narratively, but do not rely on empirical numbers.

For example, one of the initiatives planned by Tokyo 2020 was to foster a sustainable Olympic and Paralympic spirit in the next generation through educational content. According to the document titled “Building Legacy – Beyond 2020” published by the organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Games, this initiative will create the following legacy:

“The irreplaceable mental and physical legacy that remains in every child: The memories children have of the thrill of the Games will be a legacy that will nourish their future. “

How to measure this type of inheritance? Would attaching a monetary value to it help to measure and communicate the results of initiatives related to intangible legacies?

SCORE Lab Session – A Conversation on Social Legacies

In the spirit of fostering dialogue and exploring new horizons, SCORE – a Sport Think Action Tank based in Lausanne – organized a SCORE Lab, a meeting that draws on expertise from sport and from outside to address, in this case, the problems and challenges encountered. by organizing committees, host cities and other stakeholders (local population and governing bodies) in the context of the legacy of sporting events (i.e. measurement and communication).

The initial objective of the session was to explore a system where Sport for Development Outcomes (S4DO) have known monetary value in order to help convey holistic socio-economic opportunities to host communities. However, participants discussed and identified challenges and methodological issues related to defining, designing and measuring social legacies, as sporting events represent many intangible legacies, which are more difficult to quantify. Participants also highlighted the importance of involving additional stakeholders (citizen representatives and event organizers) and discussed the additional opportunity costs in using resources to measure social legacies – if certain resources are used to measure social legacies, economic or tangible legacies may decrease.

Questions and different considerations for better accountability mechanisms to measure social heritage were raised:

  • Why do events focus only on delivery?
    THEegoisms and their measures are not considered a priority, as the organizers have to produce a perfect event, with the emphasis on the appearance of the place and the result of the television production. Thus, the involvement of surrounding communities is often overlooked. The limited time and resources open the door to the lack of good governance (corruption) during the preparation of the event.
  • How is inheritance actually defined and designed?
    People have different definitions of legacy and it was raised that the definition of Olympic legacy does not fit most sports organizations. What legacy is should be defined by event planners based on their abilities, goals and vision.
  • How are the needs of local actors integrated into the event’s strategy?
    S4D is a great opportunity to connect sporting events to the social context. However, organizers may not have the correct information or engage the right partners to understand the reality and needs of the host community. Different proposals shared by the participants found common ground on the need to communicate and dialogue with citizens upstream.
  • Are small-scale events a better opportunity for hosts?
    Without the hosting of the event, alternative investments would have been made and would have created other legacies. The city of Hamburg was cited as an example. The German city has created different social initiatives and organized smaller events to improve the well-being of its citizens, without hosting the Olympics. These opportunity costs are often overlooked in discussions.
  • Can S4D outcome measurement be misleading and counter-effective? To what extent are event organizers responsible for the intangible legacies they claim?
    Due to the difficulty in proving social results / legacies, sports organizations have relied on indirect measures that involve the benefits generated by sports initiatives. However, the results can be very broad, and the causality of inheritance can be questioned, as an implicit benefit does not establish a clear relationship between the two variables. A mix of methodologies and the importance of implementation on different phases (pre-event, during and post-event) were discussed. Participants also discussed stakeholder capacities and having the right team to measure social legacies.
  • What are the risks of placing a dollar value on legacy results?
    This can lead to new challenges or even a risk of attaching monetary or quantitative values ​​to inheritances. As stated in one of the articles shared by a SCORE Lab participant, (“What data can’t do“by Hannah Fry) “Numbers can be the most dangerous when used to control things rather than to understand them”.

In light of the questions raised during the SCORE Lab session, in particular that related to measurement, how can the organizers and host cities demonstrate a strong causality between the actions implemented and their effect on citizens? And in bringing back the Tokyo 2020 initiative, how can stakeholders establish the mechanisms to promote and measure a clear relationship between “the memories that children have of the Games ” and the actions and decisions they will take in the future?

Attempting to address the issue of causality, the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee and other stakeholders have launched several initiatives where the integration of local actors and disadvantaged neighborhoods plays a key role. According to Social and solidarity economy Platform (ESS 2024), three principles are integrated into each initiative:

  • Commitments of project managers within the framework of agreed objectives.
  • Rigorous reporting.
  • Implementation using national processes and local actors for employment, social inclusion and economic development.

These principles aim to help the organizers to demonstrate a clearer impact of the initiatives and to achieve the objective of “organizing the first inclusive and united games in history”.

Will the Paris 2024 Games reach the target?