Play the Game 2015: The revolt against global events: A perfect storm for sport?


Photo: Colourbox


By Play the Game
Mega-events will be one of the main themes at Play the Game 2015 and the issue will be thoroughly debated by a selection of top speakers within the area.

Popular protest over major sports events has grown as never before. Millions took to the streets in Brazil in opposition to the FIFA World Cup, and a handful of cities backed out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics after public pressure. Countries all over the world invest loads of money and prestige to host global sports events, but there is increasing doubt about the return on investment.

Yet, some countries – like Qatar, Russia or Azerbaijan – seem willing to invest almost whatever it takes to secure a place in the global limelight. In search for a positive image worldwide these countries also find that their shadowy sides are exposed and cause controversy. At Play the Game 2015, we will take a deeper look into the dilemma and discuss whether the outcomes of hosting these events are worth the human and economic costs that they entail.

Enhanced focus on rights compliance
Recent years have seen a growth in attention towards the human rights aspects of hosting a mega-event. Human rights group Amnesty International has joined forces with other rights groups and have created the Sport and Rights Alliance that advocates for human and labour rights to be an integral part of mega-events.

Many of the ‘new’ players on the mega-event scene are countries that do not have a long democratic history and a bad record regarding freedom of speech. Naomi Westland from Amnesty International will be at the conference, talking about the work that the alliance do and how they hope to achieve their goals.

Recent host of the European Games, Azerbaijan, is one of the countries that is using sport as a political handle internationally. Many believe that the recent sentencing of investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was due to her critical reporting on the Azeri ruling family. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project is a group of journalists who have been working to expose corrupt practices in dictatorial states, and one of their latest projects have been to make Ismayilova’s reports public even though she herself has been in custody. David Bloss, is an editor with the OCCRP in Tbilisi, Georgia, and will talk about their Free Khadija project.

The costs of hosting a mega-event
The debate on mega-events is not only centred around human rights issues, also the economic costs of hosting a mega-event is widely debated.

In spite of many hosting countries’ governments’ argumentation about both short and long-term benefits from hosting an event, many analyses show that the effect is in fact the opposite. Behind one of these analyses is American economist and author, Andrew Zimbalist, who in his book ‘Circus Maximus’ argues that hosting mega sporting events simply does not add up economically. At Play the Game 2015, Zimbalist will present his reasons for taking this point of view. 

Do mega-events have a future?
For those wishing reform in sport and its large events, this could be a perfect storm. The IOC has launched the ‘Agenda 2020’ package saying it wishes to change, and intergovernmental organisations such as UNESCO and the Council of Europe are calling for more social, financial and sporting sustainability.

To represent this newer approach, Sarah Lewis, CEO of the International Ski Federation as well as of the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations, will present the Play the Game audience with another view on this discussion. As a member of the IOC Working Group that prepared the Agenda 2020 proposals on sustainability, Lewis can say more about how the IOC envisages the future of mega-events and about what exact proposals they have for curbing the escalating costs.

Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Envirenmental Agency will talk about how other organisations and sectors have dealt with similar challenges, and the conference will also present other discussions about how to secure a proper legacy from mega-events.

These sessions will feature case stories about recent and upcoming events, such as the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the European Games in Azerbaijan as well as the upcoming Olympics in Rio and the FIFA World Cup 2020 in Qatar.

More about Play the Game 2015

Play the Game 2015 takes place in Aarhus, Denmark from 25-29 October at the Marselis Aarhus Hotel.

More about Play the Game 2015 on the conference website

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