EPRSauthor By / June 12, 2014

The legacies of major sports events

The kick-off of World Cup 2014, which has seen Brazilians protest over the cost of its organisation, is a reminder…

© philipus, Fotolia
Construction of a stadium in the desert of Qatar, Middle East
© philipus, Fotolia

The kick-off of World Cup 2014, which has seen Brazilians protest over the cost of its organisation, is a reminder that such an event generates many lasting outcomes on the host country. A new EU Work Plan for Sport 2014-17, adopted by the Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Council on 20-21 May 2014, establishes the legacy of major sports events as one of the next three key priorities under the heading “the economic dimension of sport”.

This keysource looks at the major sports events organised in Europe in the last 10 years and presents studies and perspectives on their impact on the host nations.


In the context of major sports events, legacy, while a multifaceted concept (Mega sporting event legacies: a multifaceted concept/ J-L Chappelet in Papeles de Europa 25: 76-86, 2012), is most often recognized as the long-term or permanent outcomes for a host city, region or state from staging such an event. These outcomes can include economic, touristic, social, physical, and/or environmental benefits and are often put forward as the key rationale for the bidding for, and hosting of, such mega-events.

The following major sports events took place in Europe in the last decade:

Year Sport event
2014 Commonwealth Games – Glasgow, UK
2012 UEFA Euro Cup – Poland/Ukraine
Summer Olympics – London, UK
2008 UEFA Euro Cup – Austria/Switzerland
2007 Rugby World Cup – France
2006 FIFA World Cup – Germany
Winter Olympics – Torino, Italy
2004 Summer Olympics – Athens, Greece
UEFA Euro Cup Portugal

The tourism benefits of these sporting mega-events, which raise the profile of the host cities and regions that organise them, are generally believed to be their principal legacy, along with world-class sporting facilities and improved infrastructure. These in turn increase their attractiveness as tourism destinations as well as business locations.

Such events are not only potentially lucrative: in The Politics of Sports Mega‐events (Political insight 3(1): 4-7, 2012) Jonathan Grix outlines other tangible and intangible benefits sporting mega-events are expected to bring. They:

  • can inspire people, particularly youngsters, to take up sport or some form of physical activity, thereby improving their health;
  • engender a ‘feel good’ factor among citizens of the host nation, which has knock-on effects for their wellbeing;
  • can accelerate much-needed urban regeneration, improving society and generating a development stimulus;
  • provide an opportunity for the hosting states to showcase themselves internationally, leading to an increase in so-called ‘soft power’, or their ability to pursue national interests in international relations.

Is the legacy worth the costs? As the article Euro 2012 one year on – Are international football tournaments curse or boon? (The Economist, 1.07.2013) points out, major sport events can carry a dark side: some of the infrastructures, hurriedly built, are below standards or remain underused, and many new stadiums struggle to be solvent, when they are not simply abandoned.

The issue of sustainability of major sport events, connected to the subsequent use of the event infrastructure, is the object of most of the reports and studies listed in the below sections, which offer a descriptive list of publications, journal articles, reports and studies on the topics of major sports events legacies and impacts.


Assessing the impact of sports mega-events in transition economies: EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. / Brad Humphreys and Szymon Prokopowiczin in International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing 13 (1/2) pp.74 – 103, 2013. This paper examines the impact of the UEFA EURO 2012on the Polish economy and finds that the main source of economic benefits is the acceleration of investments in transport infrastructure, which fosters growth of total factor productivity and the inflow of foreign direct investment. This contrasts with the results for more developed countries hosting major sporting events, where infrastructure effects are reported to be of less importance.

World Stadium Index / Jens Alm, Play the Game, 2012. The report from the Danish Institute for Sports Studies/Play the Game investigates the use of mega-event stadiums from around the world covering stadiums and arenas which have been constructed or extensively renovated as a part of a mega-event during 1996-2010. It includes, among others, the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup (1998 excluded), UEFA European Championships. The study has collected factual data about construction costs, capacity, cost per seat, number of spectators in 2010, ownership, and number of events in order to evaluate each stadium. The information has been gathered using internet sources, direct enquiries to the responsible parties and local informants in the different countries covered.

Sports Tourism Worldwide/ Jessica Rawlinson, Mintel, 2012. Sports tourism encompasses active participation in sporting activities, such as cycling, golf, sailing and skiing, as well as attendance at sporting events, which attract numerous participants and have a significant, but often fleeting, impact on the destination, such as the Olympics, FIFA World Cup matches, etc.

Economic Impacts of the Olympic Games through State Comparison/ Samantha Edds, in Freakonomics, 2012. After the financially profitable 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, some cities began to compete for and host the Olympics in part to garner economic growth and development. The purpose of this paper is to study current economic cost and benefit analysis, before quantifying if and when benefits exist for the 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games.
NB – A comprehensive bibliography on Olympic Games: Legacies and Impacts (2013) is maintained by the International Olympic Committee, Olympic Studies Centre. This reference document offers a regularly updated descriptive list of publications on the topics of Olympic Games legacies and impacts.

EURO 2012 in Poland – facts and myths about its importance for the development of the host regions in the context of the counterfactual analysis / Joanna Kudełko; Zbigniew Mogiła; Aleksandra Poproch. ERSA conference papers, 2012. The main aim of this paper is to present the quantitative impact of public investments and tourist expenditures associated with EURO 2012 on the development of the four Polish host regions (NUTS-2)- Dolnośląskie, Mazowieckie, Pomorskie and Wielkopolskie. The analysis is conducted using the regional HERMIN models and concentrates on such macroeconomic indicators as GDP and employment. The research period is 2008 (beginning of investment)-2025 in order to derive both short-term (demand-side) and long-term (supply-side) effects. The results are compared and confronted with the analogues effects for other European regions in order to present the role of such events in the regional development.

The importance of foreign spectators’ expenditure in the tourism impact of mega-sporting events/ Barget, Eric, and Jean-Jacques Gouguet in Papeles de Europa 25: 27-50, 2012. Many economic impact studies assessed that mega-sporting events can have an influence on the level of economic activity of the host territory. The attraction of many tourists is usually at the centre of the analysis. During the Rugby World Cup 2007 in France, foreign spectators are at the root of most of the economic impact on French regions, with significant differences depending on their nationalities and their socio-demographic profiles. It thus appears that the regional impact of the event is even stronger since the host matches have attracted many foreign spectators with a high level of income and expenditure.

Legacy of Mega Events in TourismTravel & Tourism Analyst No.20, 2010. Many studies by academic institutions and governmental organisations have attempted to measure the economic gains that result from hosting mega events. However, these studies are fraught with difficulties, most significantly because of the problems of isolating the impact of one event within a complex economy. The key question being asked and answered to varying degrees by these studies is: are the costs for infrastructure, stadia, security and marketing worth the gains from tourism, trade and tickets? Furthermore, they attempt to answer the question that if not, does the event spark, perhaps indirectly, long-run economic development? While most studies into the legacy of mega events focus on the period afterwards, there are in fact three stages of the legacy effect: the impact before the event, the impact during the event, and its legacy after the event – this report covers all three stages.

The impact of mega-sport events on tourist arrivals/ Johan Fourie and María Santana-Gallego Stellenbosch, Economic Working Papers 20/10, 2010. This paper measures a very direct benefit of sport mega-events: the increase in tourist arrivals to the host country. In general, results suggest that mega-events promote tourism but the gain varies depending on the type of mega-event, the participating countries, the host country’s level of development, and whether the event is held during the peak season or off season.

Estimating Economic Regional Effects of Euro 2012/ Barbara DESPINEY, Waldemar KARPA, CES working papers, 2010. In April 2007 Poland and Ukraine were awarded by UEFA to co-host the 2012 European Football Championships. This first ‘mega-event’ to take place in the transition countries is commonly intended to yield large and lasting economic benefits to the host cities. This point of view is rarely shared by economists, who are aware of misuse of economic impact estimates. In this paper the authors investigate the effects of Euro 2012-related spending on local economies.

Material and representational legacies of sports mega‐events: the case of the UEFA EURO football championships from 1996 to 2008/ Horne, John in Soccer & Society Vol.11 (6), p.854-866, 2010. The main objective of this article is to critically reflect on the legacies associated with major sports events in Europe, and in particular the UEFA football championships. Although consideration is given to material legacies the article focuses mainly on the representational legacies – how Europe as a whole is represented and how participant football nations are represented – in connection with the second largest football spectacle in the world. The article thus seeks to engage with debates about the idea of Europe and European culture via consideration of European football.

Large Sport Events and Unemployment: the Case of the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany/ Hagn, Florian; Maennig, Wolfgang in Applied Economics 41(25-27): 3295-3302, 2009,. This study analyses the effects on the jobs market of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany. The numbers of unemployed in the 12 World Cup venues is compared with the development of the numbers of unemployed in 63 other German cities. The results demonstrate that in none of the respective match venues did the effect of the sporting event on unemployment differ significantly from zero.

The impact of major cultural and sporting events on tourism-oriented SMEs/ Groupe AMNYOS Consultants for the European Commission, DG Enterprise (2007). This study was launched in 2005 with the aim of assessing the social, economic and environmental impact of major cultural and sporting events on destinations and local enterprises. The findings aims to raise awareness among all stakeholders (policy makers, SMEs, local community) about the potential of these events and the need to work together in partnership at the regional level to organise them in a sustainable way. See the two case-studies related to major sports events: Portugal – Euro Football 2004 (FR) | Italy – Olympics Torino (FR)

Mega-Events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional, and national economies / Victor A. Matheson, IASE Working Paper No. 06-22, 2006. This paper provides an overview of the economics of sports mega-events as well as a review of the existing literature in the field. It describes why boosters’ ex ante estimates of the economic impact of large sporting events tend to exaggerate the net economic benefits of these events and surveys the results of a large number of ex post studies of exploring the true impact of mega-events.

The economic impact of the Barcelona Olympic Games, 1986-2004/ Brunet, Ferran (2005). Barcelona has been highly successfully in harnessing the impetus and legacy of the Games: by 2001, the city was ranked as the Europe’s sixth most attractive. Consequently, the Barcelona Games, their organisation and impact, have become a model from the sporting, organisational, economic, social and urban planning perspectives. In this article sets out to study the following: the organisation of the 2002 Games in terms of the model adopted, methods and resources used over the 1986-1992 period; the impact of the investments made on economic activity, employment, income, construction, tourism and transport, with special emphasis on the 1992-2002 period; the city’s harnessing of the Olympic impetus to improve its strategic position with a view to the future (2002-2010).

Economic aspects and the Summer Olympics: a review of related research /E. Kasimati, in International Journal of Tourism Research 5: 433–444, 2003. As the importance of Summer Olympics are growing with larger media coverage and sponsorship, host cities have started to attach great importance to the tourism and other likely economic effects that occur by staging such an event. As a result, a number of studies have been conducted to consider the various economic implications on the hosts. This paper examines and evaluates methods and assumptions used by the economic studies. It also compares ex-ante models and forecasts with the ex-post approach. The aim is to improve the information available to policy makers and potential future hosts of Summer Olympics and other mega-events

Stakeholder views

EU institutions

European Parliament

Written question E-002877/2012 by Angelika Werthmann (NI) – Summer Olympic Games/involvement of the Commission, 15.03.2012

Written question E-004466/2012 by Oreste Rossi (EFD) – 2012 Olympics and sustainable development, 27.04.2012

Written question E-1942/05 by Dimitrios Papadimoulis (GUE/NGL) – Subsequent use of Olympic facilities, 30.05.2005

Oral Question H-0399/05 by Panagiotis Beglitis – Commercial use of Olympic facilities in Greece, 18.05.2005


EYCS Council Meeting of 20-21 May 2014 – Ministers discussed how to improve long term benefits of hosting major sport events. The main point raised during this debate was the possibility of co-hosting major events. This would allow to share financial costs and foster EU cooperation. It would also make it possible for smaller member states to participate and would help avoid the issue of competing European bids. This discussion was based on the discussion paper Economic, social and environmental sustainability of major sport events – policy debate (30 April 2014).

The ECYS Council also adopted the new EU Work Plan for Sport 2014-17, which mentions the legacy of major sports events as one of the 3 key priorities under the heading “the economic dimension of sport”. An Expert Group will be established, charged with the preparation of recommendations on major sport events, in particular on legacy aspects with a focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability (foreseen for the 2nd half 2015).

International Organisations

Council of Europe – Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS)

A short Informal Ministerial Networking Event was organised by EPAS prior to the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games on 7.01.2014, with the purpose of exchanging views on topical issues and challenges relating to the organisation of major sports events. These issues are outlined in a note, How can we promote the positive legacy of major sports events?



Benefits of bidding for and hosting FIFA’s other World Cup events (s.d.). This page outlines the benefits of major events, usually referred to as the ‘legacy’ of such events, defined as: “The sustainable benefits generated for the host member association and country – well before, during and long after the event.”. These include: new and improved facilities, increased civic pride and community empowerment, enhanced partnerships and greater commercial activity and investment from new sponsors, media, broadcasters and large corporations.

International Olympic Committee (IOC)

Factsheet – Legacies of the games (December 2013). Rule 2, Article 14 of the Olympic Charter states that an important role of the IOC is “to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries.” This note presents the legacy in economic, reputation, urban regeneration and housing, accommodation, tourism, environment, telecommunications and transportation, sport, venues, education and training, cultural terms.

The IOC launched an Olympic Games Knowledge Management (OGKM) transfer Programme in 2002, whose role is to ensure that sustainability lessons learned in each host city are passed on to future hosts.

Host Countries


Post Games evaluation: Meta-evaluation of the impacts and legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games / UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport; July 2013. This report looks at the impact of the Games through the lens of 12 headline findings, based on a detailed evidence base that has been collated over a three year period for the London 2012 meta-evaluation, the impact report of the Olympic games (7 volumes).


Planning, investment and sustainable legacy of major sporting events – EuroBasket 2011 case study/ Mindaugas Balčiūnas. Presentation at Informal Meeting of Ministers for Sport 1-2.10.2013


The Polish effect – the success of Euro 2012 beyond expectations/ Ministry of Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Poland, November 2012. The report predicts that the tournament will have added 1.3% to the country’;s GDP over the 2008-2020 period.


Tourist economic impact analysis and evaluation UEFA U/21 European Championship 2011 in Denmark/ Sport Event Denmark, 2012. The tourist economic impact analysis and evaluation of the U-21 event aims to provide documentation of the many spin-offs generated by the event visitors from outside the host region and to collect information about the event visitors’ demographical profile and evaluation of the event/host cities. It found that the event generated a tourism turnover of 6M. DKK (€ 8.1M.), of which 41% was international and event visitors generated a total of 81,760 bednights. In total, the event generated a public revenue of approx. DKK 10.2M. (€ 1.36M).

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