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Critical Analysis of Sporting Mega-Events Through Sociological Imagination

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The aim of this essay is to critically analyze the impact of sports mega-events on the societies that host them, whether it was positive, negative or beneficial in the short term and long term for their society. It will be focusing on the South Africa 2010 World Cup. It will also concentrate on critical sensitivity and legacy.

It is significant to understand the importance of sociological imagination because it helps us dive deeper into a certain topic and analyze from different points of view. “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is, its task and its promise” (Wright Mills, 2000, p.6). Within Charles Wright Mills book ‘The Sociological Imagination’ it determines that by arguing several sensibilities or components to the sociological imagination which together provide a mean for proceeding in the sociological quest for understanding. When discussing sociological imagination there are three main elements: critical sensitivity, comparative sensitivity and historical sensitivity. Critical sensitivity is the most important one to note as it is crucial when analyzing topics in a different way than normal while also gaining a greater understanding. Wills (2011, p.72) explains that the “term critical is not being used as negative towards something, but rather the term critical is used in sociology in the sense of being reflexive or sceptical about the social world”. Wills goes onto state that it aims to narrow down as much doubt as possible (p.72). Critical sensitivity is useful when looking at sports mega-events as it evaluates the positives and negatives in society while questioning claims that have been made and digging more specific in studies. Max Weber argued that “sociology can and should be value free, dealing only with what is rather than what should be” (p.74).

Sports mega-events are “large scale cultural (including commercial and sporting) events, which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance” (Roche, 2000, p.1). Some examples of sports mega-events are the Olympics and The World Cup as they are global and commercialized around the world. With the Olympics and The World Cup held every four years, this shows their significance as it is a long period of time till the next one. These events are also opportunities to gain greater international recognition and to promote national identity.

In the book ‘Tourism Management’, it defines a sport mega-event as a “significant national or global competitions that produce extensive levels of participation and media coverage and that often require large public investments into both event infrastructure, for example stadiums to hold the events and general infrastructure, such as roadways, housing or mass transit system” (Mills and Rosentraub, 2013, p.239). This is a more in-depth explanation that also provides specifics that are needed to host a mega event which not many people often think of.

An article by Chappelet (2012, p.76) wrote “Legacy is living in the present and building for the future. A legacy of something can be remembered in different ways, such as good, bad, beneficial and many more. The legacy of mega sporting events can be perceived in several ways. Such as, tangible or intangible, territorial or personal, intentional or unintentional, global or local, short- or long-term and can also be seen from the various event stakeholders’ perspectives”. Chappelet goes into detail about how legacy can be remembered in different ways whether good or bad, positive or negative. These details are beneficial as they need to be recollected regarding and analyzing sport mega-events.

In sport mega-events, the term legacy is used a great deal. “The concerns that came to be expressed over the need to provide the host city with a variety of ‘legacies’ from hosting the games can be traced back to the mid-1950s” (Gold and Gold, 2007, p.159). However, there has been continuous debate about the impact, value and legacy of mega events and whether it leaves a positive impact long term. “The Montreal Olympics of 1976 were a sporting success, but the citizens of that city did not pay off the debt until 2006” (Holt and Ruta, 2015, p.2). This shows that the hopeful positive legacy through the event can be discolored by the absence of a long-term plan for financially funding the event. South Africa had won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup. Kgalema Motlanthe, the president of South Africa at the time, said “we are confident that working together, we (South Africa) will host the best FIFA world cup ever” (Ngonyama, 2009, p.168). The south African government has established a campaign uniting public support for the world cup.

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Mbembe (2006) asserts that “South Africa will win the 2010 world cup if we organize it in such a way that it powerfully contributes to changing the terms of Africa’s recognition in the world” (Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass, 2009, p.248). Mbembe is sure that with the correct plans and teamwork, they will have a positive long-term legacy after the world cup. Of course, hosting a mega-event includes an incredible amount of support, construction work, and an immense funding towards stadiums, transport and tourism. The National Treasury has committed close to R33 billion towards stadium construction and refurbishment and tournament related infrastructural development (Ngonyama, 2009, p.168). In the journal ‘Development and Dreams’ Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass (2009, p. 115-116) touch on the positives and negatives of infrastructural projects. They also state that “The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions argues that although the staging of mega events can have a range of positive impacts, it can have the opposite impact, especially in relation to infrastructural projects which can result in human violations in the form of evictions”. They explain that it is 50/50 impact with infrastructures and with consequences if it does not go well. Mbembe goes on to say that “if the 2010 world cup succeeds in fundamentally altering the ways in which Africa’s voice is expressed and heard and Africa’s face is seen in the world, then this and this alone will morally justify the colossal amount of public money spent on the very postcolonial and megalomaniac venture” (Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass, 2009 p.248).

South Africa invested heavily in building and renovating state of the art stadiums ahead of the 2010 World Cup. The SA government had plans for infrastructural legacy, these included the modernization of basic services such as, electricity, waste treatment and water (Holt and Ruta, 2015, p.71). Research in the journal ‘Handbook of Sport and Legacy’ states that as well as having a legacy to remember, the SA government plans for practical legacies that will benefit the community well.

One of the most popular stadiums for the 2010 world cup was Cape Town stadium. This new stadium was not only constructed for football but for community assets and multipurpose. This stadium seemed to have a lot of potential and benefits long term. However, Holt and Ruta (2015, p.74) outline that “the stadium costs 4 million (rands) a month to keep it up even though nothing happens there”. With the stadium being multipurpose and for the community, it struggled for investments and events. A total of 5 new stadiums were constructed ahead of the 2010 world cup costing 9 billion (rands) (Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass, 2009, p.231). Costing 7 billion more than the projected 2 billion. 10 stadiums were used for this world cup, whether new or renovated. These stadiums attracted tourists, created jobs and overall were in pristine condition for the footballers and fans, it was a positive outlook. However, funding so much money on infrastructure can impact the communities, in which this case, it did. In the journal of soccer and society, the movement’s president, S’bu Zikode explained that “the soccer World Cup is a threat to our communities, in a sense, because it is putting pressure on the city to get rid of shacks…” (Ngonyama, 2009, p.173). Further research in this journal and the R20 billion budgeted for refurbishments and construction over a period of four years equals the cost to an additional 90,000 low-cost house a year (Ngonyama, 2009, p.173). Breaking the figures down and reading what the funding of the infrastructures could have brought instead is eye opening. Political economist Stephen Gelb believes the people of South Africa need to start debating whether the country’s priority is 90,000 houses a year for four years or the 2010 World Cup (Ngonyama, 2009, p.173). 90,000 house a year for four years is colossal and would’ve been much more beneficial for the people and community as the stadiums in South Africa are turning into ‘white elephants’.

One of the main factors that come with hosting a mega-event is tourism. With tourism, comes attractions, events and legacy. Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass (2009, p.132) explains in ‘Development and Dreams’, that sport tourism focuses on how the foundation of sport development could be provided by the existence of tourism sites or infrastructures and how sport events may stimulate tourism actively. They touch on with the presences of stadiums, buildings and tourism sites, sport can still be built and continued after the event, held with not just the legacy of infrastructures but legacy of the actual sport being put into practice. Further research into ‘Development and Dreams’, visitor numbers had predicted during the 2010 world cup. A total of 860,000 visitors were predicted, these numbers included visitors with and without tickets to matches, visitors from other African countries and South African residents traveling regionally to attend matches (Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass, 2009, p.140).

With so much expected visitors, many things needed to be up to standard and ‘national level’, such as transport and infrastructure. This was the case for the 2010 world cup. FIFA had development on loads of their new stadiums, and some needing specific plans like tourist projects and themes just to accommodate the many tourists that were predicted (Pillay, Tomlinson and Bass, 2009, p.144). more specific research on this showed that one of the host cities, Pretoria, had approximately R245 million spent on just tourism related projects. These projects were building for the future, but it may struggle to find use when the mega event is over and there are significantly less tourists.

In conclusion, sociological imagination helps with analyzing sports mega-events critically as it narrows down the claims made, while gaining a better perspective from different angles. Furthermore, sports mega-events generally have a short-term positive affect, as it can be discolored by the unspoken negative long-term legacy it leaves. The 2010 world cup had 10 states of the art stadiums, some of which were built for multipurpose and for the community. These stadiums had potential to regenerate sports development and host community events, but the lack of investments saw them turn into ‘white elephants’. The legacy of sports mega events is spoken positively, however, so much funding into mega events come to almost nothing years after and leaves a burden. which is worth thinking, are mega events worth it. Chappelet (2012, p.84) talks on how legacies are difficult to secure and that there is bridge between dreams and realities. This is clear because, before hosting events, they are dreams in relation to better facilities, infrastructures, and tourist attractions that will leave a positive legacy in the host city, but when in reality, the dreams end negatively due to the amount of funding and support unable to keep up. Chappelet concludes his journal buy saying that “legacy is essentially is a dream to be pursued rather than a certainty to be achieved”.

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