On legacy: whose job is it anyway?

Legacy. Whether it’s Obama as he comes towards the end of his second term or Steven Gerrard as he contemplates the end of his storied?—?as the Americans would say?—?Liverpool career, people care about legacy. Usually their own; what they’ve accomplished, will leave behind, and will be remembered for. But, as we in Glasgow know very well, legacy can have a broader meaning: it can be about the improvement of health, education, employment, infrastructure, the environment, and?—?perhaps?—?even the social fabric of our city, the way we think about ourselves, our friends and our neighbours.

The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games would do all of the above and more. Well, maybe. That was the hope in some quarters?—?but it was difficult, beforehand, to say it could be much more than a hope. Because for all that legacy is the preeminent buzzword (and expectations are sky high) when it comes to modern mega sporting events, robust academic research into the long-term effects of hosting such an event is scarce at best?—?and what little there is is largely inconclusive. The fact is, we don’t know for sure that putting all the effort that’s needed?—?and a lot of effort is needed?—?into staging a massive sporting extravaganza necessarily pays off in terms of improved metrics, attitudes and outcomes five, ten, twenty years down the line.

And so, in an attempt to plug at least some of that gap, this week saw PwC release the interim results of its ‘Sporting Leaders Study on Legacy’ at the SportAccord convention in Sochi; having interviewed sponsors, local and national civil servants, sport governing bodies, sporting federations, local organising committees and so forth, they published what I suppose is effectively the raw data: twenty five pages or so of quantitative questions and answers, without any accompanying commentary.

Having read these questions and answers, and worked on a Games which took legacy very seriously, I couldn’t help but attempt to fill the gap left by PwC, not least because?—?in my opinion, anyway?—?some of the responses show that a significant proportion of ‘sporting leaders’ either still aren’t taking the concept of legacy very seriously or, perhaps worse, simply don’t understand it.

Legacy, as you might imagine if you are even mildly familiar with its dictionary definition, is a long-term game. It takes a lot of planning, by a lot of people, for a long time in advance; it needs to be implemented, in myriad ways, across a significant geographic space (the host nation); and after the fact of the sporting event with which it’s associated, it needs to be maintained, sustained, monitored and evaluated over a further very long time?—?approximately the period of time over which, if a series of previously defined positive trends can be encouraged, the event can be deemed a success in more than just sporting and entertainment terms. A decade, at least.

And so structures and institutions matter. You need to know who is responsible for doing what throughout this very long time, before the event shows up, and after it’s over. If you don’t have that, you won’t have legacy.

So when 92% of these sporting leaders?—?all of whom apparently have recently been, are currently, or soon will be working on one or more mega sporting events?—?say that the Organising Committee is ‘primarily responsible’ for achieving a positive legacy from any given event, I despair.

An Organising Committee?—?the team of people that actually organise the event itself?—?is an unusual beast. It will come into being six or seven years before the event, generic keflex pills with the single mission of making that event as good as it possibly can be. It will put on the event, and when it is over, it will rapidly work to liquidate itself and all its assets. If it’s a well-run and suitably prepared Organising Committee it will try to contribute to legacy in a variety of pragmatic but effective ways, including smart and ethical procurement and ensuring that all its operations are as inclusive and accessible as they possibly can be, but then, when the last race has been run, it will rapidly work to liquidate itself and all its assets.

At this point you can see, I am quite confident, why the Organising Committee is not the right body to bear ‘primary responsibility’ for achieving a positive legacy. It doesn’t?—?can’t?—?do the legacy planning: it’s a new organisation, from scratch, so it doesn’t have the links or the knowledge; but more importantly, it’s kind of busy planning the event itself (which, again, I must emphasise, is a lot of work?—?imagine planning and then running the equivalent of seventeen world championships and the Edinburgh Festival at the same time). And then afterwards, when the job is done, it closes down, as of course it must (and so, if it needs spelling out, it is not especially well positioned to manage legacy activity in the longer term).

Of course, the Organising Committee has a role to play in the grand legacy master-plan. It does its bit in all those good ways, but more fundamentally, it provides the foundation, the hook on which all else is hung; without the event, there quite self-evidently can be no legacy. It’s also likely to be the best channel through which to communicate the basic legacy message, which is that not only will the event be great, it will also do good and bring benefits.

But it cannot have primary responsibility and if sporting leaders think otherwise, the very concept of legacy is being undervalued and undersold.

Is there a positive note on which to end? Happily, yes. At least PwC are making an effort to learn more about legacy; that’s one thing, and the more research the better. But more importantly, the partners?—?Commonwealth Games Scotland, the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council and, of course, the Organising Committee?—?involved in Glasgow 2014 took legacy seriously from the beginning. There was clear ownership locally (the Council) and nationally (the Government). There was a plan (actually, there were two plans). There has been and will continue to be monitoring and evaluation for several years to come. If there was little research and literature before, there will be plenty more as a result of Glasgow 2014, and it will be more robust than any we’ve seen before.

Much of the initial data?—?on club membership, tourism, education, employment and some slightly more intangible measures like civic pride?—?is positive, but of course there’s a long way to go ‘til success (or otherwise) can be properly assessed. That said, did the partners get everything right? Of course not (for example, two plans is one too many). But how could they, with so little history from which to work? Sustainable progress is always incremental but the increment Glasgow provides will likely be the biggest to date; it could be the event that shows that ‘legacy’ really is possible. And if the lessons it offers are taken to heart, then hopefully next time PwC conducts this survey the answers will make more sense.

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Kenny Stewart 4 Articles
Kenny Stewart is a public affairs, communications and policy person with particular interests in human rights, social justice, politics and sport. He was able to combine the latter two as Government Relations Manager at the Organising Committee of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

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