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November 11, 2012

The legacy of mega-events

In his recent article published in The Guardian on the day of the presidential election in America, Aditya Chakrabortty discusses the polarised US politics and recalls playwright Arthur Miller’s question from the 2004 election: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don’t know one Bush supporter?” Despite the biggest and most expensive campaign in the country’s history, the two sides never talk to each other, and, as Chakrabortty argued after the conference he attended earlier this autumn, even the leading technical experts cannot agree on the judging criteria for the discussion: they just express their subjective opinions, followed by no discussion.

I would argue that it is not only American society that has become divided and lacks common ground for meaningful debate. At the recent conference “From London to Rio: Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event” held in the British Library in London, when discussing the legacy and future of the Olympic Games, the speakers seemed to be using two incongruous languages. One was the language of capital growth, development, international recognition, competitiveness and entrepreneurship; the other, of the needs and hopes of local communities and the quality of life of the present and future generations of citizens. Those who spoke the latter stressed the fact that while mega development projects open public space for capital investments and consumption, they very often cordon off space to its regular users. The rhetoric of the first language used people’s passion for sport to justify the gigantomania behind the new projects. One wished the debate could have gone beyond discussing the pros and cons of “the London model”, as well as beyond the final argument that although mega-events are unsustainable by definition, we cannot really do anything about this situation because, well, they do take place. It should have rather reflected on the legitimacy of all the capital expenditures being implemented everywhere around our planet.

Last summer, over the course of a few days I conducted research in the Balkans and visited Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the host city of the 1984 winter Olympic Games. After just a few years, the Olympic venues were turned into battlefields, and today the scarred stadium neighbours a formidable graveyard of the predominantly young victims of the Balkan Wars. The ruins of the Olympic stadiums in the current turmoil of Greece, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for his project Borrow, Build Abandon, should teach us the very same lesson of humility. Not that we did not learn it from history lessons on the once proud and invincible ancient Greek and Roman empires. Right?

Post by Gosia Kowalska in the category : Governance, Memory, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

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