Empty Stadiums, Empty Promises: A Study of the Impact of Mega-Sporting Events on the Civil Unrest of the Host Country

May 4, 2020   /  

Student: Brandon Borges
Major: Political Science
Advisors: Fiacre Bienvenu, Bas van Doorn

Mega-sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup are a source of international cooperation and honor, and one of the greatest honors a country may earn is to host one of these events within its borders. As well, several perceived benefits toward the host country motivate governments to host these events despite the costs necessary to host. Past research of the mega event phenomenon, however, has found that the impacts of mega-sporting events trend far more negatively. This study aims to understand the impact of hosting on the citizens who live within the host country, specifically on the level of civil unrest performed through protests and acts of civil disobedience. The study focused on the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, using a case study format reviewing 125 news reports from the time period of 2009-2016, and found that mega-sporting events that occurred during the time period sparked civil unrest within the population. However, the impacts of other variables, chiefly a faltering national economy and a major corruption scandal, complicated the study to where further research that may control for those variables needs to be done.

Brandon will be online to field comments on May 8:
2-4pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

28 thoughts on “Empty Stadiums, Empty Promises: A Study of the Impact of Mega-Sporting Events on the Civil Unrest of the Host Country”

  1. Did any of your findings surprise you? Would you have any advice to politicians in countries hosting the next mega sporting event?

    1. Hello Karen!

      I would say that in particular a finding that surprised me was the nature of responses from the Brazilian population regarding why they protested. The nuance of any and all of the protesters spoke to a level of greater understanding as to what the mega-sporting events represented, not that the events themselves have caused inequality of social services and corruption, but in fact that the events are a major example of misplaced priorities from the government. It’s a level of understanding that I previously thought protesters may not have understood themselves, but it revealed to me how socially and politically aware the protesters tended to be.

      For advice concerning politicians hosting mega-sporting events, I would say the biggest piece of advice is to understand that it is not a rapidly growing economy that is ready to host these types of events, but rather a stable economy that has consistent levels of growth, as well as an understanding of what is essential to hosting the event rather than what is visually spectacular. The financial burden of mega-sporting events is not the total cost itself, but the disparity between what states propose as the budget and the actual cost, as the overruns tend to come out of the coffers of the state and by extension the taxpayers. Hosting the events is a difficult one, but not impossible to do, it is a matter of fully understanding what needs to be instead of what could be.

  2. Hi Brandon.
    Congratulations on a successful IS project; I’m glad to see it come to fruition!
    It’s not surprising to see that economic woes have a significant effect on civil unrest in countries hosting mega sporting events. But, what is surprising, I think, is that such countries opt to host these enormously costly sporting events, given underlying economic instability. I know this is outside the scope of your project, but I wonder if you have any ideas about why countries choose to host these events, especially knowing that they often aren’t profitable for the host country?

    1. Hello Professor Leiby!

      Within my review of the literature, I did learn of the possible reasons a state may host these types of events despite the lack of direct financial gain. One of the more prominent theories is that by hosting these types of events, particularly developing states look to signify to the international market an opening to liberalized markets and free trade. A state placing a bid on hosting the event has often coincided with the state making known to international organizations a stronger willingness to engage in free trade. Other reasons given in literature speak to possible stimuli to urban infrastructure and tourism, though less research has gone into those particular areas and thus are more theoretical propositions by scholars.

  3. Brandon,

    Fantastic! I’ve read a lot about how the Olympics are a chance for poor countries to show off their might in one way or another. Do you find that the aesthetic benefits of hosting an olympic game are outweighed by the myriad of other political problems?

    1. Isaac,

      That is indeed a major conclusion of this work. Developing states often do not have the economies nor the proper preparation to host these events with economies that may be growing but nonetheless are unstable and thus are more susceptible to economic downturn that would be contrasted with the grandiose stadiums built for the events. This is the key reason civil unrest was theorized to increase, as instead of highlighting the best of a state, the infrastructure of mega-sporting event would instead highlight to the population of the host government the failures of the state to properly invest public funds.

  4. Incredible work, Brandon! It is shocking how the Olympics are so often tainted with the unraveling of political problems. In your preliminary research, did you come across anything striking from the Mexico City Olympics in 1968?

    1. Thank you, Kathleen! In understanding possible cases to choose from the event, the Mexico City Olympics was one that I thought to look further into. Several factors restricted my ability to choose the event as a case study, such as the date of the bid acceptance being too far in the past to collect the data I was able to obtain, as well as the authoritarian nature of the government further restricting possible firsthand data sources. However, the event did follow the hypothesized relationship in perhaps the most gruesome way possible, as the protests concerning the government did amplify during the preparation for the event, but these protests precipitated the infamous Tlatelolco massacre, where hundreds of protesters were gunned down days before the event.

  5. Hi Brandon!

    Nicely done!

    Given what you learned through this project, would you recommend that only larger, more economically/politically stable countries take on the work of hosting these major events? And if they do, what are the cultural implications–after all, one of the reasons that these countries agree to host is to put their country in the spotlight?

    1. Thank you Riley!

      One of the avenues that has become increasingly common for states who desire to host is to partner with neighboring states to host the mega-sporting event. Through this avenue, states are able to mitigate the amount of public funds that are needed to host the event, and thus are able to absorb any unforeseen costs in a way that does not cause public outcry. In general, I would say that more stable economies are best suited to host the events. States have been more hesitant to host the events as of recent due to the detrimental effects of previous events becoming more promulgated internationally, and as such I believe that developing states that wish to host these events may choose to pursue the multiple host option.

  6. Congratulations Brandon👨🏻‍🎓🎓📚💫✨ very interesting research with lot of complements on it, good job!!

  7. Congratulations, Brandon! This is very interesting work. Do you think that hosting the Olympics will become less appealing over time, as the costs and demands on local economies escalate?

    I wish you all the best for the future!
    Pres. Bolton

    1. Thank you so much President Bolton!

      I think the prospect of hosting the Olympics as it has traditionally been hosted has become less appealing. However, the demand for the Olympics happening has itself still remained, and even when protesting the Olympics, the public still wished for the event itself to happen. I believe that states will begin innovating in terms of hosting styles, such as the multi-state hosting approach being done for the 2026 World Cup (Hosted by Canada, the US, and Mexico). Mega-sporting events are not themselves going away, however strategies for hosting them may become radically different as situations similar to the 2016 Summer Olympics become widely reported.

  8. Congrats Brandon! What a very interesting thing to research! Can’t wait to see what you’ll do in the future!

    1. Thank you so much Katie! I am equally excited to see what you accomplish both at Wooster and beyond!

  9. Hi Brandon!

    I was wondering if you had any opinions on what hosting sporting events will look like in the era after COVID-19? Will less countries want to participate if social distancing rules have to be enforced for things such as crowds or venues?

    Really great presentation! (brain blast)

    1. Thank you Sarah!

      I think COVID-19 will indeed impact the tourism market that is often desired to increase with hosting mega-sporting events at least in the short term. Social distancing as a concept will exist long after COVID-19 is appropriately dealt with, especially within states hit hardest by the virus such as Italy and South Korea, though this is purely speculative. I think overall, COVID-19 has impacted mega-events happening in the near future or currently being prepared for, but the events themselves will continue to occur after measures like vaccine implementation and proper medication are researched.

      Have an amazing summer! (brain blast)

  10. Very interesting topic, Brandon! It makes me wonder how the postponed 2021 Olympics will affect Japan in the aftermath of COVID-19. Congrats on finishing and good luck on all of your post-college endeavors!

    1. Thank you so much Cami! I believe that based on what I have research, Japan dragging its feet regarding postponing the 2021 Olympics was one motivated by maintenance costs, as the creation of infrastructure necessary for the Olympics would need to be maintained for a year longer than intended, which would dip into public funds. This is mostly speculative, and the pandemic event is most likely one that the IOC and Japan did not consider a possibility. Thank you for your comment, have an amazing summer!

  11. Brandon, thank you for such clear explanations of an unfamiliar but importantly political phenomenon. I learned a great deal from your responses to your visitors, and it was impressive to see how much depth of knowledge you’ve acquired in this area. Best of everything to you. Ari.

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