University of Birmingham: Legacy of major sporting events for disadvantaged people and communities

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games have drawn to a close. The successful staging of this event, amid the three significant challenges of Brexit, Covid, and the Ukraine war, demonstrated Birmingham and the West Midlands’ ability of major event hosting. ‘A Games for Everyone’ was the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games’ slogan and mission, reflecting Birmingham’s feature as a diverse city. Now that the Games has finished and people are talking about the legacies, it is equally important to ensure there are legacies for everyone.

The hosting of major sporting events is a high priority for Birmingham and for the United Kingdom in general. Over the past decades, the United Kingdom has hosted some of the world’s most iconic sporting events, including the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Manchester 2002 Games, and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, to name a few; and Birmingham, in addition to the recent 2022 Commonwealth Games, has hosted the 2003 and 2018 Athletics World Indoor Championships and annually staged All England Open Badminton Championships, etc.

As part of a new ‘Golden Decade’ of events for the city, Birmingham has just submitted bids to host the 2026 European Athletics Championships and the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. And that’s not all! Even more exciting than that, as hinted by Birmingham City Council Leader Ian Ward at a recent press conference, is the suggestion that the city might bid to host the Olympic Games. This approach seems to be consistent with our findings somewhere else regarding using an event portfolio strategy for continuously building the host city’s branding and global reputation.

Despite all this excitement to look forward to, we know that the staging of major events costs public money and requires significant investment. According to the official Games website, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games secured a £24 million Business and Tourism programme; provided 40,000 new jobs and volunteering opportunities; organised the six-month-long Birmingham 2022 Festival and put together seven free neighbourhood Festival Sites and so on. But without looking into the details of legacy measurement, many of the aforementioned headline figures can only be considered as short-term positive impacts.

Little is known about the long-lasting benefits – including sustained participation in physical activity – of major events for the host communities, particularly those from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.”
Dr Shushu Chen – Lecturer in Sport Policy and Management, School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences
Moreover, although major event hosting is likely to generate long-term positive outcomes, such as urban regeneration, trade and investment enhancement, and soft power, little is known about the long-lasting benefits – including sustained participation in physical activity – of major events for the host communities, particularly those from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas.

Through a partnership with the Birmingham Race Impact Group, a multi-disciplinary team of experts from the University of Birmingham joined forces in May 2022 to address this gap.

Phase one of this research project focuses on understanding the realities of sporting event legacies in disadvantaged communities. Our information comes from different sources and we are looking at information from previous major sporting events – both from scientific papers, but also from reports from organisers of these events. We are looking at how social media is used during the Games. We have also visited some of Birmingham’s most deprived areas – Aston, Balsall Heath, Erdington, Ladywood, Lozells, Handsworth, Newtown, Perry Barr, and Sparkbrook– and asked community members how they felt about the 2022 Commonwealth Games and what impacts and legacies they anticipated. Together, this information from the different sources will help us to identify solutions to ensure that everyone living in the diverse city of Birmingham can benefit from the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and future events.

Whilst we discovered the glimmerings of potential legacies that might invigorate people’s lives, structural and personal challenges remain as the main barriers to event engagement and legacy access, which requires a collaborative leveraging action to enable legacies; particularly considering Birmingham’s 10 Years of major event hosting ambition, strategic policy-making and legacy planning for the communities seem more important than ever.

Dr Shushu Chen – Lecturer in Sport Policy and Management, School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences

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