Engineers Against Poverty Expose White Elephants Left by Major Sporting Events

Posted on 20 May 2021

Critical Analysis by Engineers Against Poverty Reveals Unwanted "Legacy of White Elephants" in Major Sporting Events

A recent analysis conducted by Engineers Against Poverty sheds light on the negative aftermath of major sporting events over the past 15 years, describing a troubling "legacy of white elephants." The report highlights the detrimental effects of empty stadiums and underutilised transport infrastructure left behind by events such as the 2010 and 2014 World Cups in South Africa and Brazil. These structures have been draining taxpayers' money long after the tournaments concluded, according to the findings.

The report also examines the case of Delhi, which witnessed the construction of 12 new facilities for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. These facilities, too, have suffered from a lack of post-event demand and have become a burden on taxpayers. The report discusses the extravagant road and rail links, including tunnels and bridges, built for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, which cost approximately $10 billion (£7 billion) and have since remained largely unused. The operational and maintenance costs of this infrastructure alone amount to $1.2 billion (£760 million) annually, according to the report.

Engineers Against Poverty points out that accountability in a mega sports event (MSE) infrastructure delivery is lacking, leading to the proliferation of white elephant projects. For instance, four cities in Brazil—Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília—constructed arenas for the 2014 World Cup, only to find themselves without major football teams or sufficient demand for these facilities. A similar situation exists in South Africa, where 10 stadiums built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup are unused by the local population. Such stranded assets pose challenges for future urban planning.

The report suggests that involving the public in the planning and delivery stages could have mitigated these issues. By consulting with local communities and ensuring adaptable designs that serve their needs after the events, the wastefulness associated with white elephant projects could have been avoided. Maria da Graça Prado, the author of the paper, emphasizes the importance of citizen involvement, cautioning against hasty decision-making that disregards the interests of the public and wastes public funds.

To address these problems, the report recommends several measures. Firstly, bids submitted to host sporting events should require the publication of infrastructure projects and contract documents to improve access to information. Additionally, restrictions on information disclosure laws should be eliminated. Sports organisations, in particular, should change their non-profit status to comply with broader information disclosure obligations.

The paper also advocates for a multi-stakeholder approach, employing tools such as infrastructure planning forums, to ensure citizens' concerns regarding issues like value for money and the impact of construction on their lives are heard, understood, and mitigated. Training community groups to monitor and evaluate infrastructure projects and report to oversight bodies can strengthen project oversight. Furthermore, online accountability spaces can facilitate citizen participation and allow the expression of views when in-person means are not feasible.

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