The Olympics can hurt host cities. Here's how we fix that

The Christ the Redeemer statue, with the Olympic Stadium behind it. Image: Getty.

Hosting the Olympic Games can be a dubious honour. There can be significant and lasting benefits – but the burden of holding one of the biggest sporting events on Earth can also create and exacerbate problems such as debt, gentrification, city cleansing, militarisation of public space and environmental damage. And Rio is no exception: the government recently declared a state of calamity, as social and economic crises continue to deepen.

Some 22,000 families were evicted in the lead up to the games. Meanwhile, more than 2,500 people have been killed by police in the city since it was awarded the games in 2009.

Preparations have dominated spending priorities for the past seven years, meaning Rio has been unable to allocate enough funds to crucial services such as education and health. Teachers and students have been protesting against cuts to education, and the state will continue to experience a healthcare emergency during the games.

A student spraying "take from the Olympics and invest in my school", outside an occupied school in Rio. Image: Ocupa Amaro.

The world is starting to recognise that these are the risks of hosting the games. Already, the citizens of cities such as Boston, Hamburg and Oslo have decided that the Olympics aren’t for them. It’s not surprising really – few people could honestly say that they prefer to see their tax dollars spent on velodromes, rather than hospitals.

This has left the International Olympic Committee (IOC) scraping the bottom of the barrel for host cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, where there isn’t even any snow. And the 2024 summer games are no better off – potential hosts are dropping like flies, with Rome looking likely to bow out of the race after electing an anti-Olympic Mayor.

We have a problem

The IOC recognises that there is a problem, and has set out a package of reforms in its “Agenda 2020”, which contains recommendations for host cities to exhibit good governance and tailor their Olympic bids to fit long-term sporting, economic, social and environmental needs. But these efforts haven’t impressed everyone: Olympics scholar Jules Boykoff sums up Agenda 2020 by saying it represents “baby steps where bold strides are required”.

The IOC’s Executive Director Christophe Dubi recently said that these reforms could clearly be seen at Rio 2016. But I’ve spent the past year conducting fieldwork on the preparations for the games here in Rio, and I’ve seen many instances of human rights abuses and corruption – it’s one of the major reasons that so many protests happened in the run up to the games.

Protesters march against the Olympics in Rio. Image: Antonio Larceda/EPA.

So how can the negative impacts of the Olympics be softened? One common suggestion is to have a single host city for the Olympic Games – perhaps in Greece. The problem with the Olympics in their current form is the huge amount of spending on new construction in one location for one event. Even spending on new transport infrastructure is often not directed towards the long-term needs of citizens, instead seeking to serve tourists for 17 days, with little thought given to the needs of the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill.

But, as Boykoff rightly points out, saddling a city such as Athens with this behemoth every four years may not be a particularly appealing prospect for the people who live there – particularly given the dire state of the Greek economy at the moment.

He suggests having five different host cities, and rotating the responsibility between them every five years. While this may be preferable for residents, it only really manages to share the pain around. A more radical reform is required.

Rio’s Olympic aquatics centre: ready for its 17 days of fame. Image: Adam Talbot/author provided.

A suitable solution might arise through embracing technology. In the 21st century, the vast majority of people experience the Olympic Games through the media – mainly television. As Maurice Roche notes, the Olympics are a global media event, which create a unique cultural space where physical distance and time differences can be broken down.


A global solution

So, why not host the games all over the world? Holding events in existing facilities around the world would allow the Olympics to capitalise on some of the world’s most iconic locations, while eliminating the excessive construction and disruption caused for host cities.

This would also solve another problem: for years, the IOC has been unable to include sports like surfing, which require specific environmental conditions to run. But by making the games truly global, organisers could not only feature a surfing event in Hawaii, but also tennis at Wimbledon, football in the Maracanã and other events in iconic venues around the world.

Holding sports where a fan base exists would also drive up ticket sales for events with embarrassingly low levels of attendance. And holding the events over the same time period would mean that very little changes for fans watching on TV. Most crucially, the degradation of human rights in Olympic host cities would finally be history.

The Olympics have the potential to bring the world together. But the glow of the games has been tarnished by terrible abuses of power committed in host cities around the world. As a global civil society, we should all stand up for a better Olympic movement – a mega-event fit for the 21st century. And what better way is there for the global community to reclaim the Olympics than to spread it all over the world?The Conversation

Adam Talbot is doctoral researcher in the sociology of sport at the University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.

Metro

The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.

Tramway

The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.


So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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