Mega events MOOC

MOOCs, mega events…the Inside the Winter Olympics MOOC (from Michigan State, on Canvas) had my name on it from the start:

Mega events like the Olympics are complex phenomena that combine decisions about a short term festival with long term social impacts. On the surface, the public spectacle is compelling but going inside the games reveals so much more about the event, athletes, and host city. We will explore the many dimensions of mega events and provide the tools and language to interpret and understand the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Learning objectives:

  • to understand the Winter Olympics as an economic, political, and social construct associated with a sporting event
  • to interpret the Winter Olympics as a reflection of the host country and city and not an isolated event
  • to recognise the many planning and management issues of an international sporting phenomenon
  • to appreciate the historic context of the Winter Games and how past Olympics shape the current event

My angle here though is not to reflect on #sochi2014 (I’m still sore about the curling), more to find a framework for #escdk.

From the overview video:

  • mega events are fascinating because of what they reveal about the society and host that produces them – on the surface they are prestigious, glamorous events that gain a lot of attention, but there is a lot of value to be gained from digging beneath the surface
  • one of the ironies of mega events is that they are presented as popular future positive views of the world when in fact they are often reflections of the past and of societies that creates them – microcosms of the host society
  • mega events are ephemeral yet have so much power to transform urban spaces and societies

The MOOC ran from 27 January to 1 March. For more on mega-events see the Mega Event Planning Interest Group (Eva Kassens-Noor) | Mega Event Planning FB group | @MEPupdates

Module 1: background and context

From the overview:

  • mega events have a number of characteristics including: 1) lasting a short time 2) involving many participants and spectators 3) often costly, multi-billion dollar events 4) having a global media audience reaching billions of people
  • examples include the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, World Fairs and Expos, and religious pilgrimages
  • major questions that concern mega events focus on control, cost/benefit, impact and legacy
  • the modern games were revived by Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19th century as a homage to western civilisation
  • the games came at a time of industrialization and great social change and were a way for elites to carve out a social space in the evolving society of western Europe
  • the International Olympic Committee was founded by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894, and has a humanitarian mission of Olympism that links sport and human development 
  • it holds ownership over the Summer Olympic Games, the Winter Olympic Games, and recently added the Youth Olympics in 2010
  • the events of the Olympic Games are ruled by the Olympic Charter, which lists in all its bylaws how the Olympic Games are to be conducted
  • the IOC is limited to 150 members, who comprise of athletes, former athletes, international sports federations and National Olympic Committee members
  • only one single city can stage a Winter Olympic Games and they require a very long preparation period, usually beyond ten years
  • the Olympic games involve a number of institutions including the IOC, which controls the event, the International Federations (IFs) that manage each sport, the National Olympic Committees that manage sports in each country and the local organising committees that are responsible for running the event
  • of the 22 Winter games, 14 were held in Europe, 6 in US/Canada, and 2 in Asia
  • notable locations include St Moritz, Lake Placid and Innsbruck, which have each hosted the Winter Games twice, and Denver, which withdrew from the 1976 Olympics in 1973 leading to Innsbruck hosting the games for a second time
  • Sochi is investing over US $50 billion to host the games, building two new areas for events, the Coastal Cluster and the Mountain Cluster 20 miles (32 km) south east of the city
  • one of the logistics issues to watch for is the ability of Sochi to provide snow cover for the Olympics; the organisers have stockpiled 16 million cubic feet (450,000 cubic meters) of snow on nearby mountains in case it is needed for the Olympics.

From the video transcripts:

  • mega events are usually ephemeral, which means it is only a fixed period of time where it can experience a mega event
  • they usually draw large amounts of spectators coming to the city plus a large global media audience
  • Maurice Roche: mega-events “are large scale cultural events which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal, and international significance”
  • they usually cost billions of dollars, with the preparations for the bids alone frequently exceeding millions
  • infrastructure has to get invested, operations have to run smoothly during the event in addition to security spending, preparations for the athletes
  • Why undertake such a massive investment? Why engage with so many people over a very short period of time? Why do something so significant, when it only lasts a short while?
  • Who controls the event, who makes decisions about the event, where it’s held, how it’s held? Who decides who participates?
  • the costs and who pays those costs, also consider who ultimately benefits
  • many cities that host the Winter Olympics are small and have a problem of handling capacity, providing accommodation and transportation and managing the venues
  • frequently, Winter Olympics have spread out venues across surrounding mountains, unlike most Summer Olympics, which are fairly concentrated
  • there is a high cost per resident of hosting the Winter Olympics, so there is need to look at what value is generated from the investment
  • another issue for the Winter Olympics is weather – will there be sufficient snow to host the event successfully?
  • Sochi is expected to spend more than 51 billion dollars on the event, which makes it the most expensive Olympics ever held.
  • the Sochi Olympics will draw 2,500 athletes from 88 countries who will participate in 98 events over 15 different sports
  • the Sochi Olympics start on February 6th but the opening ceremony is on February 7th
  •  the venues are determined by the Sochi Organizing Committee and are located in two clusters – the coastal cluster for ice arena events, which are very conveniently located, and a mountain cluster 48km from Sochi in the mountains, connected by a train system costing more than the entire Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

Module 2: symbols and ceremonies

Discusses the different symbols used by the Olympics, such as the Olympic rings, anthem, and motto, as well as the different ceremonies and rituals we’ve come to expect from a mega event, such as the torch relay (Sochi torch relay) and the opening ceremony.


  • the Olympic flag, showing five rings on a white background, was first flown at the Antwerp games in 1920; the flag was taken from the event by American diver Harry Prieste and returned to the IOC in 1997
  • the Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius = Swifter, Higher, Stronger; the Sochi Olympics also has a motto: Hot. Cool. Yours.
  • the theme for the Olympics is Bugler’s Dream
  • the logo for the games uses the URL of; it is the first time an Olympics has used a URL as its logo; the image combines the domain name for the Olympics, the Olympic Rings, and a very dramatic image of the mountains and sea, part of the long term branding strategy of Sochi as a resort — both summer and winter — connecting the Black Sea with the mountains behind; Sochi is also using special logos for each sport, often found on schedules, tickets and venues to identify events
  • torch relay – established for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and used to promote the event and for political purposes to link Germany to Greece and connect the two as promoting the values of western civilisation; for the Summer games the torch is lit using sunlight in Olympia, Greece, but for the Winter Games the source is only occasionally Olympia; the Winter torch has been lit several times in Morgedal, Norway; in 1956 it was lit in Rome for the Cortina d’Ampezzo games; the Sochi Relay lasts 123 days, involves 14,000 runners and covers 65,000 km; the flame is protected with four back up flames, and has been carried on aircraft, under water and into space; the torch relay follows a route determined by the host; Beijing took the torch around the world for the 2008 Olympics, while Russia is keeping the route of the flame within the country; after the protests that followed the 2008 relay, relays since then focus on a domestic path to the Olympics; the torch relay is scheduled so the flame arrives during the opening ceremonies and is usually accompanied with a spectacular lighting ceremony; the torch burns for the entire period of the games and is extinguished as part of the closing ceremony
  • the torch is increasingly seen as a spectacular feature where countries try to find inaccessible places and spectacular ways of carrying the flame; it has been into space, to the depths of the ocean, to Mt Everest, it was carried underwater on the Great Barrier Reef as part of the Sydney Olympics; now used to connect the domestic audience to the event, rather than as an international feature

Opening ceremony:

  • challenges the host to provide a spectacular start to the event, given a history of spectacular Olympic openings
  • hosts capitalise on one of the largest media markets possible as the opening reaches billions of viewers globally
  • the parade of athletes is always led by Greece, with the host nation appearing last
  • the order of countries is determined by the alphabet of the host, so in Sochi the order of countries will be according to names in the Cyrillic alphabet
  • reflections on past games, athletes and achievements show how important the spirit of the event can be
  • what is your interpretation of the ceremony and the messages that Russia and the Olympics is presenting to a global audience – how will viewers interpret the messages, and will we see the message the same way as intended? 
  • how do you feel your country is presenting itself in the march of athletes; what do the uniforms say about our countries, and what message can a uniform state?
  • the live broadcast for many parts of the world will be starting in the middle of the night or ending at odd hours making it difficult to for viewers to watch, but there is something compelling about being able to watch a live event with the rest of the world at the same time
  • the United States is not broadcasting the opening ceremonies live; it will be packaged and presented later in the day as evening, prime time broadcasting content; so for many Americans, it will not be possible to watch the opening ceremonies live; how will the live presentation of the opening ceremony differ from the prime time, evening presentation; what do audiences expect and what do broadcasters feel is most appropriate or of interest to the United States audience?
  • closing ceremony showed humor – riffed on the non-opening ring

There are few events that unite the world at the same time, and the opening ceremonies of the Olympics represents an opportunity for people all over the world to share the same experience. The televised opening ceremonies share a common video feed with each broadcaster adding their own narration. This means that we will all see the same images at the same time. This rare occurrence is an excellent time for viewers all over the world to share their thoughts about the event, and to provide different perspectives on the event–>Twittah!

Module 3:  how cities bid for the Olympics, the finances of the games, and what the money pays for

What does it take to plan a mega event? What did it take to plan for Sochi? How host cities like Sochi approach the bidding process the International Olympic Committee sets forth. The preparation, spanning from finance to the infrastructures and so forth.

Module 4: the people of the Olympics, in particular the athletes and events, with some thoughts about being a spectator

The experience of athletes and spectators at the various sporting events and in the venues, highlighting some of the new sports that and covering some notable past events.

Some concern over snow quality and warmer weather this week, but the facilities and organisation so far have been successful, with strong athlete approval for most venues.

Module 5: the legacy

Did it benefit the host? Did it benefit the residents? Who won? Who lost? How does this event spread out across the nation? How are movements of these wins traced throughout the continent? Do they have different impacts? Why do they have different impacts?

What happens when everything is over – legacies, spanning everything from short to long term outcomes, what impacted societies experience, what happens to the infrastructures that were built. What happens to a host city after a mega event? How often are the venues used?

Mitt Romney on limiting Olympic excess: “government personalities are promoting themselves and their country with someone else’s money…[they] don’t have to stick to a budget. If something costs more than planned, well, they just spend more…Waste is harm…harm occurs when a country spends more than it can afford to keep up appearances with the big spenders. Harm occurs when a country is excluded from hosting an Olympics because it can’t afford the fabulous frills. And harm occurs when the world’s poor look in anguish at the excess…the IOC should set budget limits for an Olympics and award the Games only to countries that demonstrate that they will live within them…the analysis will consider the pre-existing presence of transportation infrastructure and sport venues, among other features…for the host country, the Olympics is not about commerce; it is about service — serving the people of the world.”

Legacy links:

From London 2012:

Ran out of time on this one, but interesting to come back to for Glasgow 2014, and to wrap up Eurovision 2014.

Updates: some Glasgow 2014 links: The ConversationGlasgow weighs its legacy. See also Jonathan Gardner, undertaking an archaeological examination of mega-events in London, 1851-2012, and London’s Olympic legacy three years on…2016: Forgotten medals awarded for the arts (again)…Rio’s Olympic architectureThe Urbanist takes us up to Rio and beyond…2017: London Olympic Park update plus Diamond Geezer’s take


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