Culture @ the Olympics
issues, trends and perspectives


Hosting major events
Lessons from Salt Lake 2002 Beatriz García and Andy Miah

With the memories of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games still fresh in peoples’ minds, there is an expectation that a megaevent is a city’s golden ticket to global stardom and economic development. Yet, the benefits of such investments are often far more difficult to realise.
Despite Sydney’s successes, facilities are now losing money and there is little indication that Australia’s indigenous communities are receiving any greater sympathies within the national and local government. Now with the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City complete, potential event host cities have a different example to learn how they can develop their staging strategy. With an organising committee dedicated to interacting with the local communities, Salt Lake City has met the challenge of reaching a sensitive balance between locality and nationalism. Also, a realistic approach to the long

term interests of the place has resulted in a careful investment in infrastructures.

Overcoming bad press
Although the Salt Lake Games have been accompanied by controversies since their very inception, the local support for hosting the world Olympics within the state of Utah has been remarkable. In 1998, Salt Lake had to face international criticism due to the irregularity of the bid process that led to their receiving the rights to host the 2002 Winter Games. This resulted in the major crisis that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced in subsequent years. More recently, the challenge of “nine, eleven,” US speak for September 11th, has raised significant fears in the national and international community for flying to, or within, the States during any high-profile event. Yet, the Games organisers have been able to sustain the support and enthusiasm of the local community and project a feeling of integrity and safety for its

Culture @ the Olympics, 2002: vol. 4, issue 1, pp. 1-3


Olympic visitors. Despite the recent headlines of ‘FBI red alerts’ and ‘4 military personnel to each athletes’, walking around the streets of Salt Lake during Olympic fortnight was a quite comfortable experience.

Locality vs. Nationalism?
Another of the major challenges for SLOC was to try and negotiate a desire to express national values while realising that September 11 has made it problematic to propagate nationalism.

Community Involvement
A factor for the success in Salt Lake City was the community involvement, which was evident on most streets and in the Olympic venues. In particular, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) worked towards ensuring a wide range of free activities. Beyond the traditional Olympic ‘Plazas’ and street entertainment, a major innovation was to alter the medal’s ceremony. In this edition of the Games, Olympic champions received their medals in a special ‘Medals Plaza’ in a central arena, rather than at the given sporting venue. For this, tickets were given to locals for free, to ensure that everybody within the region could experience the Games. As well, SLOC ensured an extensive network with local authorities, such as incorporating County representatives within its Board of Directors. Beyond this, a focal point was the coordination and encouragement of the volunteers, recognised by many as the critical factor in hosting a successful mega-event.

The controversies surrounding the use of the World Trade Center flag within the opening ceremony might suggest that nationalism triumphed. Yet, a more balanced interpretation of the opening ceremony - recognised as one of the central vehicles of expressing the host city identity – reveals that the emphasis was on portraying the American West rather than the US per se. The focus was on the role of Native Americans, the Utah State pioneers, and the environment.

García and Miah, 2002: Lessons from Salt Lake City



Bidding for sporting events
In this respect, many lessons can be learnt for future sporting event bids. The Salt Lake Games have offered an example of an event that is comparable in size to a wide range of non-Olympic sporting events and that can indicate some ways of achieving the expression of local values. Currently, it would seem that the reference point for hosting a major event rests firmly with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Yet, an increasing number of critics are recognising that the example of Sydney cannot be followed. One of the more influential figures in this discussion is International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, who has been quoted on numerous occasions for saying that the Olympic Games need to be scaled down. ‘Smaller, not bigger’ is the message being sent out to the Olympic bidders. With this comes a greater challenge – to provide an event

that is also distinctive and unique. This realisation must transpire in its bid, rather than trying to emphasise that it will provide the biggest sports event ever. However, this requires a demonstrable commitment to local people and accepting that it is them that will make the event an international success. It is becoming clear that hosting a major event is only part of the challenge to ensure a long-term legacy of success. After the twoweeks of sports and festival, the city of Salt Lake will be left with a major challenge to translate that big party into not only a revitalised tourist destination but also a great place for the locals to live and work in. Great facilities and a spectacular fireworks display may have been a popular way to generate local excitement and positive media coverage, but the long term legacy of the experience is more likely to be an effect of the care placed into establishing more meaningful and, for the most part, smaller scale programmes of community-oriented activity.

García and Miah, 2002: Lessons from Salt Lake City