Big Sports Have Big Environmental and Social Consequences.

Date22 March 2020
AuthorWarren, Gina S.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT 495 I. INTRODUCTION 497 II. THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT 499 A. "I Coulda Been a Contender ? 500 1. The Energy/Environmental Footprint 500 2. Social Externalities 505 3. Sidestepping Community Participation and Debate and the "Emergency" Mindset 506 III. CURRENT FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABILITY 508 A. Corporate Social Responsibility Measures in the Sports Industry 509 B. International Framework 512 C. Improving Socio-Economic Conditions 513 D. Conservation and Management of Resources for Sustainable Development 514 E. Strengthening the Role of Major Groups 515 IV. TWO NOTEWORTHY CULPRITS RESULTING IN A LACK OF LOCAL CONTROL 516 A. The Emergency Mindset 516 B. Event Seizure 517 V. CREATING A PREEMPTIVE LEGAL FRAMEWORK 519 A. Full Disclosure and Transparency of Process and Information 522 B. True Community Involvement in the Decision-Making Process 522 C. Ongoing Communication 522 D. Commitment to Sustainability 522 E. Longevity of Community Investments 523 F. Procedural Mechanisms 523 VI. CONCLUSION 523 "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."1


    Mega sporting events--like the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, and the Super Bowl--promise fame and fortune to the host cities, with the lure of funding for new infrastructure and community projects and a boost in tourism for the event and beyond. Just as the athletes compete in their sport's biggest showcase, cities dream of urban revitalization, an improved economy, and a better quality of life for residents. Past experience has shown, however, that host cities do not always reap the benefits of these events. Instead, these events can generate significant environmental and social consequences.

    The environmental consequences involve everything from building new stadiums, hotels, parking lots, and other infrastructure to handling the sanitation from all those toilets. Carbon emissions that contribute to climate change are also a serious concern. While some organizers tout policies for offsetting carbon emissions generated by an event, those policies provide little comfort in a time when the world needs to reduce carbon emissions, not just offset extra carbon being generated by an event. Further, the offsets do not account for heaps of trash and food waste, energy consumption to power the stadium, water consumption for toilets, and irrigating fields and nearby areas.

    The social consequences are equally significant, including everything from social segregation to a failure to follow the rule of law. The ambition of hosting a mega sporting event encourages cities to relax their rules for urban development and restructuring. This may be because of the short timeframe for hosting the event, or it may be that cities receive significant internal and external pressure to satisfy their obligations for the event. For example, in the run up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, "flash votes" were held without the usual mandatory public debate, resulting in the demolition of two national historical structures. This disregard for community involvement is especially egregious when much of the cost for these events is borne by public funding. Further adding insult to injury, most local residents cannot afford to attend these mega events, which are marketed toward the elite foreign traveler.

    Little legal framework exists to regulate these transient pop-up cities created by mega sporting events. While there are a handful of United Nations treaties on sports, mostly recognizing the general right to participate in and have access to sporting and recreational events, no international treaty addresses the social, economic, and environmental externalities of these temporary events.2 The closest is Agenda 21, adopted by United Nations member nations in I992 (and adopted by the International Olympic Committee in I999), which provides a general framework for environmental sustainability through improved socioeconomic conditions, conservation, and management of resources and strengthened community participation. (3) Agenda 2I does little, however, to address the unique temporary nature of mega sporting events.

    It is time to more holistically address the negative consequences. So what might work? One possibility is using social licenses, a concept that originated with mining and energy industries operating in developing nations. After unbridled environmental damage--and the ensuing reputational hits--during the I990s, the World Bank encouraged mining and energy industries to use social licenses. These social licenses, which are essentially ongoing agreements with local governments and other stakeholders to indicate local acceptance of a project, helped identify and address concerns about the environmental and human cost of the transitory mining and drilling activities.

    Over the last few decades, societies around the globe have begun to shift to more informed and involved decision-making, with an eye toward sustainable practices. Social licenses are part of that shift, legitimizing stakeholder decisions and providing a framework for managing expectations. This Article will explore the benefits of social licenses, but ultimately argues for adoption of a more substantive legal framework that cities can rely upon to encourage a fair allocation of the benefits and costs associated with the event. Establishing a legal framework would help avoid event seizure and emergency-type behavior that create significant social and environmental harms to host cities.

    Part II will discuss the allure of mega sporting events and how reality is far from the illusion of splendor. While most cities believe that a sporting event will bring them fortune and prosperity, in most instances it only brings hardship and harms--particularly to the lowest socio-economic groups.

    Part III will review the current framework for sustainability, which includes corporate social responsibility measures implemented by some sporting associations and an optimistic international framework that was adopted by the International Olympics Commission, which has fallen short in its efforts.

    Part IV will analyze the two main culprits that have aided in generating the greatest social and environmental harms to local communities. First, it will discuss the "emergency mindset" utilized by sporting associations and local politicians to sidestep protective legal mechanisms. Second, it will outline what has been termed "event seizure" and discuss how outside forces have reached in to take control to impair local community benefits and inclusiveness.

    Part V posits the idea of adopting elements associated with social licenses to operate previously utilized by the mining and fossil fuel industries when extracting minerals in emerging countries. This Section sets forth recommendations for a preemptive legal framework to combat against the environmental and social harms outlined in this Article. Some of the key elements of the legal framework include full disclosure and transparency of process and information; full community involvement in the decision-making process; ongoing communication and commitment to sustainability; and longevity of community investments plus a procedural mechanism to ensure the current ruling regime adheres to all legal provisions.

    Part VI concludes that mega sporting events have created serious environmental and social harms to citizens within the host cities and encourages potential host cities to consider implementing a framework that will provide some level of structure if and when their city becomes the next mega event host.


    "Since time immemorial, people have entertained themselves with sports. Sports are emblematic of health, with the best matches played by athletes in peak physical form." (5) Just as mega sporting events showcase athletes, host cities hope to show the world their own vitality and their top physical form. Past experience, however, has shown that host cities do not always benefit from hosting these events and can instead be burdened by significant negative social, economic, and environmental externalities.

    Major cities around the globe covet the opportunity to host mega sporting events. Scholarship in the fields of psychology and sociology suggest that the cities are seeking two major forms of benefit: investments and urban (re)development. (6) They dream of urban revitalization, an improved economy, and an improved quality of life for their citizens. (7) In fact, mega sporting events do tend to channel investment into the city either through outside private investments from multi-national corporations or through governmental spending of public funds. (8) Either way, the event promises to act as a catalyst to build long overdue transportation systems, parks, schools, and hospitals, (9) "provid[ing] a stream of future benefits to local populations." (10) Unfortunately, even as event organizers profess sustainable community initiatives, "[ilntent and implementation aren't one and the same" and all too often cities and organizers fall short in their obligations. (11)

    1. "I Coulda Been a Contender " (12)

    1. The Energy/Environmental Footprint

      Environmentally, large sporting events generate a huge footprint in terms of their use and abuse of natural resources. (13) Carbon emissions generated by the event can be substantial, leading some organizers to purchase carbon offsets in an attempt to mediate the damage. (14) Even though "[o]ffsetting carbon emissions from spectator events is a noble gesture," (15) in a time when the world needs to reduce carbon emissions, it is little comfort to announce that an event is offsetting the extra carbon being generated. The main event also results in large amounts of spectator-related trash and food waste, increased energy consumption, (16) and water...

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