The ethical dilemma of encouraging citizen participation in mega sport event planing: the case of the London 2012 Olympic Games

Sarah Snell, Eleni Theodoraki, Paul Barron, Tijana Rakic

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Mega sporting events have been shown to produce negative impacts, particularly on the host communities, in the location(s) where they are staged. This is, in part, due to the large scale development and regeneration associated with the planning and staging of these events in general and of the Olympic Games in particular (Horne, 2007; and Smith, 2009). A possible method of impact alleviation, such as the use of citizen participation strategies (see: Arnstein, 1969 and Tosun, 2006), is presented as a way to gather community views on mega event planning, thus minimising negative impacts associated with the event and potentially galvanising community support for its associated development.
Underpinned by a constructivist approach, this paper discusses the findings of primary research conducted during the planning stages of the London 2012 Olympic Games by the lead author. In particular, it draws on the findings from 11 semi structured interviews conducted with local community representatives and other stakeholders, as well as findings stemming from London 2012 Olympic Games related document analyses.
Whilst initial findings suggests that participative strategies undertaken by organisers provide benefits for those who participate and encourage positive sentiment towards the event, a deeper exploration of the findings highlights the lack of power of the community members to affect significant change in the planning process. Despite the well thought out and organised nature, citizen participation initiatives led by event organisers did not appear to have provided local communities with positive outcomes or a strong voice in the planning process, at least as far as the London 2012 Olympic Games were concerned. This is partly due to the lack of recognition of the host community as one of the key stakeholders which inevitably led to a low level of stakeholder power in London 2012 Olympic Games related discussions. Alongside this, a lack of opportunity to participate in debates relating to the planning of facilities needed for the staging of the event, paints an image of a less than successful participative planning process.
Whilst the benefit of citizen participation in planning has been discussed by academics (Arnstein, 1969; Hall, 1989; and Tosun, 1999, 2006), and is seen as positive for the community and those who take part, scholarly discourse on the subject also notes that participants must possess a certain level of power within the process in order to achieve meaningful participation (Arnstein, 1969). The findings of this research support these claims and identify the varied levels of power that community members have been able to achieve as well as influences that their involvement has created throughout the planning process. These findings inevitably lead to the discussion of the challenges as well as ethical dilemmas involved in encouraging citizen participation in mega sports event planning, especially in the context(s) where participants within the process lack the needed levels of power to make a significant influence on the event planning related decision making processes.

Arnstein, S. (1969) ‘A ladder of citizen participation’, Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35(4), pp.216 – 224.
Hall, C.M. (1989) ‘Hallmark tourist events: analysis, definition, methodology and review’, In Syme, G., Shaw, B., Fenton, D., and Mueller. W. (eds.) (1989) The planning and evaluation of Hallmark events. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp.3-19
Horne, J. (2007) ‘The four ‘knowns’ of sports mega-events’, Leisure Studies 26 (1), pp. 81-96.
Smith, A. (2009) ‘Theorising the relationship between Major Sport Events and Social Sustainability’, Journal of Sport and Tourism 14 (2), pp.109-120.
Tosun, C. (1999) ‘Towards a typology of community participation in the tourism development process’, International journal of tourism and hospitality 10, pp. 113-134.
Tosun, C. (2006) ‘Expected nature of community participation in tourism development’, Tourism Management 27, pp.493-504.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2016
Event8th International Sports Business Symposium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Duration: 16 Aug 201617 Aug 2016


Conference8th International Sports Business Symposium
CityRio de Janeiro


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