GaWC Research Bulletin 100

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This Research Bulletin has been published as chapter 8 in JR Short (2004) Global Metropolitan: Globalizing Cities in a Capitalist World London: Routledge, 86-108.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Going for Gold: Globalizing the Olympics, Localizing the Games

J.R. Short*


This papers discusses the siting of the Summer Olympic Games at the global, national and local scales. The increasing coporatization of the Games is examined. Their use in city marketing campaigns is evaluated. The increasing competition between cities to host the Games is part of the growing competition between world cities for global spectacles.

The modern Summer Olympic Games are global spectacles, national campaigns and city enterprises. They are "glocal" events of national significance. Quite literally, these events "take place." Their spatial location is the subject of debate, dispute and contestation. To see them as spatial projects, however, is not to abstract them from wider economic and political issues; rather, it is to ground our understanding of the Games in a wider geopolitics and a broader geo-economics. Four theoretical concerns inform and guide the discussion: the issue of scale, the matter of globalization, the complex role of the state and the role of world cities.

The issue of scale: A number of writers have drawn attention to the scalar dimension of understanding space and place (Brenner, 2001; Smith, 2000). Processes operate at a variety of scales: investment patterns, for example, simultaneously reconfigure the global economy, impact national economies and reshape regional production complexes. Specific places, in turn, are both the setting and outcome of various scalar processes including global shifts in investment, national forms of regulation and local cultures of identity. We can theorize social processes as operating at various spatial scales, while we visualise space as embodying these multi-scalar processes and enacting inter-scalar connections. The processes and outcomes at particular scales elide and collide in complex patterns of cause and effect. I have chosen to look at the Games since they highlight this scalar complexity, occupying as they do global, national and urban spaces..

The matter of globalization: In recent years there has been a growing interest in the process and consequences of globalization. The existence, extent, meaning and measurement of economic, political and cultural globalization have provided a rich and argumentative agenda for contemporary social theorising (Short, 2001). A discussion of the Games provides an opportunity to consider a very concrete example of globalization. The Games not only actualise some of the forces and many of the paradoxes of globalization, they also exemplify the complex intersections of cultural and political, as well as the more commonly studied, economic globalization. A deeper understanding of globalization demands both a theoretical and empirical grasp of the connections between the global and the local. The term glocalization has been used to indicate this connection. The Olympic Games are a classic example of glocalization.

The complex role of the state: Simplistic notions of the nation-state as overwhelmed by the forces of globalization, the so-called "hollowing out" of the nation, increasingly are superseded by more sophisticated models of the enduring yet protean state in a rapidly globalizing world (Swyngedouw, 2000). Today's state is a complex entity, with national, regional and local forms of articulation that may have different global connections. The Games provide an example of both the active participation of the state in a global project and the interactions between the national and local forms of the state.

World cities: Recent work has focussed on the role and importance of world cities (Beaverstock et al, 2000; Sassen, 1991) and especially on examining the connections between globalization and world cities (Short and Kim, 1999). There are many relationships between world cities and the Summer Olympic Games. Bidding and hosting the Olympic Games involves a rewriting and reshaping of the city (Andranovich et al, 2001). The Games provide an important platform for place marketing as cities seek to achieve international recognition and world city status.

These four theoretical strands are closely interwoven in the rest of the paper will explore some of these interconnections through an analysis of the siting of the Olympics at the global, national and urban scales.


The modern Olympic Games were inaugurated as a national political project. They were not devised to replace nationalism, but to channel it. The initiator of the modern Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), came from a wealthy French family, and his early interest in sport was situated in a particular class and gendered space and deeply embedded in national politics. He saw the 1870 French defeat in the Franco-Prussian conflict as a bitter blow to French self-esteem. Part of the reason for the defeat, he believed, was in large part due to the poor physical condition of the French troops, especially compared to the better-trained, fitter, German troops. His reorganization of French sport was an attempt to rebuild the physical fibre of young Frenchmen. He drew upon the sports at English public schools as one of his models for youthful, male athleticism..

His national concerns widened to the promotion of sport as a forum for peaceful internationalism. After reorganizing a number of French national sports associations, he established the Union des Societies Francaises de Sports Athletiques in 1890, in 1892 he revived the notion of the Olympics Games as a forum for international athletic competition. At the end of the nineteenth century, there were few international sporting organizations or events. Sports were organized along local and national lines. His proposal was part of a more general discourse of internationalism.

The embryonic internationalisation of sport arose from a wider context of both global international conflict and co-operation. From around 1870 to 1914, the period Gollwitzer (1969) refers to as the age of imperialism, there was both a more pronounced nationalism and a keen internationalism. There was growing rivalry between European powers and the US for overseas markets and global dominance. Economic and political rivalry reached its peak with the European partition of Africa and the US annexation of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The major powers were colliding in global space. However, there was also growing cooperation between countries as their increasing interaction in global space was also promoting shared projects of political and spatial management. Economic integration was increasingly manifest. It was a time of low tariffs, an international labor market and relatively free capital mobility. There was a wave of globalization as space-time collapsed with the railways, the telegraph and internationally organized postal unions. The period is marked by an internationalism, an era studded with international meetings, conferences, conversations and conventions that laid down international standards and arrangements. Four brief examples: First, at the Congress of Bern in 1874, 22 countries signed the International Postal Convention. That event set the stage for regular and cheap internal postal. Second, the International Workingmen's Association (the first from 1864-1876, the second from 1889-1919) was formed to give substance to international solidarity of the fledgling workers' movements. Third, the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 codified the international rules of war. And finally, in sports, FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) was formed in Zurich in 1904.

The resurgence of the Games was part of this wider and broader trend of internationalism. Coubertin believed that reviving the ancient games would counter the worst excesses of nationalism and provide a peaceful forum for international competition.


In its early years, this international project was limited as nationally organised sports were not then a global phenomenon. At the beginning of the twentieth century sports did not enjoy the exalted position it now holds. A key component of both globalization and nationalism, has been the general diffusion of nationally organized sports throughout the twentieth century. Sport has become an international phenomenon, a cultural form that transcends national language while also expressing national identity. The Olympics Games have done much to promote national sports organizations and especially participation in sports events represented in the Games. Sport, like English, has become a global language and globalization is embodied in such international sport practices as the Olympic Games.

An early limiting factor to the global diffusion of the Olympic Games was the cost and difficulty of international travel. Athletes had to pay their own way and the cost and time taken were often prohibitive. The 1904 Games held in St Louis were considered so far away that only 12 countries were involved and, of the 554 athletes, 432 came from the United States. The 1904 Games were for all intents and purposes, the US national games.

It took the US team 10 days to get to the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden and, in order to keep training during the long sea voyage, they built a 100 yard, cork running track and made a canvass swimming pool on board the ship. The Games only broadened as international travel become easier, quicker and less expensive. But even in 1932 the economic depression limited the participation in Los Angeles to less than half the athletes that had competed in Amsterdam in 1928. The costs of international travel were so prohibitive that the Japanese government offered to subsidize the travel of teams intending to visit the proposed 1940 Olympics in Tokyo.

The Coubertin international project was restricted to few countries, essentially the richer countries of Europe and the US. At the 1900 Games in Paris, only 26 countries competed. Throughout the twentieth century there has been a steady increase in the number of countries competing (see Table 1). The figure increased to 59 by the time of the London Games in 1948, and in Sydney in 2000 there were athletes from 199 countries. By the time of the Sydney Olympics, the Games had become truly global, and most countries of the world competed.

While the number of countries has increased the siting of the Games still reflects the Euro-US bias. Only 17 countries will have held the Games from 1896 to 2004, five of them twice; Australia, France, Germany Greece and UK. It was only in 1956 that the first Games were held outside of Europe and the United States. It was only in 1964 that the Games were held in Asia and of the 25 Games, up to Athens 2004, only 4 have been held outside Europe and North America. Beijing in 2008 will be only the third time that the Games will be held in Asia. Hosting the Games means either existing substantial or proposed infrastructural investments that only few countries in the world can afford or are willing to undertake.

The partial nature of the early Olympics was also due to differences in wealth. Athletes for the early Games had to pay their own way. Few could afford such expense. And even when the costs were borne by national committees, effective participation was limited by national wealth. At the first Olympics, there were only athletes from 14 countries. While the Games have broadened in participation, it is an unequal participation in two regards. First, some countries send more athletes than others. Sending athletes to the Olympic Games is an expensive undertaking and richer countries tend to send more than poorer countries. Second, while many countries compete, fewer succeed. Although there are exceptions, the richer countries still do better than the poorer countries. Richer countries can send more athletes and can afford the necessary expenditure in sports development and training that ensures success. Success at the Games reflects the profound global inequalities in wealth. Of the 927 medals won at the Sydney Games in 2000, just 5 countries won 357: US (96), Russia (88), China (59), Australia (58), and Germany (56). The nationality of medal winners reflects global differences in wealth; Europe and North America won the most medals, 463, or approximately 50%. Sub-African countries, in contrast won only 20 medals, or just over 2%. There are clearly some exceptions to this general rule. But first we have to factor in population size. The fact that the US, Russia and China win most of the medals is in part a function of population size. If we standardize for population size then a very different picture emerges. Table 2 lists the top ten countries ranked in terms of all medals per million population won at the Sydney Games. The data picks out very small countries that happened to win just one medal, such as Barbados and Iceland, as well as those small countries that picked up a lot of medals such as Australia and Cuba. In both of these countries there was a national commitment to sporting excellence and Olympic achievement. Australia also gained from home advantage. Given the relative poverty of Cuba, its medal tally is truly astonishing. The case of Cuba highlights the exception to the general rule that national wealth is a way to Olympic success. Countries either have to be wealthy to succeed and/or they need to devote significant resources to selected Olympic sports. The UK, for example, which won only 15 medals in Atlanta, won 28 medals in Sydney. In between these two Games, the British Government spent almost $1.5 billion on Olympic athletes.

Success at the Olympic Games reflects wealth and national spending on sports. Countries with few resources and little spending are less successful. And even when athletes from poor countries achieve success it often comes after using the training and coaching facilities in the richer parts of the world. Even as participation in the Games becomes more global, success at the Games becomes more uneven. In effect, the Games reinforce the unequal distribution of resources in the world by the unequal participation of different countries and their unequal success in standing on the medal podium.


The Olympic Games, both in terms of organization and pariticpation, was as a creature of its origins, organized along elitist, masculinist principles. In order to minimize nationalism in the running and organization of the Olympic Games, Coubertin established an International Olympic Committee (IOC) chosen by invitation from a small pool of rich, white men. It was consciously insulated from any electoral process. This Committee was and remains the principle governing body of the Olympic Games. The early members were either rich, titled or well-connected. Preferably all three. Members were expected to pay their own travel expenses and make a financial contribution to running the IOC. In 1896 the IOC consisted of 15 men from only 13 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Bohemia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and USA. The members included a Duke, a Lord, a Baron, a Count, a General and a Major. Over the years the IOC membership increased but scarcely broadened. By the time of the 1948 Games in London the IOC had increased to 66 men from 41 countries. The membership had widened but only insofar as it now included a Duke, a Marquis, two Lords, two Barons, two Sirs, five Counts, three Princes, two Generals, a Pasha and a Raja. By 2002 the membership had widened to 123 members from 82 countries. There was now only a smattering of the titles; a Princess, a Princess Royal, a Dona Infante and a Grand Duke. But still only seven women. Membership is dominated by the rich and the connected. The biographies listed at the IOC website reveal a membership dominated by rich business people: corporate lawyers, presidents of business groups and company directors figure largely (IOC, 2002). The IOC is not a representative body: it is a rich man's club in which personal and business connections wrap around Olympic business (Jennings, 1996; Jennings and Sambrook, 2000). One example: Juan Antonio Samaranch, from Barcelona, became President of the IOC in 1980. In October 1986 Barcelona was awarded the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. In 1987 he also became president of the largest Catalan financial institution La Caixa and three years later became president of the expanded institution, La Caja de Ahores de Barcelona.

While the discourse of democratisation has swept the world, the IOC remains largely insulated from democratic accountability. Along with the IMF, WTO and World Bank, the IOC stands as an important, undemocratic, unaccountable globalizing organization. There has been some minor reform in recent years, prompted by the scandals of corruption discovered in the bid of Salt Lake City, but the IOC remains an elitist organization. Headquartered in Lausanne Switzerland, it forms an unelected para-state, insulated from reform.

It is important to note that there were forms of international sporting organizations alternative to the original Olympics. Over 100, 000 saw the first Workers Olympics held in Frankfurt in 1925. These Worker Games were repeated in 1929, 1933 and 1937. But it was the other, more elitist, patrician organized games that became the dominant and eventually sole form of Olympic Games.


The Games were initially organized along exclusionary principles . They were biased in both class and gender terms. Coubertin drew upon the nineteenth-century, English, Victorian, bourgeois depiction of sport as a gentlemanly pursuit. The amateur code in England was explicitly defined to exclude the 'lower classes'. The English influence was also apparent in the fact that cricket was a recognized Olympic sport in the very first Olympics in 1896. When codified into the Olympic charter, athletes who were considered professional were banned from competition. The amateur code, in effect, operated against waged workers and lauded the athletic pursuits of the wealthy into a discourse of nobility and moral superiority. The exclusion was particularly effective in early Olympics. When it was discovered that Jim Thorpe the Decathlon Gold Medal winner in the 1912 Stockholm Games had been paid small amounts of money for playing baseball while on holiday three years earlier, he was stripped of his medal. It was awarded posthumously in 1983.

The strict amateur code began to break down as Olympic success necessitated full time training and commitment. It was no accident that the UK, where the amateur cult persisted longest had proportionately less Olympic success than either its population or national wealth would predict. In many countries, the definition of amateur became elastic. The entry of communist countries in 1952 redefined the meaning of amateur. From the 1950s onwards, the strict amateur code was more often breached than honoured and for many years, the Games became exercises in hypocrisy (Strenk, 1981). In 1978 a rule change in the Olympic Charter allowed athletes to earn endorsement money if the money was given to the National Olympic Committee or the appropriate International Sports Federation. The issue for the forward thinkers in the IOC, became not for or against commodification, but how much could be gained from the process. The ascendancy of Samaranch to the presidency of the IOC (a post he held until 2001) marked an increasing concern with the commercialization of the Olympic Games.

Only men competed in the first Games held in 1896. Drawing on the gendered English public school system, Coubertin saw no room for women in the Olympic Games. Women's participation had to be fought for and their representation has persistently lagged behind men's (see Table 1) with many events being closed to women. The evolution of the Games reveals a steady increase in women's participation, but these have been fought for, not given. Coubertin resisted female athletes; only a few female golfers and tennis players were allowed to compete in 1900, and female swimmers were only included in 1912. The refusal of the IOC to accept women's athletic participation at the 1920 Antwerp games led to a breakaway women's movement. Women's Olympic Games were held in Paris in 1922, seven countries attended and subsequent Women's Games were held in Gothenburg in 1926, Prague in 1930 and London in 1934. In order to get into the Olympics female athletes performed for IOC delegates in 1930. The American delegate noted:

I personally saw groups of young girls in the scantiest kind of clothing trotting around the fields or running tracks, engaging in 100 metre runs, taking part in the broad jump, and hopping about in all kinds of athletic and gymnastic movements, and to my direct statement as to whether or not such character of exercise was not bad for them, the answer was that on the contrary, it was good for them.

(Quoted in Guttman, 1992, pp 49).

Women's participation had to fight against such attitudes and even as late as the 1884 Games in Los Angeles, women's participation was only 22% of men's. By the 2000 Games this figure had increased to 38%

Race has played a complicated role in the Olympics. There never was an explicit race policy as there was for class and gender. The elitist nature of the early competitions would lend some credence to Cannadine's assertion that class as much as, if not more than, race and ethnicity was a key factor in the social distinctions in the imperial powers (Cannadine, 2001). But, while there was never any formal racial exclusion by the Olympics, the Games have often been racialized. At the 1912 Games the British press complained of the Negro and Indian athletes competing for the US. A Nazi commentator in the 1930s complained that modern sports was 'infested' with Frenchmen, Belgians, Pollacks, and Jew-Niggers' (quoted in Gutttman, 1992, pp. 54).

The infamous Berlin Games of 1936 espoused a philosophy of Aryan superiority. A boycott campaign was organized against German treatment of Jewish athletes in Canada, France, UK and US (Bachrach, 2000; Mandell, 1971). Despite the protests and obvious instances of Nazi repression and exclusion of Jewish athletes, the IOC continued to support holding the Games in Berlin. Coubertin gave a radio message in 1935 declaring his confidence in the Games and, in return, the Nazi regime nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. Pamphlets were written both for and against the boycott; but the IOC decided to go ahead with the Berlin Olympics.

There was never an IOC policy of exclusion by skin color. However, IOC policy towards South Africa reveals an interesting picture. South Africa was a member of the Olympic Movement but also practiced apartheid, which went against the Olympic code of equal access. The less than convincing defence of the South African National Olympic Committee (SANOC) in the early 1960s was that all the best athletes just happened to be white, a clear violation of Olympic principles. The IOC voted to suspend SANOC in June 1964 and South Africa was not allowed to send any athletes to the 1964 Games in Tokyo. The South Africans lobbied for a return and in 1968 the IOC dropped the suspension. The African countries promised to boycott the 1968 Games, a boycott that was supported by the USSR and many Eastern bloc countries. Consequently, the IOC quickly changed its votes and SANOC's suspension became an expulsion by a narrow margin of 35 to 29. At Montreal in 1976, athletes from 28 African countries were recalled because New Zealand, a participant in the Games, had played rugby against South Africa.


There is both an implicit and explicit corporatization of the Olympics. Implicitly, it occurs through the interlinked directorships and connections of the IOC members. Developers and financiers rather than minor royalty now make up the IOC and their business interests mesh seamlessly with their Olympics position (see Jennings 1996). The more explicit role of corporations in the funding and direction of the Games is often dated to the 1984 LA Olympics, but there is an even longer connection between the Games and commerce. The very first modern Games in 1896 relied upon a businessman, George Averoff, to finance the refurbishment of the Olympic stadium in Athens. In 1912 ten Swedish companies were given sole rights to the photographs of the Stockholm Games. The Rome Olympics had 46 private sponsors, and there were 168 official products at the Montreal Olympics. And even the 1980 Moscow Olympics endorsed 200 products. However, the role of corporate sponsorship changed dramatically in the 1984 Los Angeles. In order to defray the costs the Los Angeles Olympic Committee (LAOC) signed up 34 corporate sponsors including Coca Cola, Mars and Anheuser Busch. Each paid between $4 million and $15 million for the exclusive right to market their products with the Olympic logo. The LA Olympics turned a modest profit. It was not that sponsorship was new, but that it was more dominant in 1984. Prior to 1984 sponsorship never accounted for more than 10 % of total revenue. Los Angeles was the first truly corporate Games: 20% of total revenues of $1124 million came from corporate sponsors. It marked the beginning of an upward trend in corporate funding. In Atlanta, of the combined revenues of $1686 million, almost 30% came from corporate sponsorship.

The corporatization of the Games is both a cause and an effect of the growing costs of holding the summer Olympics. The cost of the Games has grown enormously. In 1960 Rome spent $50 million on public works, the Munich Olympics in 1972 cost $850 million, the 1976 Games in Montreal cost $1.5 billion and the cost of the 1980 Moscow Games range in estimate from $2 billion to $9 billion. Ticket sales and sales of the coins, stamps and official mascots--the traditional sources of revenue--failed to cover the spiralling costs. Corporate sponsorship along with television revenue provided the necessary revenue to host increasingly lavish Olympics.

The LA experiment was so successful that it became a model for a marketing program introduced by the IOC: The Olympic Program (TOP) drew up long-term agreements between the IOC and large corporations from different business sectors. The TOP sponsors for the period 2001 to 2004 are SchlumbergSema, McDonalds, Coca Cola, Panavision, Visa, Xerox, Time, Kodak, and John Hancock. Under the TOP agreements, the IOC receives long term financing while the sponsors get access to a world wide audience in an association with the Olympics, one of the most recognized and positively perceived 'brands' on the planet.

The corporatization has involved a narrowing of the business interests to a few giant, global corporations. In Montreal 742 enterprises advertised with the Olympic Games, by Sydney in 2000 this had fallen to less than 100. There has been a narrowing and deepening of corporate sponsorship. For the top corporate sponsors, the global coverage of the Olympics Games provides the opportunity to spread global recognition and appreciation of their products and services. The Games have become an important vehicle of economic globalization, a platform for the penetration of selected corporations into global markets and global consciousness.

The increasing importance of major corporations to the IOC has affected IOC policies. Their quick, although weak response, to the scandals emanating from the Salt Lake City corruption charges was in large part due to their need to reassure corporate sponsors. The Olympics is a brand with a high value because of its positive associations; corruption charges undermined the value of the brand. The corporate sponsorship has also influenced the siting of the Games. The major corporations have been very eager to get the Games into China as a strategy of promoting their products and name recognition to one of the largest faster growing markets in the world. Beijing came very close to getting the 2000 Games, which went to Sydney. From the corporate standpoint there are only 17 million consumers in Australia but over a billion in China. It came as a relief, but not much of a surprise, to the sponsors that Beijing was successful in landing the 2008 Games.


The first Olympic Games of the modern era took place in Athens in 1896 where an enthusiastic partisan crowd saw 311 participants, all men, from just 13 countries compete. It was an important national event, but it had limited international impact. It took a long while for the Games to become global spectacles and the process is intertwined with development of mass media, particularly television.

The press always reported the Games, but the coverage was initially slight. In 1928 the UK Daily Express noted, "The British nation, profoundly interested in sports, is intensely uninterested in the Olympics (Guttman, 1992, pp.48). It is impossible to think of a British or indeed almost any national newspaper repeating this assertion today.

Media coverage increased by the 1920s as the Games grew in scope. There were 700 news reporters at the LA Games in 1932. The Nazis, always intensely aware of the power and significance of spectacle, gave the 1936 Games the first multimedia coverage. There was television transmission to 25 TV halls in Berlin and short-wave radio broadcasts to 40 counties. An official movie was made. The in-house Nazi cinematographer, the immensely gifted Leni Riefenstahl, paid homage to the physicality of the event in the film Olympia that was released in 1938.

There were no cameras at Melbourne in 1956 because the TV companies refused to pay for what they regarded as public property. Avery Brundage, at that time the IOC President, remarked, 'the IOC has managed without TV for sixty years and believe me- we are going to manage for another sixty'. The remark did not prove to be prescient. After Melbourne television coverage became an integral element of the Games.

The growth of the games and their increasing globalization was connected closely to television coverage that could transmit the images worldwide. For the 1960 Rome Games, CBS paid $660,000 for the right to fly film from Rome to New York, while Eurovision transmitted the first live coverage of the Games. The Italian IOC earned $1.2 million from the deal. There has been a steady increase in the coverage ever since. Only 21 countries saw television coverage of the Rome Games, but by Atlanta in 1996, this had increased to 214. Few countries in the world are unable to see the Summer Olympics. More than 3.7 billion people watched the Sydney Olympics from 220 countries. The typical viewer watches the Games 11 times, resulting in a combined viewing audience estimated at 36 billion. Selling television rights has become an increasingly important part of funding the Games. In Munich in 1972 less than 10% of the revenue of the Games came from television companies, but by Atlanta in 1996 this had increased to almost 40%. The absolute amounts have grown on average 30% each Olympiad, from $40 million in 1972 to $556 million in Atlanta. In a package deal, the NBC paid $3.5 billion to cover the Sydney Olympics, Athens, and Beijing as well as the winter Games of 2002 and 2006. Television revenues currently provide 55% of all IOC's marketing revenue. US TV companies, in particular, account for 60% of the total world-wide rights. The Summer Games are now thoroughly corporatized, providing a huge global audience of consumers and a global opportunity to sell goods and services around the world.

The notion of the Games as global spectacle needs to be treated with some care since the Games are seen differently in different parts of the world. Apart from the Opening and closing ceremonies most national audiences see different Games (Tomlinson, 1996). To be in the USA or Hungary and see the Games is to see very different Games. You can see hours of fencing in Hungary, for example while this scarcely merits much attention in the US. People in different countries quite literally see different Olympics as their coverage concentrates on their national teams and representatives.

Increasingly, the television producers have crafted individual stories of specific athletes to add human interest and wider appeal, resulting in longer average viewing. Within this general framework, the coverage of the Games varies around in the world. Likely British medallists, for example, are given extensive coverage in the UK, while the US television coverage is both national and market-driven. Potential US medallists are likely to attract a wider TV audience, but so are sports 'personalities' from other countries. Uplifting tales of redemption, narratives of recovering from adversity and tales of human drama may also receive full coverage. US television coverage is not only nationally biased, but also market biased. Thus, women's gymnastics receives more coverage than boxing in the US even when the national boxing teams are doing better than the national gymnastics team, because more people with higher spending patterns watch gymnastics more than boxing. Ever since Olga Korbut's performance in Munich, women's gymnastics have been a firm favourite of US television coverage.

The coverage of the spectacle is also programmed for maximising audiences. Apart from the opening and closing ceremonies, fewer and fewer events are covered in real time, and it is not simply because of the time differences between different parts of the world. We were reminded of this in the 1996 Atlanta Games when the US women's gymnastics team were successfully competing for a medal in the team event. The competition, conveniently scheduled for prime time Saturday night seemed to the television audience a long drawn out event, lasting over three hours to a medal climax at around 11 pm EST. Even for viewers in the same time zone, the coverage had been delayed and extended to maximize the TV coverage and hence the viewing audience's exposure to adverts. Long after the 'real time' event had finished the television 'event' was still running its long course with incessant advertisements.

In their detailed study of Olympic television coverage McCollum and McCollum (1981) showed that over 55 minutes of advertising was shown during five hours of coverage. Only 24% was devoted to sports, while 61% was devoted to network adverts, personal interviews and reruns. They described the coverage as 'commercials, network program plugs, and a continual stream of nonsports features and interviews'. The Olympic Games are a global spectacle perhaps, but a nationally biased, commercially driven global spectacle.


The IOC and major media present the Olympics as a 'pure' global event above national politics and grubby commerce. The dominant narrative is of an event born in purity and full of innocence. National politics and commercial considerations are often contrasted to the mythical narrative of the sacred quality of the Olympic tradition, and the pure Olympic ideal. This attempted distancing of the Olympics from the mundane world of politics and money is fictitious but nevertheless an important Olympic myth. There never was any innocence (see Espy, 1979; Hargreaves, 1986; Hill, 1992; Tomlinson and Whannel, 1984). But this still leaves the question of why and how this discourse persists. It exists in part because we want it to be true. In a rapidly changing world where commerce and politics produce a necessary pragmatism it is important to have an unchanging reference point. The more things are changing the more important it is to have a fixed perspective. A once pure Games is a case in point. In part, it also exists because it is a message reinforced by those selling the Games at the global, national and local levels. As the world becomes more politicized and more commercial the 'purity' of the Games becomes an important political and commercial product.


The internationalization of sports and the creation of a global community is embodied in the growing importance of the Olympics Games, However, the Games also reinforce nationalism. The Games are not simply the arena for international sports competition but also the embodiment of national differences. The Games exaggerate as well as channel nationalism.

The principal organizing framework of the Games is national. In the very first modern Games people could enter as individuals, but since 1912, each competitor is part of a national team. Only athletes chosen by national Olympic organizations can compete. National representation has been the dominant semiotics of the Games: athletes represent specific countries, they must wear national uniforms; in the opening ceremony athletes enter as members of a national team, and medal winners are rewarded with the raising of their national flags and the playing of their national anthems. The Games are a ritualised nationalism made vivid when winners run round around the stadium holding aloft their national flag. The Games intensify national feelings rather than transcend them.


The Games provide a bridge between the nation-state and the international community. Hosting the Games has become an often used and well-recognised form of redemption. There are a number of cases where hosting the Games have been used by countries either previously excluded or marginalized. After the First World War, Germany was not invited to participate in the Antwerp games of 1920 nor the Paris Games of 1924. In 1931 the IOC awarded the 1936 Games to Germany in large part due to the influence and lobbying of two influential German sports leaders, Theodor Lewald and Carl Diem, who were eager to relocate Germany in the international community. Subsequent political upheavals in Germany resulted in the Nazi Olympics of 1936. Germany was again successful in re-establishing international credibility when it was awarded the 1972 Games. Other former Axis powers have also cemented their post-war international citizenship; the Rome and Tokyo Games of 1960 and 1964 involved the rehabilitation of national reputations sullied by their Axis involvement in the Second World War.

Hosting the Games is also a platform for the internationalization of the nation-state. The Seoul Games of 1988 were explicitly used by the South Korean government to internationalize the society as well as to give a stamp of international approval to an emergent power. And the 2001 awarding of the 2008 Games to Beijing, as well as China's entry into the World Trade Organization, marks the culmination of China's growing international involvement and global citizenship.

As the Games became more globally important, success in the Games became a recognisable element of national prestige. This was heightened during the Cold War, when not only competing countries were involved but also diametrically opposed political ideologies. From 1952 to 1988 Olympics Games were an important arena for Cold War politics. The Helsinki Games of 1952 marked the entry of the Soviet Union into the Olympic movement. From then until the Seoul Games of 1988, success in the Olympics was part of a broader ideological struggle. The USA and USSR competed to win the most medals as a form of political validation. It was not only the two superpowers that were involved. From 1972 until 1988, when East and West Germany were represented by two different teams, the East Germans in particular spent considerable sums and devoted considerable resources to achieving Olympic success. The few remaining Communist powers, China and Cuba, still devote much attention to Olympic participation and medal success as a form of political substantiation.

The goal of Olympic success was and is not restricted to one side of the Iron Curtain. Take the case of Australia. It was very successful in the early post-war Games and in the 1956 Games took a total of 35 medals (thirteen gold) and placed 3rd in the medal table. Australia defined itself in large part in terms of international sporting achievement (Magdalinski, 2000). The poor showing of Australia in the 1976 Games, where it won only 5 medals (none of them gold) and placed 24th in the medal table, stimulated a national debate that led to establishment of the Sports Institutes and considerable public spending on the training of elite athletes for Olympic success. The investment paid off. In 1996 Australia finished 12th in the medal table with 12 medals and in the 2000 Olympics, where home advantage was important, it was 4th in the medal table with 58 medals.

Participation and success in the Games is an important form of national prestige and standing. Success in the Games can become the basis for an important strand of national identity. For both Cuba and Australia, small countries with large Olympic success, Olympic participation and medal success have become a vital strand in their national identities and national representations. Sports cultures play an important role in national representations. Olympic success has become an integral part of how countries present themselves to other nations. National cultures are intimately connected to sporting achievements.

While participation in the Games is used to promote national prestige, non-participation is used to make national political statements and points in the international community. There were vigorous campaigns to boycott the 1936 Berlin Games in protest against the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. The boycott and the threat of boycott also became important elements of the post-war Olympics. Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq boycotted the 1956 Games in protest against the Anglo-Israel take over of the Suez Canal. The same Games were also boycotted by Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands to protest the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The threat of boycott by African and Eastern European countries in 1968 forced the expulsion of South Africa from the Olympic movement. Nineteen African countries as well as Guyana and Iraq boycotted the 1976 Games in protest against New Zealand, which had earlier that year played rugby against South Africa. The US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott included West Germany, China, Japan and Canada. In retaliation the USSR and Eastern bloc countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Boycotts mark much of the post-war era of the Games dominated by the issues of the Cold War and South Africa. In recent years, boycotts have declined. The main points of friction have dispersed. The Cold War has disappeared as a central political fracture while the Olympic racial divide has been softened by South Africa's move into a post apartheid state.


The relationship between the nation-state and the Olympic Games is complex because of the different levels of the state. In the Atlanta Games, for example, the US government had less of a role than the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia. In contrast, the 1988 Seoul Games featured the central state as a major player in the bidding for and hosting of the Games. The Munich Games of 1972 involved a concerted effort by the three levels of government, the federal government, regional government, and the city, which together bore the cost of the Games. In other cases, an uneasy compromise exists between the different levels. In the Barcelona Games of 1992, for example, the Catalan Government was eager to promote the Games as a Catalan event while the Spanish Government wanted some recognition that the event was taking place in Spain. In the Sydney Olympics of 2000, the New South Wales government was the most important state unit promoting and underwriting the Games. The federal and city governments had little say or influence. Different levels of the nation-state are involved in the summer Olympics depending on the political culture, federal arrangements and administrative structures of the hosy country and host city.

We can make a distinction between the state and the nation. The state is a formal political jurisdiction, while the nation is a group identity pertaining to specific territory. States may contain more than one nation. Dominant nations tend to monopolize nation-state representations, including when they host the Olympic Games. Throughout most of the history of the modern Games, states' minority nations were given little space to be represented. The 1936 Berlin Games, for example, presented the picture of an Aryan nation. However, in recent years, hosting the Games has allowed opportunities for different nations of a state to be represented. In the 1992 Games in Barcelona, for example, Catalan nationalism was an important part of the rhetoric of the Games. The Catalan national anthem was played at the opening ceremony, and both a Catalan and Spanish nationalism were employed in the presentation of the Games. In a mutually beneficial compromise between different parts of the nation-state; Catalan sensitivities were embodied into the Games while Spain was presented as a modern, liberal, pluralist democracy (see Hargreaves, 2000).

The success of the Barcelona Games was in part the "win-win-win" of the three scales of nation, state, and city. Spain enhanced its reputation as an efficient democracy, Catalonia got an economic boost and a sense of identity in the wider world, and Barcelona received an urban makeover and improvements in its infrastructure and global connections.

The 2000 Olympics featured national representations of indigenous Australians. The opening ceremonies privileged aboriginal cultural practices. The athletic success of Kathy Freeman provided an important peg in which to hang a number of narratives about the (changing) role of indigenous peoples in Australian society (Hanna, 1999). Compare this with the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne where there was but a single representation of Aboriginal Australia in an apparently otherwise all-Anglo society. More recent Games provide greater opportunities for wider, alternative national narratives.

The Games also may bind a country together. One of the most important rituals, first started by the Nazis in the 1936 Games, is the torch relay from Greece to the host country, culminating in the eventual entry into the stadium to coincide with the official opening ceremony of the Games. The torch's ritualised journeys throughout the country generate enthusiasm for the Games, prime commercial markets, and create spectacles of national cohesion and unity. As the torch crosses the country, it binds regional differences in a shared and common experience.


The summer Games are named after and take place in specific cities. Originally, Coubertin envisaged the Games for capital cities only. The capital-city fixation remains; of the 24 host cities from 1896 until 2000, 14 of them have been capital cities. Out of the first 7 games, only 2 took place outside a capital city.

The very first Games of the modern era were sited in Athens in order to forge the link with the idealized Games of the ancient world. The city did not welcome the Games. A wealthy Greek businessman reluctantly put up the money to restore the stadium. Soon, however, the early modern Games became an integral part of city boosterism and city image making. The second games, held in Paris in 1900, were associated with the Exposition Universelle, a world's fair. If the Olympic Games were the city spectaculars of the twentieth century then the world's fairs, beginning with the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, were the city spectaculars of the nineteenth century. There is a connection between the two spectacles. Coubertin visited Chicago's Columbian Exhibition in 1893, as an observer for the French Ministry of Education, and drew inspiration for hosting international events through his impressions. Two of the early Games overlapped in specific cities with world's fairs. The French government agreed to hold the 1900 Games in association with the planned world's fair. Their spatial arrangement revealed the relative prestige of the two events: the Exposition Universelle was in the centre of the city while the Olympic events were on the periphery. A few years later, the boosters of St Louis organised a world's fair with the new Games thrown in for added international appeal. The 1904 Summer Games was an extra attraction to the St Louis World's Fair.

With the first bid of the City of Los Angeles, the bidding to host the Games became more separated from national political considerations and included the hopes and aspirations of particular city regions. The city made a bid for the Games as early as 1923, initiated by an IOC member from Los Angeles, William May Garland. He was chairman of the local Community Development Association and worked closely with the city's business and political elite, especially Harry Chandler, owner of the LA Times. Garland was also president of the Chamber of Commerce, so the impetus for the Games came from local boosters, business leaders and real estate interests, a constellation of interests referred to as the "urban growth machine" (Molotch, 1993; Jonas and Wilson, 1999). The 1932 Games explicitly were employed to boost the city's image, economy and business fortunes. Proposed at the time of boom, they also were used to stimulate the local economy as the economic recession turned into the Great Depression. The real estate and building interests lobbied for an Olympic Village. Initiated as a building contract, the concept became part of the invented tradition of the modern Olympics, and now all summer Games consider an Olympic Village as part of the assumed infrastructural investment.

In the post-Second World War era, before the advent of substantial revenues from major corporate sponsoring and broadcasting rights, the cost of hosting the Games became a prohibitive factor in cities' bidding for the Games. The number of cities bidding for the summer Games declined. Only Los Angeles bid to hold the 1984 Games. The high cost of the Montreal Games exposed the stark contrasts between actual revenue and programmatic aspiration. On the one hand, corporate and broadcasting revenue was relatively small, only $35 million was received for the broadcasting rights. On the other hand, an expensive and lavish building campaign was undertaken. The net loss, including the cost of all infrastructural investments, has been estimated at $1228 million (in 1995 US$; see Preuss, 2000, pp 244). Local and regional taxpayers made up the loss.

Montreal marked a turning point of Olympian proportions. The fiscal experiences of the Montreal Olympics made many cities think twice before putting in a bid. Again, Los Angeles charted a new course. As the only city short-listed for the 1984 Games, it had a strong negotiating position with the IOC. For the first time a special arrangement was established so that city taxpayers would not be responsible for any deficit. The US Olympic Committee set up a private non-profit corporation, the Los Angeles Organizing Olympic Committee (LAOOC), to make the arrangements so that the city taxpayers were not responsible for the costs. The LAOCC spent around $500 million renovating, rather than rebuilding, Olympic sites. They made $300 million from TV revenue and signed deals with 30 sponsors, paying between $4 and $15 million each, including Atlantic Richfield, which refurbished the Coliseum; AT & T, which set up telecommunications; and General Motors, which provided cars. McDonald's paid for the swimming pool, and Coca Cola paid $14 million to become the official drink of the 1984 Olympic Games. Total revenues amounted to $1123 million, while costs were only $467 million. The LAOOC made a profit; corporations achieved global penetration as the Games were broadcast to 156 countries; local businesses made money and the city became the center of world attention without accruing long-term costs or heavy debt burdens.

After the success of Los Angeles, the number of cities bidding for the Games increased. A new era of intense city competition to host the Olympic Games began. Table 3 lists the candidate cities for Summer Olympic Games since 1952. A number of trends can be noted. Candidate cities in the early period of this era were predominantly US, where cities were in much better shape after World War II and also had strong traditions of civic boosterism as well as political regimes dominated by the so-called urban growth machines. Detroit, for example, was a candidate four times between 1960 and 1972. Since the 1984 Games, however, and especially since 1988, when the experience of the 1984 Games was factored into Olympic bids, there has been an increase in the number of candidate cities and a wider range of cities outside of Europe and North America, which is part of the more general trend for many cities seeking to make the global connection (Hall and Hubbard, 1998; Roche, 1992; Short, 1999; Wilson, 1996).

Any city can make a bid to hold the Olympic Games. Bid cities are those that announce their intention to host the Games. Candidate cities are those that have been given approval by their National Olympic Committees, have submitted an application and have been short-listed by the IOC. For the 2008 Games 10 cities bid: Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Havana, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka, Paris, Seville and Toronto. Five were short-listed in 2001 to candidate city status: Beijing, Paris, Toronto, Istanbul and Osaka. Table 4 lists some of the basic characteristics of the short-listed bids as well as the main pros and cons identified by the IOC. Financial ability to host the Games and commercial 'spin- off', i.e. the ability the use the Games to penetrate new markets, were the principal considerations. Given the willingness of the Chinese government to fund the Games and the huge commercial potential of the Chinese market, it was almost a certainty that Beijing would win. And win it did.

As globalization increases apace and as the benefits of the Games seem secure. bidding will only more intense. Even within individual countries, competition increases. The US Olympic Committee (USOC), for example, had to consider serious bids from 8 cities competing to become the US bid city for the 2012 Olympic. New York, Washington, San Francisco and Houston made the USOC'S first cut in October 2001. The four cities that failed to make the cut were Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Tampa. There is renewed competition to host the summer Olympics.

The hot competition to host the Olympics was the backdrop to one of the few Olympic scandals to achieve widespread media coverage. The structural context was, on the one hand, cities desperate to land the Games. On the other hand, was the bidding system under which IOC delegates would visit bid cities, ostensibly to check out the site, and then vote in a secret ballot. Each IOC member held an all-important vote that they could cast in secret. Cities were lavish with their hospitality, and many delegates were eager to cash in on their voting power. There were no IOC checks on members visiting the cities or ethical guidelines in place. Bid authorities constructed dossiers of IOC members that highlighted their weaknesses. Thus, the dossier prepared for Stockholm's bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics noted that Mohamed Mzali of Tunisia "should always be taken out for dinner on visits to Paris," while General Gadir of Sudan is "known for appreciating delicious food and drinking" (quoted in Calvert, 2002, pp 35). The system was corrupt endemically, with delegates leveraging more and more lavish gifts from cities' boosters increasingly eager to lubricate their bid with generous 'hospitality'. One IOC member was routinely referred to as the 'human vacuum cleaner' for his ability to suck up money, gifts, holidays, flights and medical attention for him and his family.

The scandal was revealed initially when a television station in Salt Lake City reported in November 1998 that the city's bid committee had paid for an IOC member's daughter to attend a private university in the US. The next month a Swiss IOC member, Marc Hodler, stated in public that he believed that there was 'massive corruption,' and as many as 25 IOC members had their votes bought by bid cities. An IOC Commission was quickly formed in response to media pressure and especially to the worries of corporate sponsors that their products would be tainted with the label of corruption. The Commission reported in 1999 that seven IOC members were to be expelled, including Jean-Claude Ganga of the Congo, General Gadir of Sudan, Sergio Fantani of Chile and Augustin Arroyo of Ecuador. Ten more IOC members were warned about their behaviour; two were exonerated. The scandal brought the scrutiny of media attention to the lavish life style of IOC members who, it was revealed for the first time, were given business class flights to the Games and full time drivers and luxury cars during their stays. They were installed in luxury accommodations with specific requirements for fresh flowers to be placed in their rooms each day of their residence. These requirements are in heavycontrast to the more Spartan accommodations and basic conditions afforded to the athletes of the Games. The penchant for President Samaranch to be referred to as "His Excellency' was symptomatic of an unelected, unaccountable para-state grown heavy and fat with excessive entitlements. The IOC members expected and were granted the privileged lifestyle of the global elite.

In the wake of the Salt Lake scandal, the IOC created an Ethics Committee and made changes to the bid process. In 1999, a new procedure was set up in which the guiding principle was, in the words of the IOC, 'no visits, no gifts.' This directive was less concerned with democratising the process or even making it more transparent; it was essentially a response to the bad publicity and the fear of corporate withdrawal. As the head of McDonald's German subsidiary noted, "If the corruption suspicions are confirmed, McDonald's will ask itself if sponsorship of the games still has a place on the group's image (Korporaal and Evans, 1999).

The scandal was one sign of the increasing competition for cities to host the Games. There were obvious rewards in hosting the Games. The LA Olympics had shown that money could be made and that city residents would not have to face a heavy tax burden. Quite the reverse, in fact: major infrastructural investments could be paid for by the Games. The Olympic Games was the agent of a huge multiplier effect, bringing money, jobs, facilities and recognition to the city. The Games was a way to become more globally connected through the tangible legacy of facilities and improved air, road and rapid transit connections and the less tangible--and hence deeply attractive--notion of greater international recognition.

As the unfolding process of globalization grows wider, the need felt by many cities for global recognition grows stronger. As the world shrinks, it becomes ever more important for cities to have a positive image in a world of global flows. The image can attract business, tourists and institutions not just for the Games but also for some time afterwards.


In one of the most exhaustive studies of the Summer Games, Holger Preuss (2000) argues that hosting the Games, at least since 1972 and especially since 1984, has meant improved infrastructure and increased income and employment. Estimates as to the precise economic impact of the Games are difficult to assess, but a report by McKay and Plumb (2001) estimates that the net economic impact on the host city averages from $4 billion to $5 billion. Barcelona was the exception with a net impact of $16.6 billion.

The biggest winners of the Olympic windfall are the political regimes running the city that have the opportunity to reshape the city's desired image. The metanarrative is the creation of the global city, well connected to the outside world, presenting a positive image to millions of viewers around the world, all potential visitors, tourists and investors. The positive image presented is one of modernity and multiculturalism, part of the shared global discourses of democracy and liberalism while also adding a touch of the uniquely local. A distinctive place connected to a shared global space. A local and global package is presented that plays to connections and distinctiveness, space and place.

To the metanarrative of creating a global city, or at least the image of the global city, there are more subtle place-specific discourses. Thus for Seoul, it was the opening of the city and economy to the outside world; for Barcelona and Atlanta, regional economic development was important; while international positioning of the city was a key element in the Sydney Games.

Real estate and building companies also benefit from the extra business and contracts. There is a multiplier effect that filters down the income hierarchy. The Games in many ways acts as a Keynesian pump primer of the local urban economy.

Most of the negative costs are borne by the weaker groups in the city, especially those inhabiting prime inner city sites. The preparations for the Games have been associated with a spatial removal of the poor and the marginal, which can be both temporary and permanent.

Everyone does not welcome the Games. Lenskyj (2000) has compiled a list of the resistances to both hosting and bidding for the Games. Olympics have not gone unchallenged or uncriticised. The strength and sophistication of anti-Olympic protests impose a limit to the claims of many cities in societies where democratic politics allow critics a platform for dissent.

The Games act as an important tool to literally reshape the city, in both discursive and spatial terms. Hosting the Games involves a massive restructuring of urban space. While an already rich minority benefit a great deal, most benefit some, the poor and marginal tend to become poorer and more marginal. Hosting the Games creates the global city at the expense of the local weak.

To this general picture must be added the difference between individual cities hosting the Games. In terms of house prices, for example both Seoul and Barcelona saw a rapid rise in house prices while Atlanta and Sydney experienced very little increase. The course of urban renewal also varied. In Barcelona, for example, the restructuring turned the largely abandoned port area into a public space. The Games were used to modernize much of the city infrastructure. The project can best be described as private sector led with most emphasis on public projects and the transformation of public spaces in the city (see De Moragas and Botella, 1995). In Atlanta, in contrast, it was private sector led with much little public infrastructure investment. The Atlanta Games were used by the local urban regime to push through major urban restructuring that benefited business and corporate interests. While local people were employed during the Games, the reshaping of the city simply repeated and reinforced income and race cleavages. The destruction of 5,000 public housing units and the diversion of $350 million from redistributional spending on the poor to regressive spending for the Olympics displaced almost 15,000 people. Sydney, by way of yet another contrast, was a return to public sector dominance with major public sector investments in airport and road connections. The Games were held at a former abandoned waste site, Homebush Bay, and so the Games were part of wider remediation project and greening of the city (Cashman and Hughes, 1998).

The Games also have a longer-term effect on the city. The city is permanently transformed by the spatial restructuring of hosting the Games. In Seoul the Chamsil area was redeveloped; in Barcelona the sea front was opened up, in Atlanta there was a central city gentrification that involved the construction of lofts, telecom hotels and high tech offices. In Sydney Home Bush Bay was cleaned up. In Athens it is planned to reclaim disused quarries, waste dumps and old army barracks. There is also the physical legacy of the Olympic villages constructed to house the athletes. In Seoul, Barcelona and Sydney, new Olympic villages were built and became new neighbourhoods. The stadia constructed to host the Olympic events also became permanent sites able to be used for subsequent events. The Seoul Olympic stadium was a venue for 2002 FIFA World Cup. In Atlanta the stadium became the permanent home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team. Perhaps the largest infrastructural legacy is the upgrade of airports, telecommunications, mass transit schemes and road networks that quite literally better connect the city to global flows of people, ideas and commerce.

Hosting the Games provides a significant opportunity to recontextualize cities by connecting them to a global space of flows and reconstituting them internally. New and improved links with the wider world plug the city more effectively into the global flows of capital, people and ideas. Amongst the positive effects of recent Games are the clean up of derelict and abandoned sites, the creation of attractive public spaces, legacies of new spaces and improved athletic facilities and even an increase in the environmental quality of the city. The improvements in the air quality in Beijing, part of the city's Olympic bid package, will be enjoyed by all the residents of the city. As with most urban social changes there is an unequal distribution of costs and benefits. The poor tend to gain least and pay more. However, for every Atlanta there is also a Barcelona and Sydney where there were general improvements to the quality of urban life that were not entirely regressive. While all cities are rewritten by hosting the Olympics, the punchlines can vary.


The modern Olympic Games are embodied in at least three scales: global, national and local. Since their inauguration in 1896, they have become increasingly global with both athletic participation and television viewing truly international phenomena. The national level, often considered increasingly redundant in many discussions of globalization, is shown in this study to be alive and well. The Coubertin project was to promote international harmony through sports competition organized at the national level. Nations were not superseded by the Games, they were integral and essential. The Olympic Games celebrate national identity. At the local level the hosting of the Games provides one of the most obvious cases of glocalization as the global spectacle is centered in a specific city, while the hosting of the event tends to reconnect the city into a global space of flows.

The paper has shown that the Summer Olympics are an example of cultural and economic globalization. The number of countries competing has steadily grown until it covers most of the globe. However, both athletic success and the hosting of the Games reflect the global inequalities in wealth. Because of the increasing corporatization of the Games, they also have become a launching site for economic globalization as major corporations use the Games as a platform for global penetration. The Games provide the opportunity for firms to sell their goods and services to a global market. The hosting of the Games in Beijing was in large measure driven by the need to find an entry into the vast Chinese market. The Games have become an important process of globalization, but a process that reinforces rather than undermines nationalism and national identity. The paper demonstrated how the global event reinforces rather than transcends nationalism.

World cityness is not a given; it is enacted, performed, spectacularized. This is evident in the bidding and hosting of the Summer Games. They have become the mega-event with the ability to reinforce and consolidate world city status if not help in its creation. The Games have become an important transformative experience that denotes and connotes world cities.


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* Not cited in text but an excellent general introduction to the Olympic Games.


* John Rennie Short, University of Maryland, Baltimore County,

Table 1: The Olympic Games


Host city

Participants (women)


Sports Events




200 (0)






1205 (19)





St Louis

687 (6)






2035 (36)






2547 (57)






2668 (77)






3092 (136)






3014 (290)





Los Angeles

1408 (127)






4066 (328)






4099 (385)






4925 (518)






3184 (371)






5346 (610)






5140 (683)





Mexico City

5530 (781)






7123 (1058)






6028 (1247)






5217 (1124)





Los Angeles

5330 (1567)






8465 (2186)






9634 (2707)






10310 (3513)






10651 (4069)





Table 2: 2000 Olympic Games Medal by National Population



Total Medals



































Trinidad & Tobago








Table 3: Candidate and Host Cities , 1952-2008


Host City

Candidate City



Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, Osaka.



Rome, Cape Town, Stockholm, Buenos Aires.



Beijing, Manchester, Berlin, Istanbul.



Athens, Toronto, Melbourne, Manchester, Belgrade.



Paris, Belgrade, Brisbane, Birmingham (UK), Amsterdam.





Los Angeles



Los Angeles



Moscow, Los Angeles.



Detroit, Madrid, Montreal.


Mexico City

Detroit, Lyon, Buenos Aires.



Detroit, Vienna, Brussels.



Lausanne, Brussels, Budapest, Detroit, Mexico City, Tokyo.



Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco.



Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Amsterdam, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia.


Table 4: Candidate Cities for 2008 Olympics



Selling Points

Main Pros

Main Cons


New Beijing, New Games

Green, Hi Tech, Peoples Olympics

Offers huge new trade opportunities, Government financial guarantees

Pollution and congestion, human rights issues


The Meeting of Continents

Crossroads of Asia and Europe


Political and seismic instability, security concerns


Sports Paradise Osaka

Green, community support

Japan is 2nd largest economy, venues already built

Concerns about Japans economy



Financial guarantees from National government

Infrastructure in place; successfully hosted 1998 world Cup

Less commercial spin-off than Beijing


Expect The World

Funding largely secured

Infrastructure in place

Less commercial spin-off than Beijing

Sources: Alderson and Beckfield (2004, Table 3); Taylor et al . (2002c)

Edited and posted on the web on 22nd January 2003

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in JR Short (2004) Global Metropolitan: Globalizing Cities in a Capitalist World London: Routledge, 86-108.