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Tracing the legacy of sporting events

Kristen B. Morales

October 19, 2015

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When the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996, the games also brought new buildings, infrastructure, and a ripple effect among outlying communities hosting events.

But, 20 years later, have the games had the effect organizers anticipated? Did Atlanta's games create a legacy that continues to influence communities across Georgia?

These are questions assistant professor Becca Leopkey aims to answer with her latest research, investigating the legacy of organized sporting events such as the Olympics or the World Cup. Leopkey, who teaches in the sport management program in the Department of Kinesiology, has a highly specialized area of expertise that combines management theories, social sciences, and sport on an international scale.

Over time, she says, the term "legacy" has been institutionalized; today it is seen as a way to justify hosting the games. But it takes years to determine the actual effect an event has on the legacy of the games or of the host city.

For example, because the Montreal games in 1976 had such a negative financial effect on the city, planning for the 1988 Calgary games showed organizers were already thinking about a "purposeful legacy," says Leopkey. "The term legacy ... went from focusing on infrastructure and sport to branching out to the environment and sustainability and training and psychological effects," she says. "So, it's gone from a smaller, focused area to where legacy is everything that's left over after hosting an event."

Leopkey has identified 13 different ways to classify an Olympic event's legacy, such as cultural, economic, environmental, nostalgia, political, psychological, and sport.

In her research on the Atlanta games, she and her team collected documents from the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. Now they are collecting information in Atlanta and Athens to obtain a larger picture of the legacy of the games—on the Olympics as a whole, on Atlanta immediately after the games, and on the state two decades later. The results will be rolled out in time for next year's 20th anniversary.

"We can see which facilities are used and which were torn down and which ones weren't kept up. And we're also going into the legacy of a non-host city that hosts some of the side events, like Athens. Do we even think of ourselves as an Olympic host?" she says. "With that 20-year window, it's kind of a long-term study, and it hasn't been done before."

Related links: Department of Kinesiology