A guest blog by Dr. Libby Porter.
Critics of feel-good events like the Commonwealth Games, or any other major sporting event for that matter, are usually howled out of town as naysayers, or as one recent article put it “the awkward squad”. We (for I count myself as one of those critics) are accused of spoiling everybody’s fun and of not appreciating the great legacy that these events leave behind.
Understanding the true cost of Games events, then, and the real ‘legacy’ that such events leave in their wake is, one might have thought, a pretty important subject for public debate. Especially when the colossal sums of money that are spent on these events are at play. And yet, when it comes to events like the Commonwealth Games currently underway in Glasgow, nowhere near enough sensible discussion is had about this mysterious ‘legacy’. Nowhere is this silence more obvious than on the straightforward democratic questions about the impact of Games-related developments on the communities who are forced to host them in their neighbourhood.
The lead-up to Glasgow’s Games were like most others in the scale and sheer idiocy of the hype associated with their arrival. Deputy First Minister, early on in the hype-production process declared that the Games would fix everything from urban blight, deprivation, unemployment, poor health, bad housing and lack of sports participation in children. Wow, if that’s really the case this is some seriously amazing sporting event. But of course the hype really is just that. There is, in fact, no evidence at all that Games events produce any kind of legacy much at all beyond a small dribble of a few extra jobs, and a rare moment in the sun and on the world map for a (perhaps) forgotten or never known-about city.
What is never discussed is the human and democratic cost of these events. Let’s just take the current situation for residents of Dalmarnock, where all the fun is currently happening in Glasgow. At least, it must be fun if you’re lucky and wealthy enough to have tickets. But for the people of Dalmarnock – Scotland’s poorest and most deprived area – what you actually experience is a 10pm curfew every night, a security check every time you want to come home or leave, the removal of your car until September, and an enormous great wall around your neighbourhood built to ensure the happy shiny athletes and spectators on one side never have to look at the real people living on the other. Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council keeps exhorting the good people of Dalmarnock to look forward to using all the great facilities they now have on their doorstep. Amazing that Gordon still hasn’t figured out that an expensive racing bicycle and all the gear, plus use of the velodrome at £8.15 an hour per adult is quite a stretch if all the kids want to go and this week the electricity bill was due. While there was something akin to broad local support for Glasgow’s Games in the early days after it was announced, as the event drew closer that excitement evaporated and gave way to despair and disappointment. Angry residents recently packed community halls in Dalmarnock to express disgust with the way they have been treated. All the politicians have for them is to say ‘thanks very much for putting up with the inconvenience’.
And then there’s the issue of displacement – this is the one nobody wants to talk about, presumably because it brings the questionable nature of the whole Games nonsense into the light rather too starkly. Let’s consider for a moment what is really going on here – a group of people (the size of the group is rather dependent on the place, ranging from millions in Beijing, to 78,000 in Rio, to a handful in Glasgow) are asked to give up their homes, livelihoods, wellbeing and neighbourhood so that the rest of the world can enjoy a 10-day party and some nationalistic jingoism at the side of the running track. There are too many people in the world who think that this is an acceptable thing to ask of … no, sorry – force on people. For those being displaced by mega-events are never asked if they are willing to give up their homes and livelihoods. It is simply done to them. It is a grotesque parody of democracy when people are forced into situations of extreme vulnerability and precarity by their own governments with no say over either the outcome or the process. The special measures legislation enacted are evidence of this parody – legislation that enables states to drive through any urban development ‘needed’ to deliver the Games regardless of whether those developments are needed, wanted or indeed in line with any kind of urban planning strategy or policy.
Glasgow’s Games, like all the other sporting mega-events before it, are yet another example of the power of vested interests in land development and the abrogation of democratic principles in planning and urban development. The proposal to blow up the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony was indeed shameful. What is even more shameful is our collective failure to hold decision-makers to account for the true cost of Games events, and to refuse a logic that demands the poor and marginalized bear such an immense burden simply so the rest of the world can have a party.
Libby Porter teaches Geography at Monash University in Melbourne having previously worked at the University of Glasgow. As a researcher and activist Libby’s interests include indigenous rights in planning; regeneration, gentrification and displacement with a particular focus on the effects of major sporting events.
All opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Planning Democracy.