3. Sustainability and legacy

The IOC, OCOGs and Host Cities have increasingly placed sustainability and legacy at the centre of their design and preparation of the Olympic Games. Sustainability and legacy were key elements of the Olympic Agenda 2020, which included recommendations to incorporate sustainability into all aspects of the Games

(International Olympic Committee, 2021[1]), and were carried forward in the Olympic Agenda 2020+5, which included recommendations to foster sustainable Games through measures such as supporting OCOGs in developing supply chain oversight and ensuring the delivery of lasting benefits for Host Cities (International Olympic Committee, 2021[2]).

This section examines risks to the Olympic Movement’s sustainability and legacy goals in the context of the procurement and delivery of Games infrastructure and associated services. As this report focuses on the delivery of Games infrastructure and associated services rather than the full extent of activities undertaken in the framework of the multi-year legacy programmes delivered by OCOGs and host cities, there is a specific focus on three key challenges:

  • Balancing the short-term goals of the Games with sustainability considerations and the long-term needs of Host Cities

  • Planning for the transition to post-Games uses

  • Addressing environmental and human rights risks across the supply chain

While OCOGs are only created after the Games are awarded and are focused on Games delivery, it is critical that governments incorporate legacy considerations such as the expected benefits and impacts, alignment with existing plans and strategies for urban and regional development, value capture, transport requirements, and tourism impacts during the pre-bidding and bidding stages (OECD, 2018[3]).

The Olympic Movement’s ambitious sustainability goals, including ensuring that all Games be climate positive from 2030, addressing climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the impact of COVID-19 on sport, and contributing to relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals (International Olympic Committee, 2021[4]), are closely tied to the delivery of infrastructure and associated services. The IOC Sustainability Strategy’s five areas of focus, infrastructure and natural sites, sourcing and resource management, mobility, workforce, and climate, all have direct relevance to infrastructure and service delivery.

Measures included in the IOC’s Sustainability Strategy include maximising the use of existing infrastructure and temporary venues; ensuring that new infrastructure is viable and has a minimal environmental footprint; sourcing products and services in a way that accounts for environmental and social impacts; ensuring working conditions comply with relevant legislation and with international agreements and protocols; and putting in place carbon reduction strategies (International Olympic Committee, 2017[5]). These measures are particularly relevant for OCOGs as Host City Contracts require that they develop a Games-specific strategy that addresses key issues such as infrastructure and sourcing and is aligned with the IOC’s Sustainability Strategy (International Olympic Committee, 2016[6]).

In the Olympic context, large-scale sport facilities must be delivered over short periods and host very high numbers of guests, which can cause social and environmental disruptions in the local ecosystem that pose significant planning and design challenges (Dendura, 2019[7]). Certain events, such as alpine skiing, typically take place in environmentally sensitive areas (Chappelet, 2008[8]), while infrastructure construction in urban communities can result in the displacement of local residents. Short-term incentives can lead to the construction of facilities that are oversized for future use, for example to accommodate more spectators during the Games than will attend future events. OCOGs must balance their short-terms goals, maximising the impact and success of the Games, with the need to align with the local characteristics and long-term needs of the community (OECD, 2018[3]).

In order to ensure that infrastructure is sustainable and delivers long-term benefits to the population it serves, it is key to incorporate social, economic and environmental considerations during the early stages of planning and assessment (OECD, 2020[9]). as retrofitting or upgrading is less efficient than planning facilities that can operate sustainably from the outset (KPMG, 2015[10]). For example, the United Nations Development Programme worked with Sochi 2014 to produce a Greening Strategy and Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality; however, a review found that the project was implemented after planning was largely finished and construction was underway, and therefore had only a negligible impact on the greening of Games facilities (Zeman, 2014[11]). Likewise, poor planning that does not address potential constraints in terms of urban development and existing infrastructure networks (e.g., transport, energy, water and sewage) could create long-term issues for Host Cities (Dendura, 2019[7]).

The importance of adequate planning to mitigate legacy and sustainability risks applies equally to the delivery of services required to host the Games. When OCOGs are responsible for implementing sustainable procurement strategies that would provide legacy benefits, planning and early market engagement are critical to ensure that the private sector has the capacity to realise those commitments.

If not carefully planned for, the design and technical specifications of Games infrastructure can also lead to negative environmental and financial impacts for Host Cities. Previous Games have been criticized for the environmental damage associated with infrastructure construction (Cantelon and Letters, 2000[13]; McBride and Manno, 2021[14]) while concerns about the financial risks associated with hosting the Games have led to the withdrawal of a number of bids in recent years (Flyvbjerg, Budzier and Lunn, 2020[15]). Further, the omission of factors such as subsidies for land and supporting infrastructure and long-term operating costs, means that estimates of public subsidies for permanent sports infrastructure are often underestimated (Long, 2005[16]). Infrastructure assets are only part of a wider, more complex system, and need to be considered in their broader context. Decisions on the location, type, design and timing of infrastructure developments can have profound implications for the environment, with poor quality Games infrastructure contributing to air pollution, climate change, changes in water quality and quantity, biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems (OECD, 2019[17]). The average footprint of the Games and associated infrastructure averages around 5% of the host city’s total area, a significant use of urban land, with sports venues the primary determinant of the size of this footprint (Long, 2013[18]). Temporary venues, which can be viewed as both infrastructure and a service, are often more sustainable in the long-term, but can also have negative environmental impacts, from high carbon intensity relative to their lifecycle (i.e. venues built for only a short period of use) to impacts on local ecosystems.

As opposed to the short duration of major sports events, infrastructure assets have a long lifespan and are the most tangible legacy of the Games, making their long-term viability a key challenge for OCOGs. Maximizing the legacy of the Games requires having appropriate institutional and governance arrangements in place to ensure infrastructure can continue delivering long-term benefits. Failure to plan for long-term financial viability can lead to underuse, as well as creating challenges around the sustainability of long-term infrastructure operations. It is important to avoid the duplication and overbuilding of sport facilities, for example by ensuring that Olympic infrastructure is integrated into the long-term strategic planning of national sporting bodies and of host regions more broadly. There is a need therefore to assess post-games demand for different types of venues and include retrofitting for change of use in early stage planning where appropriate.

Infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to external shocks, natural hazards and extreme weather events, vulnerabilities which can be further aggravated by poor maintenance and rehabilitation. With the growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, infrastructure resilience is increasingly important, and a factor OCOGs must consider when planning for the long-term. Climate resilience needs to be integrated into project design to ensure that they are consistent with broader plans and future climate change scenarios. Through the implementation of climate change adaptation measures such as nature-based solutions, OCOGs can work with partners to develop infrastructure that is resilient to risks such as storms, floods, or extreme temperatures (OECD, 2021[19]). As weather and geographical conditions differ significantly across regions and countries, efforts to improve resilience need to be tailored to local circumstances (OECD, 2020[20]). Different resilience considerations may also apply at different phases of the infrastructure life-cycle: robustness and redundancies require investments in the design phase, while business continuity planning and maintenance relate to long-term operations (OECD, 2019[17]).

These risks are exacerbated if there is no involvement or discussion with potential long-term operators or users. OCOGs’ short-term nature makes addressing these types of legacy challenges particularly difficult. Maintaining venues and covering the associated operating costs is often challenging, and can ultimately impose a significant financial burden on local governments. The bodies or institutions ultimately responsible for Olympic legacy are often not part of the decision-making process during the planning and delivery stages, creating a vacuum of responsibility for long-term venue viability. Without these voices at the table, there is a risk that venues will not be responsive to their long term needs and capacity.

There are also opportunities should Games related sporting infrastructure be put to good use. By ensuring comprehensive legacy planning for each project, preferably from the initial planning stages, infrastructure can have a positive impact on the communities in which they are situated long after the Games have ended. To help achieve this impact, organisations can plan for and facilitate the repurposing of Games infrastructure.

There is increasing awareness of environmental and human rights-related risks in global supply chains and increasing pressure on organisations to take greater responsibility to prevent and address these risks. Value in public procurement more frequently incorporates considerations beyond cost and quality, such as environmental objectives. Quality, sustainability and social considerations, if not taken into account during the procurement process, can diminish the value for money yielded by infrastructure assets and services, both in the short-term context of the Games and in terms of its long-term legacy. In particular, failure to shift from a purely cost-focused approach to the adoption of responsible business conduct (RBC) objectives (e.g. environmental, human rights, labour rights, inclusiveness and diversity, integrity) in procurement can lead to the selection of less optimal bids (OECD, 2020[27]).

These dimensions are significantly heightened in the context of delivering major events which attract the world’s attention. Associated reputational risks are considerably affecting the ability of OCOGs to effectively deliver the Games in conditions aligned with the spirit of the Olympic Movement.

Many goods and services purchased by OCOGs and their partners are produced through global supply chains which are often fragmented, opaque and complex. Activities throughout the supply chain of Games infrastructure and associated services can result in adverse impacts on people, society and the environment. Supply chains can originate in or pass through countries with a poor record of implementing global standards on human rights, labour rights, and environmental protection, creating a significant risk that OCOGs become linked to human rights abuses and environmental degradation (OECD, 2020[27]).

Services associated with Games infrastructure can also be reliant on complex global supply chains with negative human rights and environmental impacts. In addition, OCOGs may be at risk if they have limited line of sight into labour practices. Precarious employment can perpetuate poverty and gender inequity, and infrastructure-related services, such as food services and cleaning, often comprise sectors and types of work associated with precarity (Pósch et al., 2020[31]).

OCOGs’ broad range of operations and business relationships have the potential to negatively impact human rights. These human rights risks are greatest in OCOGs’ relationships with other stakeholders, including suppliers reliant on complex supply chains, which are often labour intensive and frequently outsourced. OCOGs must ensure they maintain sufficient oversight over the actions of a large number of actors, as well as implementing appropriate prevention and remedy mechanisms. As temporary organisations, OCOG may not have the skills and infrastructure to successfully address potentially complex labour rights or human rights grievances (International Olympic Committee, 2019[32]).

To address sustainability and legacy risks related to the delivery of Games infrastructure and related services, OCOGs can take advantage of a range of existing policies, tools and good practices from the world of sport and from broader infrastructure governance practice. These resources provide opportunities for OCOGs to assess their current practices and approaches, inform the development of their own strategies and policies, and serve as examples of good practice.

Many of these external tools do not pertain directly to sport; however, they may be useful to organisers of large-scale international sporting events as they detail relevant public procurement roles and functions. They have been selected on their pertinence, quality and usefulness in terms of ensuring sustainability and legacy. Specifically, they are divided into three groups: costing and cost-benefit analysis, self-assessment and sustainable procurement.


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