Posted by: olymponomics | August 14, 2012

Proving the Olympo-sceptics wrong? Not so fast Boris….

The Mayor of London has been quick to sermonise to all those who were critical of preparations for the Olympics and highlighted doubts about the long-term impacts. Others have denounced the naysayers too, as part of the wave of national euphoria that has swept across Britain. Given some of things I have written about risk and mega-events over the past few years, you might think that I am ripe for such contrition — though I am too small a fish to fry to be one of the people who Boris sees fit to save from public embarrassment by choosing not to name them (a nice rhetorical device that!). However, I am of an evidence-based disposition, and while I had a teary eye at numerous points during the Games and found the whole experience a triumph of the better nature of humanity and a celebration of Britain as a post-modern nation, it is far too early to tell whether London 2012 should be considered a policy success. Specifically, the economic costs and benefits of the Games will require proper and rigorous examination over a long time frame that differentiate between core and peripheral Olympic costs, account for the opportunity costs of public investment, distinguish between short- and long-term impacts, and which evaluate structural shifts in tourism, skills and employment, economic output and sporting participation. Declaring London 2012 a policy success now is premature, even though the event and the national experience was undoubtedly a triumph. Still, if anyone should be embarrassed, it is those who take figures from consultants’ projections at face value without subjecting them to proper scrutiny or being explicit about the underlying assumptions and meanings (note that a number of the figures about economic impacts being banded about were commissioned by official Olympic sponsors). There is nothing wrong with saying London’s Olympics was outstanding, a success in operational terms, an excellent case study in risk management, and a significant cultural moment where Britishness experienced a significant revival, but it is important not to reinvent history for the sake of political expediency. The costs did overrun from the original forecasts (even if the vast ‘contingency’ fund allowed these to be absorbed without damaging news headlines), and the economic legacy remains unclear. It is not a bad thing to be optimistic about the future, but to dismiss scepticism about the cost, planning and impacts of major events such as the Olympics is profoundly anti-scientific and presumptive, and in some instances is at odds with the objective facts.

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