Comment: What price legacy?

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A legacy is what you leave behind, how you will be remembered, writes Mickey Charles, president and CEO of The Sports Network. But is it in actual fact a poisoned chalice?

Legacy is the bequest to the world, to your family, to whomever you wish and it need not be dollars, pounds, Euros, francs, yen, shilling or shekels. The endowment. It is your remembrance and it is not always good. Winston Churchill was good, Attila the Hun was not. Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy...all good. Darth Vader, The Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Jigsaw and Lord Voldemort...all not good. The world, not just one country, is under the delusion that a magnificent sports venue, built specifically for a single event or short lived series of events will catapult their nation, city, populace and reputation to the top of the mountain of respectability. Build it and they will come. Nah. Build it and figure out what to do with it once the initial purpose for spending hundreds of millions of dollars has come and gone, together with the folks that purchased the entry tickets for whatever event(s) was housed there. The legacy, in that case, would like be desertion and desolated, despair and wonderment concerning what to do with a huge edifice that has turned into the world's largest echo chamber. How about something more temporary or a plan for the future? In the first instance lots of folks would not make the monies they do with a seemingly permanent structure and, in the latter, an actual plan? How ridiculous a thought that would be and not welcomed by any committee, the same folks that wanted an improved horse and came up with a camel. South Africa and the FIFA World Cup...huge event with venues that they cannot use when temporary stadia would have saved them billions that are now in the pockets and bank accounts of contractors, vendors, planners, consultants and untold others. It is a financial malaise crafted by men who wish their names engraved for a moment in history, one that will live on without an asterisk concerning the after–effect. Wow, what an explosion, what an effect, what magnificence. What a disaster, what a ruinous lasting impression, what devastation, what an insane waste of money. Zaha Hadid's Aquatic Centre created for the London Olympics of 2012 is intended to be a lasting legacy following the anticipated world's largest sporting event. Good intentions but, then again, David Copperfield, Neil Diamond, Larry King and countless others intended to be wed for all, if not most, of their lives. Point? It is not quite what it seems from beginning to end or, as is more often the case, somewhere in–between. The 30th modern Olympic Games are being planned, venues are under construction and the biggest concern seems to be the architecture without a recall of Beijing's main stadium, which was overstated and now underused post Olympics. London intends to transform a neglected area of the city with the Games as the catalyst for so doing. History, however, is the paradigm and one must learn from it...but they do not. Large venues have historically failed to find appropriate post–event uses. Given some credit presently, there is much attention being focused on how the site and venues will be incorporated into the city post–games. The jury is out for a few years and we cannot predict what will take place but it is safe to assume that London will thrive during the Olympics and then the post–Games recession will set in. Not too far from London, the Scottish Government is striving mightily to defend its efforts to achieve its own legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games despite the fact that there is scant proof that these events will bring health or socio–economic benefits to the population. Does anyone have a crystal ball? The planners never have a serious bad word or two about the upcoming event, whatever it might be, or what it will take to achieve their projections and plans. Why would they? That would be the first shot across the bow with many more to follow and a lost adventure coupled with 'over the top' profits. Predictions about improvements in employment, skills, the economy, housing, national and local pride, the environment and sport, collectively termed the–you got it...legacy, are like painting by the colours. Fill in the numbered parts and hope that you come up with something that resembles art. It usually does and then the colours the page and into a trash can of history. Costs have gone up and it is amazingly difficult to justify any expenditure of this magnitude on the basis of entertainment or national showcasing for a few days or weeks. But, announce plans for a major sporting event and the troops rally instantly. This is a ship where everyone wants a boarding pass for the voyage. The crew and passengers are as one. Ocean of demographics, blueprints, projections and money surrounds them. Half the public loves it and the other half, living in close proximity to the forthcoming event, hate and protest it. Consultants laud it and then go back home to their quiet, rich homes and neighbourhoods. The hoped for lasting legacy is supposed to provide the host city or country with new levels of global recognition and economic, political and social development. Emphasis on 'supposed to'. However, as we look around, we find disappointment, abandoned stadiums, missed development opportunities and lost investments. Not good. If the planners, city or country, seek private investment instead of governmental they will discover funding that is resolute and narrow but not to their liking. Profit later and a legacy that the investors can utilise for years to come. It is an option and rejection is anticipated. Any focus on the future, post–event, is boring and distant so little attention is paid to them when compared to the excitement and immediacy of preparing for an event, like children with new toys. That also means that anyone in disagreement with the planners, governmental or not, are either summarily dismissed or eased out the door. They certainly do not have an effective vote, no less veto power of any sort. The early start that is so necessary to any event of the magnitude we are speaking of is usually the case and that means procuring a broad economic footprint with sponsors. However, these folks benefit from the exposure granted them as one of the results of the event, and then they are gone...onto the next event. What does the event do for the local small and mid–size companies involved? They get a few tickets to the event. Wow, be still my beating heart!!Major events also, admittedly, bring diverse political factions together as well but that just means their share of tickets for the cruise. They will retreat to business as usual when the competition ends and then blame one another for not planning nor anticipating post–event use of the venues on which billions have been spent. It is the nature of our political systems wherever they are. The dreamed about long–term benefits are usually just that, a dream. Diaphanous and the same as catching the wind in a bottle, which is probably the easier task. The lasting legacy necessitates fantastic planning, strong leadership and sustained commitment. I would not count on that. The events we speak of are, all too often, like a sexual experience...incredibly satisfying, gratifying and pleasurable in the short term, especially for the man involved. And guess who makes most of the decisions regarding these events? You win... men!!!Maybe we need more women who have to be convinced, take a long term view of a relationship, have a sense of fulfillment and contentment for the future. It is certainly worth considering. The competition to host these events, to build the venues, has reached a frenzied pitch between countries...a spiral of increasingly ambitious plans and claims from aspiring hosts, especially from emerging cities and countries. That means that the bar is raised and the prospects drop out of the race. It is simply not worth it. Is anyone listening or watching this? Not worth it. The four candidate cities bidding to host the 2016 Summer Olympics presented budgets around $40–50m and one can easily guess that will increase many times over. My guess is that $250m will be the final figure and the neighbourhoods of the event will not benefit much, if at all, from the events or, especially, the venues that will suddenly surround them. The financial burden will leave questionable legacies but that is not in the projections or discussions. The event rallies the troops. No doubt about it. Everyone around the flag. The global spotlight is on and the world is watching. Local pride abounds. Huge investment in infrastructure lays the groundwork for widespread change. None of this guarantees a lasting legacy. That takes more than the planners are prepared to do post–event...the deliberate effort, strong leadership, sustained commitment and attention to the task at hand. How do you transform the venue into a useable facility on a day to day basis? Therein lies the rub, as the Bard might have said. There is always a vision and lots of rhetoric about the future but there is no clear and actionable plan. The process drags on for decades, dies and fades into oblivion. A cynical approach and commentary? Perhaps, but sadly realistic. A legacy is lasting until the recipient of same, as in the case of a will, individual and funds, dissipates all that has been left to him or her. Or the host country returns to their normal day to day routines and the footnote in history has been recorded. As the king said to the scribe: "So let it be written, so let it be done. "About Mickey CharlesMickey Charles is president and CEO of real–time sports wire service The Sports Network (TSN), based in Philadelphia, US. For further information about The Sports Network, visit: www. sportsnetwork. com. The Sports Network2200 Byberry RdHatboro, PA 19040 Tel: +1 (215) 441–8444 Fax: +1 (215) 441–5767

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