n South African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation - Mega-events and ‘bottom-up’ development : beyond window dressing?

Volume 39 Number 1:2
  • ISSN : 0379-9069


Over the past two decades, two parallel trends concerning sport and the ‘developing world’ accelerated. Firstly, sports mega-events (SMEs) became strategic policy priorities for ambitious ‘rising states’. Secondly, the ‘Sport for Development and Peace’ (SDP) movement grew dramatically, attracting new funding and followers at a rate exceeding the ‘development regime’ as a whole. These parallel movements highlight two longstanding development logics – a neoliberal emphasis on growth, mega-projects and aggregate benefits that are supposed to ‘trickle-down’ to poorer people, and a reformist preoccupation with poverty alleviation, equity and inclusion. Critics have long argued that the former logic invariably trumps the latter in SMEs, and that developing societies should shift scarce resources from event hosting to urgent social development needs. Yet, while this emphasis on ‘bread not circuses’ is compelling, it runs up against the dilemma that resources are mobilised for SMEs in a way that few other imperatives can match. Thus, the question arises: could major games be recast as vehicles for a more frontal effort to tackle poverty, inequality and marginality? By connecting bottom-up and top-down dynamics, more broadly developmental outcomes are possible; but the range and effects of such outcomes are likely to remain limited.

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