After the fireworks? Olympic legacy is all about people

by Janet Houen

Published on
August 30, 2016

Before the ink was even dry on Rio’s winning campaign bid for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the scuttlebutt had started on the eternal Olympic talking points of ‘legacy’, ‘sustainability’, ‘cost’.

This scrutiny is a given — a rocky road every organising committee navigates — and is of course legitimate in light of the huge public expenditure that pours into preparation.

For Rio and Brazil, in a bonfire environment of political and economic flux, the stakes have been extremely high. Reputation management has been pushed to its limit.

Pinning down the benefits of being Olympic host is always tricky. Yes, the statistics are interesting: the future goals for post-Games venue utilisation, social impact assessments and urban renewal and jobs creation and tourism all chewed over in countless column centimetres — as they should be.

But for me, it’s all about people. Beyond the boffins and the bean counters and the Olympic gravy train, what we really remember about any Games is the sheer human spirit of it all. A potent form of communication, beyond language barriers. People still talk about how different Sydney was during the Olympics and Paralympics — chatty strangers on trains, thousands of volunteers managing a welcoming smile even after eight hours on their feet, the excitement and the spectacle of a beautiful city at its best, world-beating performances and heart-breaking ‘near misses’, the thrill of spotting a famous athlete or celebrity out and about. Rio too had this buzz and style and atmosphere.

Sound a bit romanticised? Sure — but don’t we need a bit more of that?

With too much war, strife, dispossession in the world, there is growing discussion around development of a permanent home for the Olympic and Paralympic movement. However this is the same reason the Games must continue despite the challenges — what other human endeavour even comes close to such a celebration of connection and commonality between the world’s peoples, of amazing stories of triumph over adversity, of sheer determination and hard work, of pride in ‘having a go’? This is the beauty and the true legacy of the Games.

In the wash-up, Rio — despite a murky undercurrent and more than a few issues management glitches — shone brightly. Fingers crossed that the Paralympics is equally as vibrant.

This Huffington Post article is an excellent wrap-up of some of Rio’s big achievements you don’t read about in most media, with some innovative ideas that will undoubtedly be adopted for future Games.

And the new Olympic Channel has a great highlights video that sums it up nicely.

Well done Rio 2016!