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The impacts of mega events: a case study of visitor profiles, practices and perceptions in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, East London

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posted on 2018-07-06, 08:18 authored by Jordan O. Dawson
In 2012, London successfully hosted the Games of the XXX Olympiad. The main legacy of hosting the event is the 560 acre, mixed use Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park located in Stratford in the heart of London s former industrial East End. The Park is located across the four Park Boroughs of Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, each distinct in character but shaped by similar trends of urban regeneration and gentrification. This research examines the profiles, practices and perceptions of visitors to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as an impact study of mega events conducted within five years after the London Olympics. It draws on research about mega events and urban regeneration with a focus on sports science and geography that has largely neglected visitor experiences as an outcome of mega events. Based on a mixed methods approach combining a longitudinal face-to-face visitor survey conducted over two years, a postal survey among local schools, and interviews with stakeholders, this thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by proposing a new conceptual framework on mega event legacy and empirical findings on the use and perceptions of The Park by local, regional, national and international visitors. The conceptual approach (Chapter 3) bridges the two distinct literatures of mega-event legacy theory (and more broadly the sports literature) and actor-network theory. The framework allows for the study to approach the research questions from a tridic actor-network perspective, examining how material, immaterial and mainly human dynamic hybrids co-exist in complex webs of relations. It also allows for the unravelling of how these relations have given rise to impacts tied to the developments in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This unravelling is explored through the remainder of this thesis. Following the description and analysis of methods used in the thesis (Chapter 4), Chapter 5 provides a historic overview of the four Park Boroughs that define the study area of the thesis. The shifting nature of this multicultural area is contextualised in light of several catalytic events (industrialisation, de-industrialisation and finally the Olympic Games). At the heart of this examination is the intention to show that despite the narratives pedalled by policy makers, planners and politicians, areas of East London were inhabited by groups who for several centuries symbiotically produced and reproduced their own diverse identities and ultimately that of East London. Chapter 6 analyses and critiques 35 policy documents released during the Olympic cycle (broadly defined here as the period between 2003 and 2012) and follows both the visible and invisible actants. The key findings are that: poorly executed event planning is inextricably linked to a poor implementation of local community interests; there were unheard and excluded voices, particularly the disadvantaged and displaced, in these policy and planning documents and; that there was little opportunity for the youth voice to be heard. Finally, the analysis of policy documents has underlined the value of reflecting on legacy promises from a longer-term perspective, suggesting that the legally binding bid books should be compared with the actual outcomes from a long-term perspective. The typical visitor to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (Chapter 7) is a white middle-aged male or female (71% over age 25, ~50/50 male and female). They will be visiting the sports facilities and their frequency of use suggests that they have monthly membership to one of the leisure centres. This indicates that they have a relatively high level of both social capital and disposable income. They will reside within the Park Boroughs, often within walking distance of the Park or close to a transport link with a direct transport connection, probably by the Underground system. They will not often visit the Park with under 18s and if they do visit with anyone, it will be their partner or friend, and thus they resemble very closely the typical affluent gentrifier couples. The term experience athlete was coined for these visitors with 53% being from the Park Boroughs. In addition, there were those who came to sight-see, designated as Games tourists of whom 56% of these were international visitors. While ~20% of the visitors to the Park were under age 18 most of these were under 12s attending with their parents. Young people and particularly young people from the Park Boroughs were largely absent from the Park, which was contributed to by discriminatory practices (often under the guise of security issues) which focused on groups of ethnic minority youth. The possible reasons for the absence of young people from the Park are explored and unravelled in Chapter 8 by discussing the results of the semi-structured interviews with local stakeholders and the postal survey with school staff. The key issues raised in this chapter were that: the lack of a representative youth voice with a hidden and perceived to be cosmetic contribution to legacy planning and; the lack of social and financial capital in school staff and young people in combination with the gentrifying process and; spatial factors such as distance from the Park and poor acces routes, all contributed to the absence of young people from the Park. Overall, this thesis stresses the importance of unravelling networks to their fullest extent to truly understand the impact such spaces have on diverse communities.


Loughborough University.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© Jordan Dawson

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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