Going for gold – how regions can reap the benefits from the Games

Major sporting events cost millions, but their impact is often confined to the host city. New research has revealed how other areas can be winners too.

As Australia counts down to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Gold Coast is preparing to welcome almost 700,000 visitors for its biggest ever sport spectacular. The 11-day event is claimed to deliver long-term benefits for the city and has been described as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. But is it fair to invest so much on one location – and how can other areas reap the benefits?

Dr Sheranne Fairley, a senior lecturer at UQ Business School and an authority on how regions make the most of sport events like these, says this is now a key question: “International events are claimed to have a big impact on infrastructure investment, job creation and on the local community, but such benefits are often limited to the host city.

“Given that national and state governments spend millions on staging these events, there is a feeling that more effort must be made to increase the benefits received by outlying areas.”

Sheranne and her research colleagues have identified two key opportunities for non-host regions – pre-Games training and volunteering.

“With any international sporting competition, athletes arrive well in advance to acclimatise before the event,” adds Sheranne. “By attracting them and setting up training camps, outlying cities can benefit from increased tourism and media coverage, and foster new sport and business relationships. In the long-term, they can build their profile as a place for elite training camps and tourism.”

In these cases, a strategic approach is the key to success. When Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, regional communities tried to leverage the event but the successful ones were those that developed a long-term plan. Similarly for the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, a research study showed Port Phillip achieved real benefits from hosting the Papua New Guinea team because it made them an integral part of the celebrations and engaged the local community. By contrast, Geelong lost out – they put the Welsh team on parade but did not have a coordinated strategy.

In advance of the 2018 Games, Sheranne and her colleagues interviewed representatives on the Sunshine Coast to discover their approach to pre-Games training. While it is too early to see the long-term effects, it has revealed some useful lessons. She offers the following tips for towns in a similar position:

  • Promote the benefits of the location – such as an ideal climate, good sporting facilities or a quiet location within easy reach of the host city.
  • Involve key local figures – use key stakeholders as part of your campaign, such as a letter from the Mayor or a message from a local celebrity. The Sunshine Coast video featured Terri Irwin who operates Australia Zoo.
  • Identify target teams – include a mix of different sports and different nations. The Sunshine Coast set out to attract smaller teams as they felt they would be a better ‘fit’, along with some high-status athletes to boost its profile and some teams from developing countries.
  • Accommodate their specific needs – unusual requests can give less popular locations a real advantage, for example teams which prefer to train in isolation may prefer outlying areas, or those seeking self-catering accommodation can be housed in the suburbs. Consider including transport.
  • Engage the community – encourage visiting teams to take part in events in their national uniform, give talks at schools or train local teams. Use it as an educational opportunity to teach children about other nations and cultures.
  • Encourage others to join them – once the teams are secured, arrange packages for family, friends and supporters to boost tourist numbers.
  • Keep the long-term goal in mind – having elite athletes training in your town can enhance its reputation and can help promote it as a centre of excellence for sport, which may help the local economy too.

Another way for non-host communities to get involved is through volunteering. Research has suggested that, apart from fostering greater understanding, it can have long-term benefits by fostering a culture of volunteerism.

One study which followed a group of Australians who travelled to the 2004 Athens Olympics to volunteer, found that camaraderie and the Olympic connection were their key motives, rather than any desire to visit Greece. They went on to form a social group and even ten years later, some were doing other volunteer work as a result and were nostalgic about their shared experience.

However, a successful volunteering program will depend on the attitude of local people to the event. To gain further insights, Sheranne and her colleagues surveyed Townsville residents to understand how they felt about volunteering for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

“Two clear themes emerged – rivalry between the regions and the feeling that south-eastern cities were benefiting at Townsville’s expense,” says Sheranne. “One described it as ‘sucking the money for infrastructure into the southern corner’. The time and cost of travelling to the Gold Coast was also a barrier, as were work and family commitments.

“Despite this, many people did value the opportunity to take part and meet new people from overseas. They viewed it as a cause for national pride and a once in a lifetime experience.”

Sheranne has the following advice for those trying to encourage volunteering:

  • Understand what attracts them – research suggests this is national pride, a once in a lifetime opportunity and meeting new people – and highlight these in your marketing communications.
  • Ensure volunteer opportunities are worthwhile – people want to feel that their contribution justifies the time and money they are putting into it. Include detailed information about roles and responsibilities, so they can understand what is expected of them when they are there.
  • Emphasise the benefits to the wider area – Games organisers should not focus solely on the host city but emphasise the wider impact, while outlying cities should use civic leaders and other key figures to encourage locals to engage with the Games.
  • Make it as easy as possible to get there – provide information about travel and accommodation and consider offering subsidies. Many people said they would feel more comfortable travelling in a group, therefore, arrange discounted group packages for volunteers, and be clear what is or is not included so they know the costs upfront.

Sheranne adds: “Event organisers need to move away from the thinking that just hosting an event is enough to deliver the promised outcomes – they need to consider how to leverage the benefits. The same goes for non-host cities. Careful planning and a strategic approach is key to maximising positive outcomes.”

Last updated:
27 February 2019