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The bid, the lead-up, the event and the legacy: global cultural politics and hosting the Olympics




Hosting mega sport events, especially the Olympics, demands an extensive engagement with global civil society given the voluntary, highly mediated exposure of host cities and nations to the world. The philosophy of Olympism requires ethical authority in demonstrating ‘fitness’ to host the Games, so demanding intensive strategic image management. Offensive and defensive mobilization of image-dependent ‘species of power’ in the field of sport (in a Bourdieusian sense) in conducting ‘wars of position and movement’ (following Gramsci) within global civil society are, then, crucial features of competitive manoeuvres around staging major sport events.

The main empirical focus of this article is on the case of the Sydney 2000 (‘Millennial’) Games, in illustrating the socio-political dynamics of bidding and hosting in the context of a major civil societal matter of concern – Australia's continuing failure to achieve reconciliation with, and equality for, its indigenous peoples. Ironically, though, it was in the domain of human rights that Sydney had an advantage over its closest competitor in the 1993 bidding process – China. The strategies deployed to secure the consent of Australian Aborigines to the Games are addressed in analysing the means by which the Sydney 2000 Games avoided major disruption and international criticism. A second, briefer case analysis is then presented of the disputation concerning Beijing's successful bid for the 2008 Olympics, which saw them influentially described by one (US) political activist as the ‘Genocide Games’ and the subject of international protests surrounding the Torch Relay. It is concluded that the contrasting levels of public, mediated discord in these two Olympiads in which human rights were key issues related, significantly though not exclusively, to the Chinese authorities' difficulties in ‘winning consent’ through strategic incorporation of the most conspicuous, non-state oppositional forces within Western-dominated global civil society in its most immediate, unruly, and mediatized form.