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Benefits and limitations of mega-event legacies for Russian cities

August 23, 2020

Dr. Polina Ermolaeva, Associate Professor of the Department of General and Ethnic Sociology of Kazan Federal University, has been studying various social and environmental features of sports mega-events for Russian cities from 2013, when she secured a grant on analyzing the social consequences of the 2013 Summer Universiade for Kazan and 2014 Olympic Games for Sochi. She has authored several publications on the legacy of sports mega-events for post-Soviet cities.

Alex Lind, a postdoctoral student at the Institute of Geosciences and Geography at Martin-Luther-University in Germany, tackled this topic in his PhD thesis on FIFA World Cup in a comparative perspective. He is an organizer of the international conference '2018 FIFA World Cup as the opportunity and driver for the regional development in Kaliningrad and Kazan' that was held Kaliningrad on 27-29 November 2018.

The paper reflects on the way that the 2018 FIFA World Cup Sustainability Strategy was implemented for Russian host cities through case studies of the cities of Kazan and Kaliningrad. The co-authors argue that sports mega-events may be rationalized through the so-called performative framework as "simulacrums"-- declared actions that are substitutes for and imitations of the social, economic, and environmental changes required to host mega-events, as opposed to meeting the real needs of the local host communities. The imitative practices arise due to the limited time frames and lack of strategic planning of the host cities' governance or other reasons.

The study showed that Kazan managed to develop into a national sports center in a decade by hosting various international events. For example, the metro and bicycle routes have been expanded and the public vehicle fleet modernized to promote environmentally friendly mobility in the city and to prevent a traffic collapse in the course of its dynamic development. The will to implement further sustainability measures is also reflected in a more detailed topic of waste separation, which after a test phase was to be implemented throughout the city in 2019.

While Kazan has already hosted numerous international (mega) events, the World Cup was Kaliningrad's first event of such magnitude. In contrast to Kazan, Kaliningrad is still in the beginning phase with regard to the topic of waste separation and treatment, so that a holistic concept is unlikely to be implemented before 2020.

Contrasted with the positive outlook from FIFA officials on the Sustainability legacies for Russia's World Cup host cities (though there is no post-event complex assessment), and based on the research, the authors came to a conclusion that most of the sustainable practices were imitative by nature to meet FIFA's requirements for the host cities, but did not serve as a sustainability legacy for their own citizens. For example, the inconvenience of bike paths for the everyday use of citizens in Kaliningrad; the urgent planting of greenery, the majority of which disappeared shortly after the event; the introduction of rubbish bins in Kazan but not the implementation of a massive recycling awareness campaign. These examples show that the mechanical applications of "best" international practices and building the infrastructure alone, without investment in environmental awareness and educational campaigns, the introduction of financial stimuli suitable for the Russian sociocultural context, and the necessary normative regulations, can lead to temporary and symbolic results. In our opinion, the gap between the rapid urban regeneration, infrastructural and institutional innovations, and slow adaptations of citizens' values and practices to the new changes, make Russian post-Soviet cities unique cases and at the same time common to other world cities for future analysis.

Despite the critical discourse, it is crucial to highlight that sports mega-events for post-socialist Russia are drivers for fruitful urban regeneration to comply with international standards. In post-industrial countries, the environmental infrastructure and institutional practices that have been forming for decades and are now taken for granted are pushing toward rapid development in Russian cities within a couple of years. Furthermore, the civic society that started to develop in the former Soviet Union, still needs more time to institutionalize and to change people's perception and the behavior of different actors, including those who are responsible for decision-making.

The research thus seeks to generate a better understanding of the role of FIFA and sports mega-events for creating sustainability legacies in host countries, the problems, and the need for more effective policies in the context of post-Soviet Russia. In the study, much attention is paid to bring the results of the sustainability policies to the key stakeholders and involve them in the decision-making process.

The authors would like to mention certain limitations associated with the current study that could be acknowledged and overcome in future research on the topic. First of all, the case-study approach with only two cases in the sample does not provide for a reliable generalization of the results for other Russian cities that hosted the FIFA World Cup. Second, the use of different methods employed in each case can potentially cause biases and does not allow to compare cases across similar variables inherent in survey and semi-structured interview designs. Due to the social-environmental focus of the study, we did not cover other topics inherent in Sustainability Strategy, such as human rights, labor rights on stadium construction sites, anti-discrimination, accessibility, tobacco-free events, and social development.

Kazan Federal University

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