International sports events

By Matt Burdett, 16th January 2018

On this page, we look at the political, economic and cultural factors affecting the hosting of international sporting events, including the Olympics and football World Cup events, and briefly look at what it can mean for the countries who host them.

Sports events at different scales

Sports events take place at all scales from the local to the international. This page will focus on major sporting events, namely the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. These are major events in several ways:

  • Most countries participate at some level
  • Teams represent nations, not cities or private clubs
  • Very large public interest in terms of both media and physical attendance
  • Global sponsorship deals
  • Countries compete with each other to host the events

However, there are smaller international sporting events such as the Universiade (an event for university students to compete) and the Six Nations Rugby tournament, which have similar impacts but on a much smaller scale.

A brief history of the Olympics and FIFA World Cup

The Olympics was first held in Ancient Greece from 776 BC and reoccurred every four years for around one thousand years. In 1896 they were re-established in Athens and have occurred every four years since then with the exception of 1916, 1940 and 1944 due to war. London has held the Olympics three times (more than any other city except Athens, which has also held it three times although one was 1906 which is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee), while Beijing is the only city to host both the summer and winter Olympics (the winter Olympics held in 2022).

The FIFA World Cup was first held in 1930 in Uruguay. Like the Olympics, it occurs every four years though missed 1942 and 1946 due to war. Mexico City, Rome and Rio de Janeiro have hosted the tournament twice each.

Factors affecting the choice of host nation and city

Both the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have a competitive process to select the cities and countries which will host the events. While each organisation is different, successful candidates have often considered similar features for their bids.

Political factors


The organisers of the bid must persuade the organisers of the sustainability and legacy of the event if it is held in their location. Lobbying is the attempt to persuade the committees that they are the best choice. This can happen privately and publicly. There has been some controversy in the past with suggestions that some winning bids have been lobbied with corrupt methods.

Governance structures and organisational capability

Bids must demonstrate that they have the organisational ability to host such major events. This generally means that they can show evidence of having clear and strong government with big infrastructure projects having been successfully implemented in the past.

Legal framework

The bids must show that they have the legal backing of their country. For example, it must be shown that people will not be illegally evicted from their homes as part of the construction of a new stadium. Also, bids should demonstrate that they are not corrupt, so that the integrity of the event is not questioned.

Economic factors

The main economic factor is the ability of the country to raise the money needed to build the facilities, either from the private sector or through taxation. A secondary factor is the existing infrastructure such as transport. It is mainly for economic reasons that major sporting events are almost always held in High Income Countries such as the UK or USA, or Middle Income Countries that are fast developing such as South Africa and China.

Cultural factors

The selection of Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup raised eyebrows among many people because of the lack of a footballing tradition within the country. Events are usually held in locations which have an established cultural link to the sport being played. However, part of the bidding process involves demonstrating how hosting the sports event can raise its profile in the country.

Impact on the host cities and nations

The IOC and FIFA bid processes both include a recognition that the hosting of such large events should lead to sustainable improvements in the host cities (IOC, 2018; FIFA, 2018).

The IOC identifies that the impact of hosting the Olympics should be a sustainable legacy, which it defines as the ‘lasting outcomes’ of the event. The IOC suggests that these lasting impacts as ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’. Tangible legacy refers to specific ‘touchable’ things such as improved transport infrastructure, urban regeneration and new parks. Intangible legacy refers to more abstract things such as changes in attitudes to sport, national pride and greater awareness of environmental issues.


A main outcome of a successful major international sporting event is the prestige that it confers on a city or country. The Olympics in Barcelona (1992), Sydney (2000) and London (2012) were all considered a great success and improved the international standing of those countries. Barcelona especially benefited from hosting the Games and transformed its image from an industrial port city to that of a world tourist destination.

A further consideration is that being awarded a major event can be a recognition of a country’s level of development towards being an open and successful society. China, South Africa and Brazil have all hosted major sports events which have, in part, reflected international recognition of the level to which these countries have developed their economies, government systems and infrastructure. The sporting event can be seen as a ‘seal of approval’ from the international community.


Host nations and cities will likely experience a boom in tourism during the event as people come to watch. In London’s 2012 Olympics, around 600,0000 people visited and spend almost double the amount of non-Olympic tourists (Telegraph, 2012).

Other benefits include sponsorship. Some estimates suggest that Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics earned around US$1.3 billion from sponsorship (Chapman, 2016).


Chapman, B., 2016. Rio 2016: The richest Games in 120 years of Olympic history. Accessed 16 January 2018.

FIFA [Fédération Internationale de Football Association], 2018. Benefits of bidding for and hosting FIFA’s other World Cup events. Accessed 16 January 2018.

IOC [International Olympic Committee], 2018. What Is Legacy? Accessed 16 January 2018.

Telegraph, 2012. Tourist spending spree at London 2012 Olympics boosts UK economy. Accessed 16 January 2018.

International sports events: Learning activities


  1. Outline the economic, political and cultural factors that lead a country or city to being awarded a major international sporting event. [6]
  2. What is meant by ‘legacy’ and ‘tangible legacy’? [2]
  3. Suggest three examples of intangible legacies. [3]
  4. Explain why cities bid to host major international sporting events. [4]
  5. Would you want your city to host a major event like the World Cup? Why? (You may include personal considerations such as your own level of interest in sport and the likely affordability of tickets to the event.) [4]

Other tasks

Option 1

Choose a city or country that you know well that has never hosted a major event such as the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup or International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships. Using research and your own ideas, put together the outline of a bid for a major event of your choice. You should:

  • Include the key reasons why the city or country wants to hold the event
  • Ensure you cover the political, economic and cultural factors that make a bid likely to succeed
  • Outline the specific infrastructure that already exists and will be developed as part of the preparations for the event
  • Explain the sustainable legacy (both tangible and intangible) that you hope to develop within your city or country

Option 2

Use a simple notes frame like the one below. Fill it in for either a bid city of your choice (and imagine what some outcomes would be) or use the Rio and London case studies on this site to fill it in for a real example.

Option 3

Alternatively, you could get together with other students and hold a simulation of a bidding process for the Olympics. This is not designed to truly replicate the Olympic bidding process but allow you to focus on the key political, economic and cultural factors. The following instructions work best if one person takes the role of the representative of the International Olympic Committee. If you’re a teacher, you may want to introduce the task using these Google Slides.

STOP PRESS: The Olympic Organising Committee is reopening the bidding process for the 2024 Games (for confidential reasons). Only those cities who were successfully through the first stage of bidding may re-apply.

Your task is to represent the city where you live. It will be one of:

  • Rome
  • Hamburg
  • Budapest
  • Los Angeles
  • Paris

This will be a streamlined process. There will be two stages: a presentation lasting between 4 and 5 minutes, given to the Committee’s representative, from which two cities will be shortlisted. The second stage will involve a ten minute panel interview of all of the shortlisted city’s representatives which will allow more in-depth assessment of the bid.

The presentation should focus on just three areas:

– Political capability

– Cultural issues

– Economic factors

You may discuss both the level to which your city is prepared, and what you hope the Olympics will help your city achieve. You should therefore ensure you have both the reasons why your city is a suitable location, and the expected impacts on your city.

Preparation time available: This is a relatively short project, because you can use the 2015 bids and put their ideas into a suitable format – there is no need to make up new information. The Wikipedia page is rather good for this. A suggested time scale is 40 minutes to prepare the presentation. After the presentations use a further 20 minutes to prepare further details for the panel discussion.

Extra information: You will see that the IOC eventually decided to announce the 2024 and 2028 Olympic cities at the same time; see if you can work out why it happened! There are also cities that withdrew their bids. If your city is one of them, you can withdraw from the process between the first and second stages.

Going further

Look at the following in-depth sites to find more information about the hosting of major events:

Click to access 2016-03-Olympic-Games-legacies-and-impacts-bibliography-update-2015.pdf