Paralympic Legacy Lessons for Sochi

Legacy remains one of the most important issues relating to multisport mega-events across the globe and it could be argued that the development of legacy is one of the most urgent imperatives in elite sport. In this regard the Paralympics is no exception to the quest for long-term legacy; however, little in the way of documentation appears to be forthcoming from the international Paralympic community in this regard.

In response to this, Professor David Legg (Mount Royal University, Calgary) and Professor Keith Gilbert (University of East London) have published the first, and to date, only book addressing the legacy of the Paralympic Games. In it they review the concept of legacy across previous Paralympic Games going as far back as 1976 by providing a series of chapters under the headings of ‘The Paralympic Legacy Debate’, ‘Paralympic City Legacies’, ‘Emerging Issues of Paralympic Legacy’ and ‘Reconceptualising Paralympic Legacies’. The issues arising are discussed in terms of a meta-analysis of the authors’ work and offer interesting ideas which if taken up by the International Paralympic Committee, International Olympic Committee, Bid Committees, OCOGs and major sports could change the face of Paralympic legacy towards the positive forever.

What was not addressed however was the upcoming 2014 Winter Paralympic Games being held in Sochi. It would be interesting to see what the legacy of these Games can be noting that the 1980 Summer Paralympic Games were held in Arnhem, the Netherlands and not in Moscow, or another Soviet city.

With the exception of 1968 all other Summer Paralympic Games until time had been held in the same city or country as the Olympic Games. In particular, it will be interesting to see if the stated Barrier Free legacy of the 2014 Games is achieved. As reported in Around the Rings, the Sochi organising committee has identified new standards for urban planning and construction with accessibility being addressed in all venues and infrastructure. At the time of publication it was reported that close to 200 other Russian cities had adopted Sochi’s goal of a barrier free environment. With the goal in mind of being able to assess Sochi’s legacy post hoc, the following is presented as an excerpt from the aforementioned book ‘Paralympic Legacies’ published by Common Ground.


Chapter 22 ‘Epilogue: The Plot Thins’

Legacy and indeed Paralympic legacy is an important concern which has not been fully explored and there is sparce information in the academic world regarding the effects of sports or civil legacy on a nation state. This was perhaps the main reason for the development of this text. What we have concluded is that while much has been accomplished there is still a great deal that could be achieved in future Games to maximise the legacy impact. We believe that this will require concerted effort from many stakeholders but perhaps most importantly focused leadership from the International Paralympic Committee itself.

If we argue that legacy is the process of developing a new culture in a city by regeneration and providing opportunities for cultural renewal then we need to ask to what extent the Paralympic movement through the auspices of the IPC has control and what role does it play in developing it? The short answer is that based on prior Games it appears to have little control or role. This is conceivably because the IPC appears to have limited direct power with respect to the host cities and without this it cannot effectively play a role in societal or cultural renewal. Basically, in terms of hard legacy, it could be argued that the IPC has been ‘riding on the coat-tails’ of the IOC, the respective OCOG and nation states in terms of legacy from the Paralympic Games.

Indeed, it appears as though most Paralympic legacies occur through a form of Olympic to Paralympic osmosis, locally driven initiatives or serendipity. This is not to say that the contributions of local leaders (who might be argued form the foundation of the Paralympic ‘movement’) are not valued or important but instead we recognize that perhaps much more can be achieved via Games’ legacy through a coordinated and concerted focus from the IPC itself.

In order to clarify this statement we have to reflect on the work in this book, as various authors have argued that the concept of a sporting legacy is in itself problematic when it is used to categorise what is left behind after a Paralympic Games. There have been authors who have referred to the concepts of the two dimensions of Paralympic legacy - pprincipally that of soft and hard legacies. However, it appears as though there are few specific hard legacies that are influenced by the IPC and left behind after a Paralympic Games. We are, of course, aware of specialist transport, (which is almost always in the city already) and the development of the athlete’s village to make it disability friendly (mostly wheelchair) by the OCOG. Where we see this being extended for instance is through the IPC influencing the development of accessible sports venues, long term and far reaching commitments to education, and the enabling of the broadest and deepest media coverage possible (as but a few examples). The IPC, who arguably are the guardians of Paralympic legacy for people with a disability, appear to not have a ‘legacy voice’ and there is a need to understand who exactly is at the centre of legacy development and who are the people with the legacy voices?


Central figures

When exploring social processes within a nation state there is clearly justification and promotion for a Games Bid and along with the bid comes pressure from interested parties. For example, pressure from individuals who promote legacy form a loose conglomeration of often self interested individuals from business, government, local government, sports executives, and sport stars, who are supported by their media support teams. These diverse groups subsume the needs of the city inhabitants and are allowed either through social status, privilege or new money to become the holders of the ‘legacy voice’ for the rest of the population.

We also argue that issues of legacy from sporting events go to the very heart of society, and as such we ask the important question as to what sort of society we live in when we need outside sporting bodies such as the IOC and their OCOGs to change and deliver basic services which should be delivered in the context of normal societal structures. It is agreed that the IOC have created a sporting revolution in the delivery of major sporting events by using the legacy term and by making promises and influencing the host’s government and business to develop that which probably should have happened anyway - regardless of able bodied or disability focus. Furthermore, governments support the bidding process and persuade their citizenry that they need the sporting event and that there will be tangible legacy rewards for going along with their grandiose plans.

Indeed, legacy plans are driven deep into the minds of ordinary people as they imagine and are promised a new utopia with fancy buildings, sports parks, waterways, shops and the promise of a better lifestyle. People are influenced into believing that along with the major sporting event comes a new lifestyle and proof of this is in the fact that there has been billions of tax payers’ dollars spent in the name of legacy or what is left behind from recent major sporting festivals. However, we must never forget that many people earn little money or live below the poverty line and if we take the case of east London people are quite poor and only the individuals who have money will likely be fully able to access the Games, and the trappings that are promised through legacy projects. This of course has implications from a disability and Paralympic perspective in that people with disabilities are often under employed and earn less than their able bodied peers and thus perhaps even further hindered by this challenge.

Beyond the general attention towards cultural renewal is typically a focus on young people and especially relevant for this book are youngsters with disability who become a part of the cultural renewal process. However, what we are manifestly unable to discuss is how this cultural shift and cultural renewal is influenced by legacy promises. Indeed, perhaps in the bidding process and during the games period, legacy functions as a smokescreen behind which important social shifts take place. In actuality legacy is thrust upon people and it is not necessarily democratically structured. In the case of sporting legacy there is perhaps a mindset that promotes the wealthy and administrators who decided upon whether the populous will have the stadia, pools, and trappings of legacy whether they want them or not. Indeed, after the Games have left the city there is nothing left but legacy.


A proposition for the IOC

A final conclusion from our book is that there needs to be further examination regarding the relationship between Olympic and Paralympic legacy particularly if the Games continue with the practice of hosting one after the other? Clearly, Olympic legacy is all about bequeathing amazing sporting facilities (for which they have no fiscal responsibility prior to or after the Games) to a city that can be utilised long after the Olympic and Paralympic Games have moved onto the next host city. As promoted in this book, Paralympic legacy is about developing an understanding in society for the marginalised and changing cultural beliefs and this can only be achieved through soft legacy development. In this manner there needs to be more focus on the benefits and abilities to further develop the soft legacy associated with the Paralympic Games.

The IOC has realised the benefits of legacy and are perhaps using the term as another contemporary pillar along with others such as ‘sustainability’ to court new cities into bidding for future Olympic Games. In contrast the IPC has little control or presently published focus on legacy. The IOC, meanwhile has successfully set itself as an organisation concerned with the manufacturer of social change as well as an elite sports organisation – it is continually reinventing itself and can perhaps be classed as a proxy United Nations who take on social and world issues which are valuable to it such as the previously mentioned sustainability, environment and legacy. In our opinion the IOC could add further financial and political support to the IPC as there can be no better legacy for the International Olympic Committee than to support legacy for the Paralympic Movement.

What we have seen and learned through the development of this book is that tremendous legacies have been left, in many, if not all the cities examined that have hosted Paralympic Games. We are concerned, however, that the extent or reach of these has perhaps not been fully realised yet we are not naïve to the challenges in doing so from any number of perspectives – bee they financial, human resource, or political. What we do hope for, however, is a commitment from the highest levels of leadership in sport, both Paralympic and Olympic, to recognise and capitalise on the benefits of hosting Paralympic Games. We look forward to contributing to this process, and watching how future Paralympic Games continue to build upon the tremendous traditions and innovations begun by Sir Ludwig Guttmann. Perhaps in 20 years time we will have the privilege of producing a second edition of this test noting the many significant and important contributions from Games to come.

More information on the book can be found at

Contact details for the authors:

Professor Dr David Legg
Department of Physical Education and Recreation Studies
Mount Royal University, 4825 Mount Royal Gate, SW
Calgary, AB, T3E 6K6
Tel: +1 403 440 6495
Twitter @davidfhlegg

Professor Dr Keith Gilbert
Director Centre for Disability Sport & Health
Faculty of Health, Sport & Bioscience
University of East London
Stratford Campus
London E3 2NX
E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: +44 (0) 7912 849847

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