The mega-event syndrome: why so much goes wrong in mega-event planning and what to do about it

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Problem, research strategy, and findings: Mega-events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup have become complex and transformative undertakings over the last 30 years, with costs often exceeding USD 10 billion. These events are currently planned and governed in ways that produce adverse effects for cities, regions, and residents. This study identifies a mega-event syndrome, a group of symptoms that occur together and afflict mega-event planning, including overpromising benefits, underestimating costs, rewriting urban planning priorities to fit the event, using public resources for private interest, and suspending the regular rule of law. I describe each of these symptoms, providing empirical examples from different countries and mega-events, examining the underlying causes. The research is based on material from field visits to mega-event sites in 11 countries as well as 51 interviews with planners, managers, politicians, and consultants involved in mega-event planning.Takeaway for practice: To curb the mega-event syndrome, I propose both radical and incremental policy suggestions. The most crucial radical change that an event host could make is to not tie mega-events to large-scale urban development, avoiding higher risks that create cost overruns, substandard construction quality, and oversized infrastructure not suitable for post-event demands. Further, event hosts should bargain with event-governing bodies for better conditions, earmark and cap public sector contributions, and seek independent advice on the costs and benefits of mega-events. Event-governing bodies, for their part, should reduce the size and requirements of the events.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-17
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number1
Early online date11 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • mega-events, impacts, sport, Olympic Games, Football World Cup