Celebration capitalism abound in the world of sport mega-events

Christian Tolstrup Jensen
Department of Sports, Physical Education and Outdoor Studies
University of South-Eastern Norway

Richard Gruneau & John Horne (red)
Mega-Events and Globalization: Capital and spectacle in a changing world order
233 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2017 (Routledge Research in Sport Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-1-138-06788-2

In the words of the editors, the goal of this anthology is to “map the main lines of criticism directed towards mega-events in the early twenty-first century (…) especially in non-Western contexts” (p. 6-7). The chapters thus centre on “the East and the South”, not least on various representatives of the BRICS-countries, inquiring into the consequences of hosting mega events in these countries for both the global relations of economy and power and the local population, positive as well as negative.

The book’s backdrop is a plea for a revitalisation of the study of the connection between today’s mega events and global capitalism, which has become the main “main line” of criticism throughout the book. Consequently, the study of global relations concerns not only the classical notion of competing nation states, but a much more complex matrix of (global) cities, states, International NGOs (INGOs) and transnational corporations (TNCs). Finally, the book aspires to break with a view on events as a cultural tool for creating a global community around the spectatorship, which the editors ascribe to researchers such as Maurice Roche and Roland Robertson. This anthology does not look at the events per se but in line with other recent studies takes a critical view on event legacies (cf. publications such as Brittain, Bocarro, Byers, & Swart, 2017; Zimbalist, 2015, 2017).

Almost all contributions touch upon specific cases of events or sports, but faithful to the backdrop they also often have an either explicit theoretical perspective or relate their study to a more general concept such as “celebration capitalism”. In my view, this makes the book useful for future studies outside of the specific contexts of the cases in the book.

The first part starts with theoretical perspectives on events in Gotham’s and Compton’s contributions. Gotham applies Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction” to provide a more theoretically founded perspective on the possibilities of resistance than is usually the case. He argues that mega events are not only dominating, their creative destruction both legitimises and delegitimises the system (p. 42), and so opens for resistance. In the following chapter, Compton agrees that protests can happen during events, but the theory of spectacles of Guy Debord claims that protest “has become part and parcel of the spectacle”. In the “integrated” spectacle of events and mass media, e.g., Pussy Riot’s protests at Sochi only added to the promotion of the Games. Such theoretical discussions are rare and welcome.

The first part concludes with contributions by Darnell & Millington and Desai on sport events in Latin America (The Olympics in Mexico 1968 and Rio 2016) and South Africa (FIFA World Cup 2016). They both analyse and discuss events as shortcuts to modernity. While the first two papers showed theories as a way of abstracting from single cases, these open for the same thing by using concepts like “celebration capitalism” and “spectacular” on regional case studies, which shows how such discourses endure despite the lack of realisation of the expected legacies.

He argues that mega events are not only dominating, their creative destruction both legitimises and delegitimises the system, and so opens for resistance.

Darnell & Millington and Desai lead nicely to the second part, which starts with a case study of Rio during the Olympics as a state of exception (Vainer). Whereas this is not new, Vainer’s contribution is interesting in its theoretical discussion on the state of exception as possible because of “the democracy of capital”, which the event brings with it. Later in Part 3, Gaffney in a way supplements studies such as Vainer’s on events in Brazil with a broad insight into how the FIFA World Cup in Brazil affected all the different host cities.

Apart from the use of concepts and theories, a third way of making an overview is by describing and discussing the span of possibilities of various consequences of events. This is what Broudehoux and Boykoff do, as they respectively give an overview of how a city excludes its unwanted sides, such as poverty, and discuss the possibilities for (successful) political protests at events, building on the case of the Sochi Olympics.

The second part ends on a postcolonial note with Farred’s essay on how to talk about race after former FIFA president Sepp Blatter uses, in Farred’s view, racism as a way of getting corruption charges against Qatar off the table.  “Racism” has become a charged “signifier”, “always (…) in the process of being filled” (p. 160) – the question is with what and by whom.

The final, third part of the book on “economies and events and experiences” takes up themes mostly touched upon in previous sections. However, it is important as it adds South-East Asia to the map of the book. Shin so takes on the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China in 2010 and Incheon, South Korea in 2014; with this, the reader sees how hosts (on the local and national levels) across continents and political systems from Latin America to Africa and Asia are very similar. They hold the same aspirations and have the same difficulties of keeping debts at bay while using events to improve the economy (difficulties that, of course, are just as relevant in the West).

The book concludes with a chapter on eSport in South Korea. I particularly liked the outset of a specific, emerging sport (if only in the research, the paper shows eSport as event dates back several decades) rather than a specific event. Here is inspiration for further research.

In conclusion, there are many lines along which to criticise mega events. This book shows how capitalism is indeed a “main line”. There are several other studies of many of the events covered in the anthology, but it is relevant nonetheless. It is a collection of generally short and easily read papers, which makes it possible for the reader to experience the similarities across the cases and through the concepts and theories find inspiration for one’s own research.

Copyright © Christian Tolstrup Jensen 2018


Brittain, I., Bocarro, J., Byers, T., & Swart, K. (2017). Legacies and Mega Events: Fact or Fairy Tales?Routledge.
Zimbalist, A. (2015). Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.
Zimbalist, A. (Ed.). (2017). Rio 2016. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.


Table of Content

  1. Mega Events and Globalization: A Critical Introduction
    Richard Gruneau and John Horne

PART I: Creative Destruction, Modernization and Spectacular Capitalism

  1. Beyond Bread and Circuses: Mega-Events as Forces of Creative-Destruction
    Kevin Fox Gotham
  2. Mega-Events, Media and the Integrated World of Global Spectacle
    James Compton
  3. Modernization, Neoliberalism and Sports Mega Events: Evolving Discourses in Latin America
    Simon Darnell and Rob Millington
  4. Between Madiba Magic and Spectacular Capitalism: The FIFA World Cup in South Africa
    Ashwin Desai

PART II: States of Exception

  1. Mega-events and the City of Exception: Theoretical Explorations of Brazilian experience
    Carlos Vainer
  2. Mega-events, Urban Image Construction and the Politics of Exclusion
    Anne Marie Broudehoux
  3. Sochi 2014: Politics, Economics, Spectacle, and Dissent
    Jules Boykoff
  4. The World Cup, the Security State and the Colonized Other: Reflections on Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and Qatar
    Grant Farred

PART III: Economies of Events and Experiences

  1. The Urban Impacts of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Chris Gaffney
  2. China meets Korea: the Asian Games, Entrepreneurial Local States and Debt-Driven Development
    Hyun Bang Shin
  3. Mega-Events of the Future: The Experience Economy, the Korean Connection and the Growth of eSport
    Michael Borowy and Dal Yong Jin
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