Christian Tolstrup Jensen
Department of Sports, Physical Education and Outdoor Studies
University of South-Eastern Norway
U rban Politics of a Sporting Mega Event is a case study of a sports event, and as such, it shares some feature with the well-known critical, evaluative case studies of various mega events, not least as a failed urban development projects (cf. Boykoff, 2017; Degen, 2004; Harvey, 1989). However, the study is original nevertheless as it analyses less the concrete implications of the event but rather the discourses that the proponents and the protesters utilized to promote and oppose the event respectively, from an ethnographic perspective.
The event, UEFA Euro 2012, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, is thus not the central point, but rather the location of the study, the Polish city Poznań. Kowalska shows how – for the proponents – the event was a modernisation project (p. 13–14), and how they build an argument for this around positive clichés and event experiences from the city’s past. They portrayed “the citizens of Poznań as hard-working and pragmatic, good at business and loving order (or ordnung in the local dialect, after the German word Ordnung)” (p. 24), and exploited the myth around the General National Exhibition in 1929.
However, the idea to host the event becomes an area of conflict. Not everyone agrees that the event is compatible with the previous ideals (p. 82) and this enables the opposition to criticise the event pointing both at the generally bad reputation of sports events (cf. the aforementioned critical research) and at the proponents’ incorrect use of the clichés. Interestingly, this meant that initially the range of critical voices was rather broad. The majority of the critique came from the left wing of the political spectrum, but there was also criticism from within the elite, who accepted the business discourse but did not see the discourse materialise. They agreed that Poznań was a company, although a “badly managed” one (p. 116).
This shows how events and their opponents become a microcosm for the study of a city’s development, only much more compressed as decisions, which otherwise would have come little by little, suddenly has to be made in a hurry (p. 111).
Kowalska is on the other hand not blind to the fact that the Euro 2012 was no accident, but rather the neoliberal crowning of a long-term, conscious, goal-oriented development (s. 119). I would argue that, considering the fact that events usually are awarded following a process that involves a high degree of uncertainty, this might actually have been the case. I do not see it as a coincidence that Poznań would get an event, but that the event was to be the UEFA European Championship was surprising – this uncertainty then might further have heightened the pressure on decision-making processes and eventually the organized protests.After all, this book is not primarily a case study of an event in some place; it is a study of Poznań in its role as host.
The main part of the study is based on interviews with informants found by the use of “flex nets”, i.e. “flexible networks of people who shaped the discourse and decided on the praxis on account of Euro 2012” (p. 9). The author is a local ofPoznań, and has reached out to people on different levels with different opinions, “hardly a homogenous entity” (p. 10). The story appears well founded and indeed with many different voices, but it would have been interesting to have heard more reflections on any systems in these wide and loose networks of these at least two rather distinct oppositional groupings, the liberal companies and the left (p. 115–116, p. 94).
On the very last page of the book, Kowalska discusses the book’s finding in a national, diachronic perspective, i.e. the political changes in Poznań and the whole of Poland in the first couple of years after the hosting of the Euro in 2012. Another possibility would have been to relate the study to the debate within the field of global sports events and not least the problems IOC has faced finding host cities for the Olympic Games. That remains for readers so inclined to do.
After all, this book is not primarily a case study of an event in some place; it is a study of Poznań in its role as host. The book’s local/national perspective does not prevent the reader from drawing the parallels to other events, but its insistence on a local perspective is an important reminder of the necessity to consider local and national circumstances before explaining an event as an expression of neoliberalism or globalisation.
I do not think the study succeeds in this only because of its methods or theoretical approach. It is also worth noticing its format. It is a book, not a very long book (which is a compliment), but nevertheless a book length study of the impact of a sports event. It is a case study, but with space for a filling context, which I miss in many papers on the impacts on sport events.
One does not always need the bigger context to understand the mishaps of an event, e.g., a negative or missing legacy, but when aiming at understanding the role of an event in a specific location, sufficient context is key.
Kowalska’s case study tells the story of an international event entering a local setting. It does this from a local perspective, which shows how the local setting eventually constructs its own story around the event.
Boykoff, J. (2017). Green Games: The Olympics, Sustainability, and Rio 2016. In A. Zimbalist (Ed.), Rio 2016 (pp. 179–205). Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Degen, M. M. (2004). Barcelona’s Games: The Olympics, urban design, and global tourism. In M. Sheller & J. Urry (eds.),Tourism Mobilities: Places to Play, Places in Play. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge
Harvey, D. (1989). From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation in urban governance in late capitalism. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 71(1), 3–17.
Roche, M. (2000). Megaevents and Modernity: Olympics and Expos in the Growth of Global Culture. London: Routledge.
Copyright © Christian Tolstrup Jensen 2019