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Interview

 "Dare to have a vision!"

What will be the legacy of the Olympic Games? Like so many residents of Rio de Janeiro, David Stubbs is also asking himself this question. The British expert on sustainability talks about expectations that are too high for this year’s host, perseverance and extinguished flames.

Interview Tino Scholz

Mr. Stubbs, in Brazil it is said that the success of the Olympic Games won’t be defined by sports but for the most part by sustainability. How do you explain this attitude?

Over the short term, it’s naturally all about sports and medals. But when the Games are over, memories of the event quickly fade from people’s minds and everything goes back to normal. If the Games have been sustainable, then something will have changed in everyday life. If nothing has changed, then everyone asks: Why did we do this?

 

The Olympics can also have a boomerang effect?

Let me put it this way: You have to dare to have a vision. It’s the key! Every city aspires to become a “city of the future.” Should you start this process with the Olympics and Paralympic Games? Probably not. But the Games can be an amazing catalyst to advance planned projects. A good example of this is London: we advanced the development area of East London so far in just seven years, something that might have taken at least thirty without the Olympics. And the positive effects can still be felt today.

<h2 class="blue-box-headline">About</h2> <p class="no-indentation">David Stubbs, 57, was the head of the Sustainability Committee from 2003 to 2012 for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Today he works independently as an expert consultant on questions of sustainability, with clients that include the International Olympic Committee, the Union of European Football Associations and the World Economic Forum.</p>

About

David Stubbs, 57, was the head of the Sustainability Committee from 2003 to 2012 for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. Today he works independently as an expert consultant on questions of sustainability, with clients that include the International Olympic Committee, the Union of European Football Associations and the World Economic Forum.

But what sort of catalyst are the Olympics?

With the right planning, new, livable neighborhoods can be created that continue to thrive. Infrastructure can be expanded so that previously remote areas are suddenly connected to city centers. New opportunities can be created and bring jobs. The Olympics can be a tremendous boost for the common good. 

 

As we’ve seen before in Munich in 1972, or in Barcelona in 1992?

Yes—even though those were both in an era when the idea of sustainability wasn’t as prominently exploited. Nonetheless, both cities benefitted tremendously from the Games, especially through the enhancement of city districts and new infrastructure. Even today those Games are still having an effect—and that’s the whole point. Sustainability as an explicit goal was first defined in Sydney in 2000. Since then, the topic is firmly anchored in the IOC candidature process.

 

 

 

Do you think that Rio de Janeiro will benefit from the Games?

There will certainly be an added value: infrastructure is being modernized, areas such as Porto Maravilha upgraded. There will also be hidden winners, for instance small and medium-sized companies that will receive more contracts. But: Could they have done more? I would answer, yes. But that applies to all the host cities. 

 

What do you mean?

The organizers in Rio are doing a great job. But their vision is possibly less apparent than it has been for other Games. Perhaps also because there isn’t this one area in Rio where everything is concentrated. In Rio there were great hopes around the World Cup—and now the Games. These sporting events are being elevated as a decisive moment for the transformation of an entire city. These expectations are certainly too high in the current economic context. Of course, things were different when the Games were awarded. 

 

Mayor Eduardo Paes is promising a Rio de Janeiro that is different after the Games: more caring, more united, safer.

I think there will partly be examples of this all across the city that demonstrate the changes. But only in those areas. It’s most likely that major change will fail to materialize.

Is this because of negative examples such as Guanabara Bay? It was supposed to have been cleaned of sewage, but those responsible failed at this. Are the Olympics coming up against their limits with these sorts of questions?

Wastewater from 11 million people flows into this bay. That’s not something that’s easy to change. Yet the long process required for this was only initiated by the hosting of the Olympic Games. The question of what’s going to happen with the bay after the fact is something the authorities will have to answer for. Will they continue to clean it up once the global attention has subsided? It’s like this: the IOC, the media and the politicians, too, have other priorities after the Olympics. Consistent structures and plans for after the Games are needed. We’ll know more about how well Rio de Janeiro used the Olympics and Paralympics in several years.

 

 

 

The London 2012 Summer Games took place four years ago. The opinions about them are largely positive.

We focused on a particular part of the city that we wanted to bring forward from the get-go. Looking at that in comparison, that certainly proved advantageous. We managed to use the Olympic Games to develop a huge derelict area in eastern London and make it livable. It required coordination, planning and a strategy—things that had previously been lacking. We had a clear vision and a master plan that proved successful.

 

Organizers today must do more than just organize a sporting event?

Exactly. Nowadays the International Olympic Committee doesn’t just demand that a city show how stadium A or hall B is going to be used. It’s about the benefit for society. In East London we now have a much better transportation system, new homes, the soil contamination has been redressed, a fantastic park was created, shops and businesses have been established. 

 

Can Rio de Janeiro be even more successful?

We can’t compare these things. Unfortunately, in Rio de Janeiro the media focus is always on topics such as the polluted bay, corruption or the Zika virus. Of course it’s a huge task, especially when everything is happening at once. But I’m confident that the added value from the Games will show itself once things have calmed down. To use a sporting metaphor: the Olympics aren’t a sprint. It’s more like a long-distance race. Even long after the flames have gone out.