Measuring the Olympic Legacy
One positive legacy of the Vancouver Olympics may be the Olympic Line Streetcar, operating as a demonstration project in downtown. Photo by DianeWorth, flickr.

One positive legacy of the Vancouver Olympics may be the Olympic Line Streetcar, operating as a demonstration project in downtown. Photo by DianeWorth, flickr.

As we previously posted, Vancouver’s preparations to host the Winter Olympics involved constructing green venues, implementing several transportation projects and offsetting some emissions. The Games’ legacy will be the cumulative economic, social and environmental impacts of all of the construction, planning and event-time activities.

Quantifying that legacy has gotten a little easier with the Olympic Games Impact (OGI) study that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) developed to consistently measure the impact each Olympic Games has on the host city, region and country.

While the Beijing Organizing Committee conducted the first voluntary impact study, Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 were the first Winter and Summer Games obligated by the IOC to complete it. All future host city contracts will require the impact analysis. The OGI measures the impact over 12 years, starting with baseline data two years prior to the host city selection and continuing through until three years after the Games. Four reports are required

  • Baseline Report — establishes the baseline with data from two years before the host city is awarded the Games
  • Pre-Games Report — provides an updated assessment two years before the Games
  • Games-Time Report — analyzes the event itself
  • Post-Game Report — provides final conclusions about the impacts three years after the Olympics

Vancouver won the bid to host in 2003, so its study analyzes data from 2001-2013. University of British Columbia (UBC) was commissioned to complete the 2009 Pre-Games Report, which compares data from the final years of preparation to the 2001 baseline. They concluded there has been a slight positive impact so far.

A total of 126 indicators are used to measure the economic, social and environmental impacts of the Olympic Games. The environmental outcomes relate to land use, transportation and well-being, and air quality:

  • Land Use Changes — monitors changes to land use categories in the host city and region to estimate the nature and scope of Olympic development.
  • Public Open-Air Leisure Activities — uses square-kilometers of open space and the number of parks to track urban outdoor areas developed for public use.
  • Transport Network — indicates changes in the supply of transport with data about the kilometers of roads, public transit, bicycle paths and pedestrian streets.
  • Daily Travelling Distance — is an indicator of travel demand whose inputs are average daily trips, average distance traveled and mode share.
  • Traffic Congestion — monitors the duration (hours/day) and extent (kilometers/day) of congestion in the city and region.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions — measures emissions of six greenhouse gases in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents (Co2e) across several industries including construction, transportation and industries.
  • Air Quality — tracks the emissions of nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter measured at air quality monitoring stations and calculates the health risk of exposure to these concentrations of pollutants.


The set of indicators is comprehensive and should enable useful comparisons between Olympic Games. A few possible improvements would better assess a host city’s progress towards a sustainable Olympic legacy. These include the following categories:

  • Historic Baseline – The study compares the Olympic impacts to baseline data from two years before the host city selection. This can be misleading. Instead the baseline should be a “business as usual” scenario, which extrapolates historic trends and commitments. For instance, changes to the transportation network should be compared to a baseline scenario that includes previously planned transport investments. In Vancouver, the impacts of widening the Sea-to-Sky Highway and building the Canada Line should be measured against the projects that would have been implemented if Vancouver hadn’t won the Olympics, not against a build-nothing scenario.
  • Transportation Equity –A positive legacy of the Olympics would be increased mobility for the lowest income residents. The IOC’s technical review (PDF) of Rio’s 2016 bid concluded that the proposed public transport improvements “would be a significant infrastructure and social legacy for Rio, improving the connection of disadvantaged areas of the city with areas offering employment, recreation and leisure opportunities.” Host cities could assess transportation equity by collecting info about income along with travel demand data.
  • Physical Activity – Monitoring land use is important to characterizing the spatial impact of the Olympics, but the quantity of public space seems less important than whether the spaces are inviting and actively used. Given the link between physical activity and public health, the Olympic Games should aim to leave a healthy legacy. The host cities could better measure how their public spaces are utilized, or use a more direct indicator of physical activity such as daily hours of activity.

There may be opportunities to refine the OGI indicators, but as a standardized monitoring tool the study should make it easier to synthesize Olympics lessons learned and best practices. These trends can help host cities develop more sustainable bids and implementation plans. And ultimately, monitoring the impacts may help catalyze the development of new local, regional and national sustainable transport and climate change policies.

Hopefully, this type of impact analysis tool will also be adopted by organizers of other large events, such as the FIFA World Cup, the Cricket World Cup and Commonwealth Games to help guide their host cities towards their own sustainable legacies.

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