The Legacy of International Sporting Events in Young Nations

June 30, 2015

International Sporting Events are a great opportunity to put young and emerging countries on the map, to build national pride and bring people together.

Populous has been working with two nations on opposite sides of the globe that are trying to do just that – Baku in Azerbaijan has successfully hosted the inaugural 2015 European Games this month (12-28 June) and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (PNG) will host the XV Pacific Games from 4-18 July.

In Baku, the Games have generated impressive development over the past 30 months, and in PNG, provided the impetus for a redevelopment programme which has included the first stage of the new National Football Stadium.

Both countries have their mission firmly directed at legacy, and the Games are central to plans not only for improvements to sporting infrastructure but also for the long term social benefits of both nations.

Baku in Azerbaijan, situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, attracted 6,000 athletes for the inaugural European Games (12-28 June). The Games were developed as a European equivalent to the Asian Games or Pan American Games, benefiting athletes and opening up new commercial and sporting opportunities.

Populous worked on three venues for these inaugural Baku Games, creating the event overlay, and designing the temporary and additional facilities at the National Gymnastics Arena (NGA), and the International Broadcast Centre (IBC).

We have also overseen the infrastructural and operational requirements at the Athletes and Media Village, ensuring that the delivery of these venues would achieve the standards that a world-class event like Baku 2015 needs.

A particular challenge of this project was coordinating the various operational and technical requirements demanded by world-class events, and adhering to appropriate construction methods and regulations within the relatively short timeline available. The entire organization process of the Games took place in just 30 months.

However, with challenges come opportunities. To make the best use of the site in the most efficient and effective manner, the key was designing the overlay components and other infrastructure to enhance the existing features and character of the site, while providing a clear and strategically planned venue.

Another positive effect of this project for Populous was the collaboration that has gone on between local firms, suppliers and international designers. The combining of knowledge and techniques between Populous and the Games’ organizers has been hugely beneficial for both parties.

Formerly the Chief Executive of the British Olympic Association and Ipswich Town Football Club, Simon Clegg is the Chief Operating Officer of the Baku Organizing Committee. He commented during a recent sports business conference on the value of the Games to Baku.

“These European Games are a great opportunity to demonstrate how sport can act as a catalyst for change as well as showcasing a young and dynamic country, “he said.

“The development that Baku has seen in a relatively short amount of time is very exciting for the region and demonstrates just one dimension of what mega events can deliver. However, legacy must extend beyond physical infrastructure if Games are going to have a long-term benefit for the host nation on both a political and social level,” added Simon Clegg.

Meanwhile, next month, (4-18 July), 3000 athletes from 23 neighbouring Pacific nations will converge upon Port Moresby for the Pacific Games. For the first time in its 15 year history, Australia and New Zealand have been invited to take part to commemorate PNG’s 40th Anniversary of Independence. The Games will be an integral part of the grand celebrations.

The Games have been the catalyst for the redevelopment of PNG’s sporting facilities. Populous is working with Leighton Contractors and the client, the oil and gas exploration company Oil Search on the National Football Stadium (formerly Lloyd Robson Oval) which has been the home ground of the country’s national sport of Rugby League since 1975.

While the stadium isn’t finished in time for the Games, when it’s complete, the 25,000 seat National Football Stadium will be capable of hosting international competition and include 500 corporate seats and viewing deck.

The stadium will feature affordable and modular grandstand seating and a fabric roof made of PTFE. The National Football Stadium is a great example of what can be done on a budget with limited local resources.

Its price tag is AUD $86M and not only has cost been a constant challenge, so has getting hold of the building materials. Building costs are 20% higher in PNG because with limited local manufacturing, major elements of the stadium have had to be shipped in from elsewhere; like the main structural steel components, the modular seating system and the fabric roof.

Rugby League is part of the national psyche of PNG. Introduced to the country by Australian gold miners in the 1930s, its popularity has grown to the extent for many it is like a religion. A PNG team, the Hunters, plays in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup competition and the National team holds its own on the international stage.

In a nation where communities are far apart and many people live at a minimal subsistence level, Rugby League is a way of bringing communities together. Australia, through its aid program, is helping fund an NRL Rugby League in Schools pilot programme engaging a new generation of young school children to the sport focusing on qualities like “respect” and the “importance of education for all people”.

Sport has become a great vehicle to engage with youth and bring a very diverse country together.


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