Olympic Games

REF 2021: Increasing the value, visibility and efficiency of cultural programming at the Olympic Games

Research by Dr Beatriz Garcia seeks to understand the value and impact of cultural programming at the Olympic Games.

The challenge

  • Understanding the value and impact of cultural programming at the Olympic Games as the world’s largest multi-sport event
  • Making a distinction between the most high-profile cultural dimensions of the Games – ie. Opening and Closing ceremonies, Olympic torch relay – and other symbolic dimensions such as the Cultural Olympiad, which is a platform to showcase the culture of the Games host city and nation and a vehicle to advance national and local cultural policy frameworks
  • Establishing multi-national comparisons over a long period of time – over 20 years – working in extremely different language & cultural environments and ever-changing socio-economic contexts while capturing the core characteristics of a centenary mega-event. This research has taken place in places as varied as: Barcelona (Spain); Sydney (Australia); Salt Lake City (USA); Athens (Greece); Torino (Italy); Beijing (China); Vancouver (Canada); London (UK); Sochi (Russia); Rio de Janeiro (Brazil); PyeongChang (South Korea) – and was about to continue in Tokyo (Japan) before the covid-19 upbreak forced the postponement of the Games

Research action

Research at the University of Liverpool builds on work started back in 1998, at the time of preparations towards the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and completion of the assessment of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games legacy. Since her arrival in Liverpool (2006) Dr Beatriz Garcia continued this research with fieldwork at the Beijing 2008 Games and every Games edition since, with major work taking place in the context of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Research involves stakeholder interviews, media content analysis, documentary analysis and participant observations at the official Olympic cultural programme (Cultural Olympiad) which receives little international media attention during Games time but plays an important role in the Games host city and nation in the years preceding the Olympic fortnight. Since 2006, there have been over 150 stakeholders interviewed, thousands of press clippings analysed, an average of five-year documentation cycles assessed and 15 to 20 days of live event observations at every Games host city.

Research on the London 2012 Games was particularly ambitious due to securing major funding from Arts Council England and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organising Committee. In addition to the above, research on this edition of the Games involved population surveys and the establishment of a large database gathering information about all cultural activities taking place across the UK during a four-year period. London presented the largest Cultural Olympiad programme in the Games 100 year history of cultural programming (the first such programme took place in 1912).

Research on Rio 2016 benefited from a Newton Fund / British Academy grant and funding from the International Olympic Committee. This work explored broader questions regarding the possibility of a global Olympic cultural policy framework that could be adapted from nation to nation.

Research on Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 has started but it involves major changes in focus and public narrative due to the impact of the global pandemic. Important questions are being raised about the future of the Olympic Games and the importance of its cultural programmes and symbolic narratives, beyond the elite sport competitions.

Working in partnership

This research has involved collaboration with a very diverse number of universities and dedicated Olympic Studies Centres around the world. This includes the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology in Sydney; the Olympic Studies Centre at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne; Renmin University in Beijing; and the University of Sao Paulo.

Collaborations have also been set with the Organising Committees of every Olympic Games since year 2000, thanks to which researchers have had first-hand access to people, background materials and key events. Research collaborations have also taken place with the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece.

Outputs and outcomes

This work has resulted in journal articles, book chapters, two monographs, and a significant number of publications.

Dr Garcia is also the editor of the specialist magazine Culture @ the Olympics: Issues, Trends and Perspectives.

Many seminars and major conferences have been hosted in the framework of this project – the last one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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