The Olympics May Be Bad For Your Civic Health

Whenever the bidding process to serve as a host for the Olympics begins, cities around the globe are quick to throw their hats into the ring, eager to take advantage of the acclaim and status that comes with hosting the quadrennial games.

It’s easy to understand why most cities see the Olympics as a quick way to boost their international reputation. For a few weeks, the host city has the captive attention of billions of people around the world. It’s an alluring opportunity to showcase a region as an appealing vacation destination, rich in history and teeming with opportunities for leisure, sport, culture and more.

And cities definitely benefit from improved global perception. Reputation Institute research shows that a city’s reputation has a direct impact on economic indicators from tourism arrivals to exports and investment.

Unfortunately, research also shows that, rather than boosting a city’s reputation, hosting the Olympic Games can actually cause a precipitous drop in reputation. This is due, in large part, to the stream of negative press that can accompany hiccups in planning, execution or even the bidding process.

Take Rio de Janeiro, which, in addition to the venue construction delays that seem to plague every Olympics, has come under fire for everything from the cleanliness of its water to potential corruption in the bidding process and – especially – fears about the Zika virus.

There’s no doubt that this flood of negative stories is impacting the international reputation of Rio, but perhaps the most damaging result is the loss of reputation among citizens of the city itself.

Our research shows that the most important factor in a city’s overall reputation is self-perception, or the way its own citizens view it. In fact, studies show that the impression a city has of itself is the single largest determining factor of how it is perceived by others.

This concept of self-perception is particularly important when it comes to hosting the Olympics, and the data is fairly clear: Positive self-perception of Olympic host cities can plummet after it’s all said and done.

This is true even for cities widely regarded as successful Olympics hosts. Before hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, London enjoyed a Pulse Score of 71.85, good enough to earn it the title as the most reputable city in the world in 2011. The next year, following the Olympics, the city’s reputation fell to 11th. In line with our findings, the most substantial cause was a steep decline in self-perception.

Despite positive press and a general consensus that the games were extraordinarily well-managed, many of the people who actually resided in London did not appreciate the way they were run and felt like the Games were a bad idea, and the after-effects are still having an impact today. In fact, since 2012, London has been unable to break back into the Top 10 of the most reputable cities in the world.

The outlook is far bleaker for Rio de Janeiro than it was for London. The city has historically suffered from a poor reputational outlook, sitting near the bottom of our list of civic reputations since we began measuring the reputation of major global cities in 2011. Couple that with the substantial economic hardship, infrastructure issues, and allegations of potential corruption, and it may be that the Olympics will prove to be more damaging to Rio than anyone would have expected.

This provides an interesting lesson to civic leaders considering a bid to host the Olympics: If you want to keep your good reputation, or boost a struggling one, there are plenty of reasons you should avoid becoming a host city. The potential loss of economic contributors for a summer’s worth of press coverage may not be worth it.

[ Reposted from The Huffington Post Blog ]