7 Questions with Spencer Harris, author of “Sport Participation and Olympic Legacy”

Spencer Harris, associate professor of sport management in the College of Business, teaches, researches and writes on sport governance, sport politics and sport policy.

Most recently, Harris authored “Sport Participation and Olympic Legacy: A comparative analysis,” co-authored with Mathew Dowling, senior lecturer in the Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University.  The book was published by Routledge in 2021.

Harris answered seven questions on the new book, which focuses on the legacies associated with the summer Olympic games from the ’96 games in Atlanta to the delayed 2020 Tokyo games. By examining the changes in mass sport participation before, during and after the games in each host city, Harris examines the opportunities and problems of comparative analysis across nations in a sport-related context.

1. If you were describing your book to someone outside of your field, what would you say?

Today, the Olympics is commonly sold on the premise of the legacy (that is, the broader economic, social and sporting impact of the games). The International Olympic Committee, the guardians of the Olympics, like to argue that the games inspire and increase mass sports participation. This book examines these claims by focusing on the mass sport participation legacy of the most recent hosts of the summer Olympics, including Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, Rio and Tokyo.

2. How did you get the idea for your project?

The claims about legacy are becoming more and more grandiose primarily to justify the significant (and substantially increasing) costs of hosting the games. I wanted to examine the extent to which the recent claims about sport legacies were true or otherwise.

3. Did your focus develop or change throughout the research and writing process? 

Yes, I was originally focused on the sport participation legacy and part way through the project realized that it would be more interesting and relevant to frame this with a broader analysis of socio-political and policy context and a wider discussion of legacy, including the sport participation legacy.

4. Which idea do you write about that most excites, invigorates or inspires you?      

I aspire to provide a balanced analysis of the governance of Olympic sport, reflecting on both the strengths and challenges that confront the system, the games and the legacies associated with them. Additionally, I like to shed light on the truth as I see it through my empirical work but also, when dealing with that truth, to discuss it in ways that help to facilitate improvement. Thus, I like to expose challenges and ethical dilemmas and explore ways in which these challenges can be most appropriately addressed.

5. Describe your writing space. Where do you do your best work? What time of day? Do you have any writing routines you are willing to share?           

Pre-COVID-19, I focused my writing in the early mornings, once the house was empty. During COVID-19, there has been no discernable routine.

6. Is there a favorite quote or passage you want to showcase from the book? 

Not my favorite, but perhaps one of the most important:

To be clear, the overarching goal of Olympism “is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind… promoting a peaceful society concerned with preservation of human dignity” (IOC, 2019, p.11) and “to place sport at the service of humanity” (p. 16).

Despite these ideals, the Olympic sport system, led by the IOC and IFs, has, with a very small number of exceptions, remained quiet and slow to respond to the problem of a toxic and abusive elite sport culture. Instead, in most cases, it has been left for governments and government agencies to undertake investigations and develop new policies, funding criteria and programs. While state oversight on matters such as abuse in sport is welcome, indeed necessary, it is also time for the network of international and national sport organizations to work intentionally to cultivate an elite sport culture that mirrors Olympic and Paralympic values and to re-evaluate its allocation of resources so that it is better equipped to protect it athletes from all forms of abuse.

7. What new questions for future exploration have you discovered? 

I think that there are many interesting questions worthy of future exploration, including: What contexts and mechanisms are most effective in driving increases in mass sport participation? How have legacy governance structures improved the leveraging of legacy? In what ways does the principle of autonomy in international sport governance perpetuate ongoing challenges in international sport and how may this situation be most effectively addressed? And, finally and perhaps most importantly, how can we most effectively hold the IOC and host cities to account in planning and delivering realistic and genuine legacies?

UCCS celebrates faculty and staff who author and edit books each year. In recognition of their achievement, and as part of the UCCS Author Spotlight initiative, authors are invited to submit details on their published works.