Enforcement balance at sporting events (Duignan, 2018 – Journal of Trading Standards)

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Published in the Journal of Trading Standards, UK Government funded: http://www.journaloftradingstandards.co.uk/research/enforcement-balance-at-sporting-events/

Major sporting events pose extraordinary challenges for managers tasked with navigating complex, legal and regulatory frameworks demanded by event owners. Of course, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be no different. Across this short article we focus on two key interrelated types of regulation: i) spatial and security planning, and ii) advertising and trade, and specifically, how Games preparation and delivery relates to host community small business inclusion and exclusion.

This is a highly contested space of debate as the inclusion of – and opportunities for – incumbent, host community stakeholders play a central role in legitimising the event, and related public expenditure. Yet, both critical scholarship as well as post-Games policy and governmental reporting [1] shows that existing communities can find themselves ‘invisibilised’ and ‘side-lined’ [2] – invited to hear and comment on plans but rarely able to influence them.

We draw on this body of work; the authors’ research with small businesses, local authorities, business support organisations and regulatory bodies at London 2012 and Rio 2016 [3]; and two key policy perspectives from London 2012 and Glasgow 2014 to examine some of these managerial – and regulatory – challenges.

First, some background and context. In the lead-up to and during the ‘live staging’ periods, local environments targeted to host are temporarily reconfigured and overlaid with new legal exceptions and regulatory demands. Event owners (for example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)) require candidate-come-host cities to cede aspects of national sovereignty to abide by contractual obligations (a form of ‘situational law’).

By doing so, they effectively create a ‘state of exception’ [4] – whereby temporary legal and regulatory exceptions are put in place to enable the project to deliver on its organisational objectives (i.e. the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act, 2006). Alice Nugent, Programme Manager (Advertising and Trading) at the Olympic Delivery Authority echoes this point to some degree, stating that “the requirement to legislate actually came from the IOC and was an integral part of the UK winning the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games”. Once inscribed into law, very little can be done to influence and change the rules – the script becomes a fait accompli to be played out over targeted (often urban) community stages [2].

Neil Coltart, Group Manger (Trading Standards) at Glasgow City Council confirms his experience of such legislation at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games: “…where there is special legislation governing the delivery and controls relating to a major event, such as the Commonwealth Games, then whilst local authorities and other regulators can influence its [special legislation] provisions through consultation processes, once it is in place they can only seek compliance and take enforcement action if necessary. Regulators cannot choose which legislation they enforce. This is even more true when many of the major events rely so heavily on sponsorship that it would be difficult to host them without the interests of both the organisers and the sponsors being taken into account”

‘Context’ and ‘project’ territories
Most visibly, to physically deliver sporting events and Games-related cultural programming (for example, arts-based festivals) and commercial activity (such as sponsor activation), everyday public spaces (we’ll call this ‘context territory’) are sequestrated, territorialised and extracted from public use [5]. In other words, they become privatised goods primarily leveraged by the event (we’ll call this ‘project territory’). Public spaces include: parks, squares, sometimes whole town centres, roads, streets and so on.

Yet, withdrawing public access to public spaces poses a dilemma often ignored by Games organisers: the potential disruption and/or displacement of social and economic practices (such as everyday resident and visitor interactions with local businesses) – what I refer to here as the ‘resident-business-visitor complex’ [6]. Such effects can have a significant impact on not only short-term business performance, but longer-term competitiveness, survival and sustainability of small businesses [3]. The authors’ research at London 2012, specifically across the host community of Central Greenwich repeatedly found small businesses side-lined as a result of Games planning.

Echoing the dominant local perspective, small retail and hospitality businesses claimed: “…all the millions of visitors were completely barricaded off, so there was literally nobody over the busiest weekend ever. I literally made 20 quid” (local retailer) – and – “the consequences of this walking route and barrier from the station was absolutely deadly for business (…) 50,000 people were managed into the venue and out again without having any ripple on the local area (…) it was devastatingly quiet, all you could see was the shop owners looking” (local restaurant).

Central to the financial legitimisation of major events like the Commonwealth Games is the inclusion of external, official sponsors, supporters and supplier interests. As such, event organising bodies like Birmingham 2022 develop, implement and abide by strict advertising and trading regulations across project territories. Security measures are not only deployed to protect visitors from external threat (including terrorism, political unrest and other disruptions) but they serve to prohibit forms of ambush marketing – factors critical for securing both human and specific business interests [7].

Additionally, protecting official business interests requires the creation of exclusive, commercial sites of consumption to capture visitor spending: both ticketed and non-ticketed spectators. For example, this includes: i) exclusivity to supply to event venues [6], ii) (re)commercialisation of ‘Last Mile’ spaces (i.e. the transit routes between entry points into event areas, airport style security areas and the venue itself) – prime public real-estate turned private asset [8], and iii) increasingly since the turn of the century, the installation of temporary public viewing screens often referred to as ‘Live Sites’ [8]. Without even experiencing first-hand, one can rationally deduce that overlaying the new ‘project territory’ over existing ‘context territory’ can be an uneasy process posing interesting management and regulatory challenges for those involved.

Rhetoric vs reality
Highly circumscribed, intensely regulated, and temporarily privatised event spaces present a dilemma: to what extent are existing communities of small businesses (hopeful of making a quick buck) included or excluded in Games planning, supply chains and/or visitor consumption opportunities during the live staging periods? This question becomes ever more pertinent when initial bid narratives – and the very existence of the event itself – is legitimised and predicated on promoting positive local developmental outcomes for local communities: residents and businesses. Birmingham 2022 projects a similar ambition: to be open and welcoming to a global audience, celebrating local environments, people and business, placing “rejuvenation” and “regeneration” at the core of objectives.

Yet, as intimated earlier, a comprehensive body of evidence indicates the way Games spaces, and intense advertising and trading regulations serve to restrict access to opportunity [e.g. 3, 7] – revealing a dichotomy between ‘rhetoric’ of inclusion vs. a ‘reality’ of exclusion [6]. Competing demands between the project territory and context territory is a very real, persistent challenge. I refer to this as the ‘global-local paradox’ as both emerge as contradictory positions that cannot be reconciled or resolved easily and/or without a fundamental re-framing of the problem and creative management and regulatory response.

Paradoxes like these, in any case – and by definition – always re-emerge constantly calling for new general – and situational – solutions [9]. As a result, whilst we all may be able to work together to agree general principles to help manage this paradox, current and future event contexts need to at least identify that these challenges exist (denial of the problem is a major-structural barrier) so that an honest conversation can take place to generate localised and situational solutions across different cultural and sporting contexts.

If supporting local environments, people and businesses form a central objective of the event, should they be treated equally? Does the event have a ‘social contract’ to uphold promises of inclusion? And is it even possible for local-small businesses and regional producers to have a level playing field and share centre stage with global sponsors? OK, if so, what would this look like?

Enforcement ‘lite’
Central to my argument is that a balanced approach to event regulation is required, tackling questions of: i) what is permitted vs. prohibited, and ii) whose interests are legitimate – or not. Recently, following our empirical research into Rio 2016 management and regulation [10], we argued for more deregulated – and where appropriate: de-securitised – event spaces: effectively, a ‘lite’ version of what are highly circumscribed environments. Our evidence, as briefly outlined below, points to the need for event managers to subscribe to such thinking so-as-to help achieve initial, virtuous-inclusive community objectives.

We argue, on a paradigmatic and practical level, that the global-local paradox can be managed a novel synthesis of temporal, spatial and social re-configurations that promote three attributes: i) ‘regulatory informality’, ii) ‘relaxation’, and iii) ‘slowness’.

First, regulatory informality: on-the-ground trading standards enforcement officers may use discretion to permit certain practices to support local inclusion [see the authors’ previous Trading Standards article entitled: “Power of Discretion” for full details [4]]. Second and third, slowness and relaxation, refers to a wider re-thinking and re-configuration of global event spaces to encourage greater interaction between visitors, local producers and small businesses (stemming from the ‘cittaslow’ movement: inclusive of slow cities, slow tourism, slow food).

The authors’ identify how Rio 2016 fostered ‘glocalised’ platforms [10] where corporates and smaller, local vendors sat side-by-side offering a balanced portfolio of products for consumption. Relaxing spatial, security, advertising and trading conditions to permit local interests to be included is central. Yet conversely, we concur with Alice Nugent, we must recognise that certain regulatory practices play a critical role in protecting small business interests too, claiming: “…event zones are beneficial to local communities as these prevent unauthorised traders and/or scammers flooding the area and potentially taking business away from legitimate long-standing local businesses and communities”

With a significant number of local organisations supporting and potentially involved in the design and delivery of Games regulation (including Birmingham City Council, Trading Standards, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Combined Authorities and many more regional organisations) the city has a unique opportunity to consider these attributes and the continued need to ‘glocalise’ event spaces. Yet, we stress, that both a paradigmatic rethink and practical redesigning of the way public-come-private event spaces are securitised and regulated is required to achieve the very organisational objectives that fuelled the justification of the event in the first place: inclusive and positive local and regional developmental effects for host communities, both residents and businesses.

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