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Delivering fit for purpose infrastructure in Mega Sport Events

Engineers Against Poverty

Analysis from new research by Engineers Against Poverty

As delivery authorities and governments begin to ramp up plans for future sports events there is a risk that, under pressure, decisions around their delivery will be rushed and under scrutinised. The same is true concerning the infrastructure needed for these events - the stadia, transport, accommodation facilities and other constructions. Past experience shows that omitting scrutiny from the infrastructure sector, which demands significant investment, has manifold implications resulting in a misuse of public funds, poor quality construction, public distrust in decision-makers and labour exploitation.

Several non-profit organisations have been working to address these issues, including Engineers Against Poverty (EAP) which has published research into three core issues in Mega Sport Event (MSE) infrastructure delivery. EAP’s latest publication released this week for Open Government Week entitled: Changing the Game: A critical analysis of accountability in Mega Sport Event infrastructure delivery calls for greater accountability in events, while its first two papers as part of its series on MSE infrastructure looked at labour rights and corruption.

Citizen-centred accountability

In Changing the Game, EAP argues that improving accountability across governments and event delivery authorities would not only inspire greater faith in authorities, but would result in cost savings and projects that live on beyond the events. The paper points to examples from events organised in Brazil, South Africa and India where accountability measures were sidelined and patterns of ‘white elephant’ projects emerged. In Delhi for example, 12 new facilities built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games have not been used by the local population following the event.

Research findings in the paper recommend putting in place innovative and different accountability measures which have seen impact in certain sports events and across the infrastructure sector more broadly, such as empowering the public to have a say in infrastructure delivery.   

Public consultations are a key means to empower and deliver better results; the consultations held for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games for example allowed citizens to express their concerns on the construction, leading to the redesign of a highway project and robust safety measures for cyclists. This example could be built on, through public forums using a multi-stakeholder approach where government, delivery authorities, business and communities could come together for constructive dialogue facilitated by a third party. CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative found this approach allowed communities in Uganda and Thailand to highlight worrying health and safety issues on projects which were then swiftly rectified and enabled greater faith in local government. Other measures could include training community groups to monitor infrastructure project delivery and report issues to official monitoring bodies to help to capture issues.

Measures should also be taken to improve the transparency of project and contract data. For example, restrictions on access to information requests must be removed. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Cabinet imposed a general ban on Freedom of Information requests on Olympic documents. In other contexts, such a restriction would likely be barred under anti-gagging provisions, but it has been accepted in the delivery of the Games.

Promoting labour rights  

For several years, Engineers Against Poverty has been raising awareness on construction worker exploitation and unsafe working conditions in various contexts, and in MSEs this issue has been well publicised. For example, reports from the ITUC found that migrant construction workers on the Khalifa Stadium built for the FIFA 2022 World Cup reported working under intense heat, earning just $US 1.50 an hour for 13-hour shifts, six days a week. There have since been significant labour reforms in Qatar, and robust worker welfare provisions instigated by World Cup organisers.

Late or delayed payment for construction workers is another concern, particularly seen when those who sit at the top of the construction supply chain default on payment which prevents payment to workers at the very bottom. Excessively complicated access to compensation further exacerbates these issues, preventing workers from pursuing legal action.

There are encouraging signs that labour rights are increasingly being put as a priority, as seen by the Olympic Committee and FIFA including new labour standards in their bid processes for 2024 and 2026 events. EAP’s research outlines specific and broad recommendations to build on moves such as these, including construction site monitoring which could be carried out by both health and safety bodies as well as labour agencies. To pay workers on time a ‘Wage Protection System’ could be deployed, where payment is held in escrow and automatically released to workers when those higher up the chain fail to pay. Suffice to say, proper grievance mechanisms should be developed to help deal with labour disputes.   

Rooting out corruption

It is increasingly understood that corruption is a key factor to the billions of dollars wasted in the infrastructure sector every year. In MSEs the issue is compounded by the nature of the events, complex logistics and, as touched on above, low levels of accountability. For example, contracts span both international and national contexts and there is increased interaction between public and private contractors which can result in greater collusion between these stakeholders. The cyclical nature of MSEs may also incentivise corruption, where  regular sources of income are ensured and past behaviour is observed and repeated.

In the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup, findings from the local Competition Commission Authority indicated that major construction companies colluded in bid-rigging to artificially raise the cost of contracts, resulting in a $US 940 million extra cost to taxpayers. It also cost lives – Jimmy Mohlala, a member of the organising committee, was killed a day before being due to testify to tender manipulation on the construction of the Mbombela Stadium.

Greater transparency and accountability play an intrinsic role in addressing corruption in MSE infrastructure. EAP recommends that delivery authorities make infrastructure transparency requirements obligatory, to ensure key data is put in the public domain. Using an internationally recognised standard such as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS) which requires data points across the whole project cycle be disclosed would put red flags on public display and send a strong message to authorities that their actions will be subject to scrutiny. Scoring systems between contractors and clients could also ensure two-way accountability flows and effective whistle-blower mechanisms would further support all of these measures.


In its research over the last year EAP has drawn on both examples of good practice and what has worked elsewhere in the infrastructure sector to help governments and delivery authorities deliver better, achievable results from the events. If the papers’ recommendations are adopted, infrastructure that meets people’s needs would be delivered and a genuine positive legacy left when the athletes have gone home.

Engineers Against Poverty is an independent, not for profit organisation that bridges the divide between research, policy and practice rooted in the engineering community.

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