A six-step path to successfully hosting major global events

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James Hamilton

Director, Global Host Cities and Sports Venues

Whether a World Cup or an Olympic Games, successfully setting up and hosting major sporting and cultural events starts with having a robust approach to governance, planning, budget, control and risk. An integrated approach to managing the programme from start to finish is the key to success.

The economic impact of hosting major global events has been in the spotlight recently as the Australian state of Victoria made the shock decision to pull out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, followed by the Canadian province of Alberta for 2030, both citing unaffordable price hikes as the primary reason. 

The immense cost of hosting a major games is not new, though. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics are the only Olympics in recent history to have been delivered profitably and within budget. Recent research from the University of Oxford puts the average cost overrun for hosting an Olympics at 172 percent – concluding that cities should avoid hosting altogether.

Nevertheless, the allure of hosting is still attractive, especially to cities and nations seeking to utilise the power of a games to stimulate economic benefits and be a catalyst for regeneration.

For example, just over a decade on from the London 2012 Olympics, two business districts have set up at the site, 25,000 jobs have been created and 11,000 homes have been built – with a further 20,000 planned.  

Whether it is the World Cup, Olympics, Expo or another major global event, successful hosting involves meticulous governance, planning, control and risk management to avoid these major programmes becoming burdensome. 

Effective planning strategies for major global events 

There are many determinants to the success and benefits to be gained from hosting a major global event. 

However, the two priorities and criteria for success of those accountable will always be whether it is on time and within budget.  

Having been involved at the bidding, planning and delivery stages across many global events, including, most recently, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Expo 2020 Dubai and the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, we have learnt valuable lessons from overcoming the hurdles and mitigative actions that have needed to be taken.  

To stay on track, host authorities, local governments and partner organisations must implement robust and adaptable plans to meet the ever-evolving global challenges. There are six fundamentals for success: 

1. Establish clear mission objectives from the start 

Objectives should be clear, measurable, constantly reviewed and signed-off by all stakeholders. Legacy objectives should be established at the start and integrated into scopes for new venues and infrastructure

2. Develop pre-bid baseline documents 

A fully integrated pre-bid baseline document should solidify scope, budget, schedule and risk – clearly setting out who is paying for what. This document should be rapidly developed following the appointment, with significant scope change and cost escalation factored into the delivery float and cost contingency.

3. Identify roles and responsibilities early on 

Those accountable for the delivery should be given the authority to make decisions within an agile governance framework, with sufficient funding sources identified and committed to from the outset. 

4. Decide on the delivery model 

While recent and future hosts have set out plans to reduce the need for new infrastructure through utilising existing venues and accommodation, other considerations must be planned for, including transportation, security, city operations, venues integration and temporary overlay.  

External specialist organisations may undertake a delivery partner role to oversee delivery of these workstreams, but a collaborative and collocated strategy should be adopted to develop a ‘one-team, one-vison’ approach. 

5. Lay the foundations for adaptability 

Change is inevitable, and often comes as a result of unforeseen events or additional requirements, but managing change effectively will be the key to success. Alternative scope solutions should be considered where change has a significant or unaffordable impact. 

6. Prepare for risk 

Expecting the worst (uncontrollable) unforeseen events and planning for the best (controllable) outcomes should be the adopted principle. Quantitative scheduling and cost analysis should be undertaken regularly, with delivery confidence monitored closely through a milestone and gateway process. 

Navigating a route to success amid evolving challenges

While these planning strategies set the foundation for successful major global events, the fast-changing landscape of hosting global events demands a proactive approach to overcome hurdles and strategic complexities.  

As the global host cities landscape evolves, the work required to plan, deliver and operate the venues and infrastructure becomes ever-more onerous. The expansion of the FIFA World Cup from 1930 – hosted in three cities with thirteen teams – to 2026, which will be hosted across three countries and 16 cities and have 48 teams, is a good example of the heightened requirements of modern-day event-hosting.

Compounding the challenge is the race to deliver the most sustainable event yet, with a combined requirement to minimise the direct environmental impact and to create a sustainable legacy. 

While the focus is on net zero, major global events are now looking towards achieving net plus (or climate positive), as is the case with the International Olympic Committee who recently announced that the Summer and Winter Olympics will be climate positive from 2030.  

Event organisers should seek to incorporate innovation clauses into supplier procurement contracts to strive for new, sustainable solutions which can continue to raise the bar. This trend is set to define the next wave of global host cities programmes.

For further information contact:

James Hamilton.jpg

James Hamilton
Director, Global Host Cities and Sports Venues