The rewards and risks of historical events studies research


(This is the text of the pre-publication print of: Matthew L. McDowell and Fiona Skillen (2016), ‘The rewards and risks of historical events studies research’, in Ian Lamond and Louise Platt (eds) Critical Event Studies: Approaches to Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 87-107. There may be small textual differences between this version and the published version. Any reference made to this paper should refer to the published version.)


When we think about events we think of them as being current, contemporary, in the here and now; history does not readily spring to mind. And yet history has much to offer the study and development of events.

Aside from needing to critically understand the politics, finances, and consequences in relation to events, researching their history enables students to approach the event from a new perspective. The use of history provides students with a greater understanding of the development of, amongst other things, policy, funding and organisational structure and behaviour. It will allow the student a valuable insight into the evolution of an event over time. This in turn can illustrate the processes which were undertaken and influence the current format of a particular event.

Matthews (2012, p. 4) has suggested that historical events should be looked at by students because they:

  • Offer an understanding role of events stakeholders (with three key categories: owners and organisers, participants, spectators)
  • Relationships between the three key stakeholders
  • Design of events through the use of ritual.

Different models can certainly be applied towards studying the history of events, including ones of management and marketing. For the purposes of history, however, it can sometimes be necessary to apply a more flexible approach towards interrelationships within the organisation and management of these events. Our expertise is in the history of sport, including sporting events, and thus they will be the focus of our chapter.

Events do not just appear overnight: they evolve from earlier versions of the same thing. So, by studying where these events came from, we can begin to understand the evolution of the event in its current form. For example, the modern Olympics were first held in 1896. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894. Purported to be based ancient Olympics as participated in by the city-states of Greece, they nevertheless firmly reflected contemporary Victorian values of Empire, maintenance of the social order, and the pursuit of ‘Christian’ ideals.

One of Coubertin’s founding ideals of the modern Olympics was to bring nations together in ‘peace’ through sporting competition, something which is still evident today. However, the Olympics also provide a forum in which the spotlight can be turned on international politics. The 1936 Olympics, held in Berlin, were used by the Nazis to demonstrate their power, and arguably their Aryan policies. The Nazis sidestepped the Games’ usual vision of internationalism and cooperation, and instead promoted a vision of power, dominance, and scale, drawing on ancient Greece in order to legitimise their approach.  Some of the now-recognisable set pieces of the Olympics only began in 1936, most notably the torch relay (Mackenzie, 2003). Only by carefully looking at the history of the Olympic Games themselves can we understand its current format, and its procedures that we often take for granted. The Paralympics were established in 1960. However, their genesis was in the Stoke Mandeville Games, which developed around the Ministry of Pensions Hospital in Stoke Mandeville. These Games were established for soldiers who had been injured during the Second World War. Their success led to the founding of the Paralympic Games, an international competition for athletes with physical disabilities (Brittain, 2012). The popularity of these Games has spawned many equivalents, best known amongst these the Invictus Games, which seeks to return to the original relationship between the military and sport, which was central to the Stoke Mandeville Games.

These three examples illustrate the ways in which the past has shaped the modern Olympics. The format and the tone of these Games can only be understood by looking at the past, and by the narratives which shape that past.


History in Events Studies

There is a current fixation amongst events studies academics on examining contemporary events. An examination of the main journals of the discipline illustrate this, where the majority of the articles’ foci were on events within the last five years, with only cursory reference to the history of their subject matter. Getz (2010) has advocated a broader interdisciplinary approach encompassing research from other areas, with particular reference to sociology and cultural anthropology. Goldblatt (1990) has taken this further, emphasising the importance of history in understanding today’s events. Matthews (2012, p.21), meanwhile, has gone further, stating that the study of historical spectacle should become ‘mandatory core component’ of event managers’ education. Matthews is additionally one of the few to have made any attempts at examining historical events through the theoretical prism of events studies.

Events Studies in History

Historiography is the term used by historians to describe the literature in a particular field and a phrase you will come across often when looking at work in this area. As we discussed earlier in the chapter there is little in the way of literature within events studies which looks at historical events. However, if we look beyond the boundaries of the discipline, historians of sport and leisure have examined a range of events, often from particular perspectives or utilising specific theories. Research has tended to focus predominantly on events such as the Olympics. The publications for instance that are available on the Olympics are wide-ranging: covering aspects such as the origins of the event, its surrounding politics, national identity, competitions and competitors (Polley 1996, 2009; Llewellyn 2011; Williams 2012; Jeffreys 2012, pp. 9-30; Jørgensen 2008; Mason 2006). Several examples of this are seen in a recent special issue of the International Journal of the History of Sport which examined the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The pieces deal with themes such as: the impact of the Cold War, South Africa and Argentina’s Olympic participation (or lack thereof), the women’s marathon (the first of its kind at an Olympics), doping, media and legacy (Llewellyn, Gleaves, Wilson 2015; Edelman 2015; Rider 2015; Llewellyn 2015; Schultz 2015; Gleaves 2015; Torres 2015; Brownell 2015; Wilson 2015; Wenn 2015; Dyreson 2015). Each of these articles offers a different perspective on aspects of the competition. To historians these pieces are part of a much larger body of critical work on sport, politics, and society.  To scholars of events studies they potentially offer a rich variety of case studies relevant to contemporary policy and management.

The historiography on major events in football is surprisingly threadbare. A notable exception to this would be Phillippe Vonnard’s (2014) recent work on the origins of the Champions’ League. Nevertheless the Olympics and the Champions’ League, by virtue of their size and viewership, can be construed as exceptional rather than the rule. There is an increasing amount of work which is being pursued by historians on other smaller sporting events. For instance, Sport in History last year released a special issue on the history of the Commonwealth Games (formerly known as the Empire Games) (Polley, 2014; Phillips and Bouchier, 2014; Ryan, 2014, Dawson, 2014; Williams, 2014). Previously, the work that had been done on the competition had been dominated by Canadian scholars, and inevitably focused on Canada’s relationship with the Games (Gorman 2010; Dawson 2014; Macintosh, Greenhorn, and Black 1992). Another example of research into an international sports event is Caroline Symons’ (2010) work on the Gay Games. Her book examines the creation of the competition, amid the back drop of the Aids epidemic during the 1980s. In addition to tracing the development of the Games, Symons offers detailed insights into, legal, financial and other practical aspects of its organisation. But scholars can go smaller still: one of the major texts in the history of sports events is Jarvie’s (1991) book on the cultural politics of Highland gatherings in Scotland. Whilst Jarvie focuses predominantly on the cultural politics of these events, he nonetheless traces its evolution and organisation in doing so. The wide range of potential historical case studies is exemplified by the work of Suchet, Jorand, and Tuppen (2010), whose work examines the forerunner of the Pyrenees Adventure Games, the Spring Games. In fact, there is additionally room for lateral thinking with regard to what gets examined: for instance the work of Beale (2010) and the work of Polley and Inglis (2011) examine alternative Olympic traditions, such as the Wenlock Games in England, which claim to be forerunners to the modern Olympics.

This discussion has only touched on a fraction of the work which has been done in this area. It is also a developing area of historical enquiry and as such offers an opportunity for interdisciplinary research.


Primary-source material for the majority of historical research can be found within archives. Often, these archives will be based within broader publically-owned bodies and repositories: for instance, council or universities libraries or museums, registrars, or other government offices; although there are some stand-alone examples, such as the National Archives in Kew, the National Records of Scotland, or the US National Archives. At the same time, many governing bodies in sport house and maintain their own archives, and perhaps the most famous example of this is the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is worth noting that there are also other archives which are typically ‘hidden’ from public view; this includes individuals’ private papers, and can often include corporate archives.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of researching historical events is the locating of suitable archive material. Sometimes this can be straightforward, inasmuch as you know the companies or stakeholders who were involved, and can make your starting point their archives. However, as we will see with our case study, the reality is often more complex.

Finding out what materials are available can be tricky. Many of these archives will not have complete digital catalogues: some will have paper-based ones; others will be uncatalogued entirely. The first point of contact should be the archivist, they can often give an overview of collections, but it will often be the job of archives’ users, rather than the staff who work there, to identify which documents they wish to look at, and for the archivist to retrieve. The length of time this search will take varies on the level at which different aspects of the archive are catalogued. Accessing materials in an archive can often by a lengthy process, as not all archives are open nine-to-five seven days a week. Additionally, materials can often be stored off-site; therefore, planning ahead, and contacting the archive to request items ahead of time, is always advisable before you visit.

There are a range of different primary materials within archives that would be relevant to those researching events studies. We would never recommend focusing on only one type of source; good research would engage with several types, and would use a process of triangulation to uncover as many perspectives as possible, and give as representative a view as possible. Martin Polley’s Sports History: A Practical Guide (2007) offers detailed insight into the ways in which historians use different archival materials in their research. We will briefly examine the most commonly used categories of sources.

Magazines, leaflets, flyers, and brochures

As events in the past typically produced publicity materials, as well as instructional materials for participants and spectators, these are often useful to give a sense of both the marketing strategy of an event, as well as aspects of the event’s organisation. Depending on who these materials are aimed at, official publicity materials will have different ranges of information. These sources can be used to give a practical understanding of the structure of the event, but importantly they can also be deconstructed using semiotics to uncover deeper discourses and undercurrents within the culture of events. Analysing this material tells us how power can be utilised within events; rarely should promotional material such as this should be taken at face value as a record of historical fact.

These materials can additionally provide researchers with the primary visual motifs envisaged by events organiser. At the same time, especially from the twentieth century onwards, such materials are also a method through which the patronage of events, particularly with regard to sponsorship, can be determined. These sources can also highlight interconnection between the event and other industries; advertisements, for instance, are typically a feature of any material aimed directly at spectators.

Minute books

Minute books provide researchers with vital insights into the internal workings of the event’s organisation. The amount of relevant material within each minute book or set of minutes varies considerably, and might require patience on the parts of researchers, but they often provide the chronological framework for the organisation of events, and their key actors, facilitators, and the points at which decisions were made. The limitations of using minute books are, amongst other things, the fact that they are a public record: they are often an abridged, condensed version of what might have actually been said at a meeting, rather than a verbatim account. One can derive a great deal of qualitative data from minutes, but their quantitative data can be equally as instructive: for instance, which officials were present at meetings, financial data, etc.

Personal papers and organisational collections

These collections often hold a variety of sources, which can include those already discussed. However, these collections go beyond what appears in public records. Often the most useful items within these collections are letters and private notes, which can be more candid than minute books, and will include more rich detail such as personal opinions and emotions. At the same time, however, this unique perspective inevitably sacrifices some of the bigger pictures that minute books provide, and can be clouded by personal opinion.

Official documents

The letters and publications of local and national governments, as well as governing or organising bodies, in relation to events are relevant from both a management perspective, as well as a policy one. Official documents will include such things as commissioned reports, official letters, policy documents, white papers, financial records, formal evaluations of event proposals and outcomes, and plans and blueprints for infrastructural changes. Ironically, the strengths of official documents – their being a representation of the ‘official word’ – can also be seen as one of their weaknesses: that they provide a perspective that is too close to those in power, and can be seen as insensitive to the concerns of external stakeholders.

Digital media, newspapers and the press

The primary source of information on events which is external to what appears in archives will be accounts of events which take place within the print and digital media. Unlike other sources we have previously discussed, newspapers represent an independent, although not always unbiased take on an event. Newspapers as we know them in the twenty-first century are available digitally, and in hard copy, although this has not always been the case. The size, frequency, and circulation of newspapers has varied since the seventeenth century, as well as the layout, and perceived importance of different categories of ‘news’. For example, during the Victorian period, advertisements appeared on the front cover, and sport did not become a regular feature on the back pages of papers until the 1950s.

Within Europe, as now, newspapers have political allegiances, and are often controlled by either individual owners or corporations keen to appeal to certain sections of the population. Newspapers then, like other primary sources, do not fully reflect an objective ‘truth’.

There are archives for most local and national newspapers. However, their format is variable: some will be available in the original paper format, bound into volumes within an archive; others will be available on microfiche (i.e. pages photographed on film); and finally, digitally. Digital newspapers can be accessed in a number of ways, and this varies depending on the particular title. Some have search engines on their webpages for looking at past publications (typically within the past thirty years): some are available through databases, which may be freely available online, such as the Google News Archive, while others may require a subscription. However, most commonly, you will be able to access these newspaper databases through your University library as part of your matriculation.

It is important to consider, however, that the digitisation of newspapers is a relatively new development, and therefore only a small proportion of titles have been fully digitised. Typically, this selection of papers privileges national and popular titles, rather than smaller, more regional, or niche publications that may contain different perspectives on events. In those cases, a researcher will probably need to rely on the previous formats discussed.

Oral history

Oral histories can take a couple of formats, the most common of which is an interview conducted by the researcher. The second is material recorded by another source for a specific purpose. Both formats offer the researcher a depth of information which is often missing from other sources. They can provide insights into areas which are overlooked by other sources. For example we can piece together an understanding of how and when an event ran but without interviews it is difficult to understand what it was like to experience it or what motivated people to attend.

Conducting your own interviews as part of your research allows you to focus on topics which are most relevant to your interests. It allows you to probe respondents on issues in a way no other source can. They can provide the researcher with insights which often challenge the existing sources. Of course, like all other sources, they are not perfect; they are open to bias and mis-remembering.

Pre-existing interviews can offer vital information but with the frustrating draw back of not being able to probe further or control what was being asked. In some cases these pre-existing sources are the only way of accessing this type of material as those interviewed are no longer available. For example if you are researching an event from the early Twentieth Century, such as the 1912 London Olympics, it is unlikely that anyone who participated is likely to still be alive. It is, however, possible that these athletes were interviewed in the past and that you can access them through archives such as the British Library.

The sources discussed above are only a fraction of the types of materials available in archives. Each of these sources can provide a range of information, but with it they also bring challenges. We will now discuss how we have used some of these sources in our research.


1986 was the second time the city of Edinburgh hosted the Commonwealth Games. It was a highly controversial event, in terms of organisation, funding, and international politics. 58 nations had initially accepted their invitations; but, by the time the Games had ended, almost half of those nations ended up boycotting them (McDowell and Skillen 2016). The Games, however, took place at a crucial juncture of the global anti-apartheid movement. At this point, the UK government of the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pursued a policy of engagement and trade with South Africa, widely considered a pariah nation due to the pursuit of ‘apartheid’, a policy which segregated the population on the basis of race. From the 1960s onwards, many countries, groups, and individuals had pursued action against South Africa in an effort to make them change their policies. One such way of demonstrating their feelings was through the boycotting of cultural and commercial products of South Africa and their international allies. By the 1970s, sport was routinely used as an arena for pursuing political boycotts related to South Africa: the 1976 Olympics in Montreal featured a boycott of African nations, as did the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, where Nigeria did not attend. In both cases, this occurred due to the inclusion of New Zealand, which was seen to be sympathetic to South Africa, having invited their national rugby teams to tour the nation. Additionally, the Cold War reached fever pitch during the 1980s, thereby complicating the political picture further. Many Western nations boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan; and, at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the USSR and ‘Eastern Bloc’ Communist nations retaliated by doing the same.

Aside from the international picture, there is also the domestic political situation of the 1986 Games to consider. Scotland overwhelmingly did not vote for the Conservative government in power during the 1980s: instead, they voted mostly for the primary left-wing opposition party, Labour. Added into the mix was the ascendency of the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose agenda was to promote an independent Scottish state. Within Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, Labour took charge of the local authority, the Edinburgh District Council, for the first time in 1984.

It was within this complex political context that the 1986 Games were held. The competition was subjected to an almost-complete boycott of African, Caribbean, and Asian member-states of the Commonwealth. However, the competition was not just a public relations disaster for its external politics, but also for its internal ones: the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee under Sir Kenneth Borthwick found itself continually at odds with the new Labour council in Edinburgh over perceived cronyism, the costs of Games’ facilities, and the right to advertise within what would ostensibly be municipal properties. From the outset, the Games were forced by Thatcher to adopt status as a private company, as no central government funding would be given towards the project. The hope was that the Commonwealth Games would succeed in the same way as the self-funding 1984 Los Angeles Olympics; which, after their completion, netted a funding surplus. Promised sponsorships failed to materialise, however; and, at the eleventh hour, the Games were forced to be ‘bailed out’ by media tycoon Robert Maxwell. The Games ended up being a financial disaster. At the time, were perceived to have met at the confluence of a wide variety of political failures, with regard to the increasingly high standards of professional sporting organisations, the intransigence of the Thatcher government, and the powerlessness of the Scottish people to prevent any of it from happening.

We are interested in many of these issues: we discussed at the beginning how history was important. And, by looking at this kind of event, we can get an understanding of the influence of national and international politics, of the role of individuals, and the organisational dynamics behind such a large event. This understanding can then be used to inform current practice when planning other large events.

Our previous research into the first Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh – those of 1970 – focused thus far on domestic (and, to a lesser extent, international) politics within the context of the presentation of national identity at the Games (Skillen and McDowell 2014). As we have seen above, 1986 presented a fascinating case study due to the complexity of the political situation, as well as the changing nature of sporting events during the period. Our current research on 1986 focuses on two distinct areas; the boycott, and the Scottish reaction to it, and the controversies surrounding construction on one of the Games’ venues, the Meadowbank Velodrome.


As with all research, regardless of whether or not it is historical or contemporary, the first place to begin is by establishing what has been written on the topic before. We started by drawing up a list of themes which intersect with our two chosen areas:

  • Empire/Commonwealth Games history
  • The international politics of the anti-apartheid movement
  • Scottish national and local politics during the 1980s
  • UK politics during the 1980s
  • Sporting events during the 1980s.

Looking at the academic texts written around these themes allowed us to understand the bigger picture, and establish where the gaps were. It very quickly became apparent that little had been written on the 1986 Commonwealth Games, and even less on the political context of the Games. Satisfied that we were examining a new area, we then went about establishing what archive material was available relating to the Games.

At the time of writing we were still unable to get access to the Thatcher Government’s papers on the Commonwealth Games, owing to the 30 year release rule. This meant that we needed to be creative about other sources we used. Thankfully, there were various different ports of call where we could go for relevant information. As ever, in more contemporary history, researchers often need to be discerning about what they look at. There is a need to strike a balance between having too many sources available and too few; and with any research on events which have taken place during the last 40 years, it is often the former which poses a problem. Limitations, in contemporary history, can help to shape the parameters of what researchers end up looking at.


The primary repository for records for the 1986 Games is the Edinburgh City Archives; this facility holds the records for the then local authority, the Edinburgh District Council, as well as its forebear (the Edinburgh Corporation) and its successor (Edinburgh City Council).  The records were vital because UK government records were not yet available and they could therefore allow us some insight into the Council’s dealings with National Government. The typical central repository for Scotland, the National Records of Scotland, holds mostly court cases related to the Games, which are relevant to the messy financial aftermath of the competition, rather than its real-time operations. The City Archives also contains the records of the main Games organising committees, including minutes, official correspondence, Games publications, and even architects’ plans. These sources provide us with a nuts and bolts understanding of the practicalities of organising the event; such as the correspondence between the organising committee and the BBC over the bidding process and subsequent organisation of the filming of the event. These archives are also notable for their sometimes raw honesty, especially with regard to the tensions between the Games organising committee and Edinburgh District Council; personal letters between committee members and councillors reveal frustrations at both out-of-control finances and the pace of construction of Games venues. These archives were particularly useful for our research into the velodrome but held little in the way of discussions on the boycott. Although these archives provide the most comprehensive account of the Games they are not without issue. By their very nature, being produced by those running the event they can only give their perspectives. It was therefore important for us to look beyond these ‘official’ records in order to triangulate the information.

The 1986 Games were a large-scale public event and as such were covered thoroughly by the print media of the time. Some newspapers from the period have been digitised, in particular the Glasgow Herald, the Evening Times and The Times of London. However we did not have this luxury with Edinburgh’s primary newspapers, the broadsheet the Scotsman and the populist Edinburgh Evening News and the Glasgow tabloid the Daily Record. Furthermore, we were not interested merely in the opinions of journalists and reader within the Scottish central belt; we also sought out content from Aberdeen’s Press and Journal and Dundee’s Courier and Advertiser, which also have also not yet been digitised. The Edinburgh Evening News, the Press and Journal and the Courier and Advertiser all sit under lock and key in bound volumes in the National Library of Scotland. These sources are vital towards understanding the discourses and undercurrents surrounding the Games within Scottish society at the time. In fact these newspapers challenged our established preconceptions about the narratives around the inherently egalitarian nature of Scottish society; they reveal an often-heated debate about Scotland’s place in the world, and indeed the former British Empire.

Necessarily, we also looked to triangulate our research beyond these sources. To gauge policy debates at Westminster level, we turned to the digitised version of Hansard online. Whilst Hansard provides a verbatim account of discussion within the houses of the UK Parliament, it is nevertheless meant to be a theatrical display whilst the real work is taking place ‘behind closed doors’ in conversations and committees which have no available public record as yet.

We also examined the archives of the Scottish branch of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM), which are held in the archives of Glasgow Caledonian University. We were looking at it in order to establish to approach of organisations outside the Games who were involved the boycott. This line of enquiry proved problematic, as there was little material within this collection. It is also worth noting that organisational collections such as these often have specific restrictions on the material that can be viewed or used within publications.

There are two approaches to each type of source: qualitative and quantitative. A qualitative approach places emphasis on the depth and richness of information. In order to extract information in this way, historians ask key questions of the source: such as, who wrote this, when was written, why was it written, and what is the broader context. In this way, we can extract data that is useful to your own research question, which can then be cross-referenced with other sources in order to establish reliability. If using this approach, students need to be able to discern what it is they are looking for before they head into the archives. Formulating clear research questions will help this. A quantitative approach can be used to evaluate numerical data, such as financial accounts, attendance records, ticket sales, and competition results. However, a quantitative approach can also be employed to measure data within qualitative sources: for instance, the frequency with which certain words or discourses recur within a given source or sources. Both of these quantitative approaches allow students to discern patterns and measure phenomena; however, a strictly numerical analysis of qualitative sources needs to take into account the dynamism of language and broader context: for instance, humour, irony, sarcasm, and even dishonesty. As always, triangulation is crucial to mediate these types of issues.

Why our conclusions are relevant to events studies

Our research on the ceremonies and presentational aspects of the 1970 Games showed how such displays were reflective of the politics of the period. Aside from the domestic politics of the 2014 Games, their ceremonies made subtle reference to the events of 1986: for example, their use of Highland terriers was an homage to 1986’s mascot, Mac. However, the subtext of the 2014 opening ceremony hinted at the political unrest surrounding 1986: there was a tribute to recently deceased Nelson Mandela as well as a section featuring Billy Connolly which discussed Scotland’s role in the anti-apartheid movement. Studying the 1986 Games thus helps scholars to contextualise and understand the longer narratives and threads running through the ceremonies of Games. This is only one example of a way in which studying the history of an event can add insight.

Another aspect of our research has been to examine the controversial history of the Meadowbank Sports Complex and in particular its Velodrome. We drew on correspondence between governing bodies, minute books from organising committee meetings, and newspapers to gain an understanding of the development of the Velodrome. The 1970 Games committee had initially planned to hold their cycling events on a ground in Grangemouth, 20 miles outside of Edinburgh. About a year and half before the Games it was decided to build a new velodrome next to the site of the new, purpose-build athletics stadium at Meadowbank. This was largely due to the reluctance of cycling authorities to accept the proposed track at Grangemouth Stadium. The new velodrome was constructed as a short-term solution: as the minutes highlight, its changing rooms and public address system for example were temporary, and the structure was built without a roof. In fact, after the Games the building was left largely unused; that is, until the 1986 organising committee decided that they did not want to build a new velodrome. They assumed that it would be more economical to modify and update the existing Meadowbank facilities than to build a new velodrome. However, cycling authorities were not so keen to hold the cycling events in a roofless velodrome, given notoriously wet Scottish climate. That, and after a new, left-wing Labour District Council was elected in 1984 on promises to mitigate the effects of Thatcherite austerity, to curb the overspend on the Games, the local authority found themselves at continual loggerheads with the organising committee. Beyond the increasingly angry correspondence included within the official archive, newspaper accounts show that the Council leader, Alex Wood, queried the need to even have cycling events in the first place at the Games. In the end the Council won in their battle to save money on the velodrome: the velodrome remained roofless. This was a rare victory for a Games that is often remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

Why is any of this relevant? The Meadowbank Sports Complex has continually come under threat of closure, almost since its inception in 1970. Part of this issue, in particular relating to the velodrome, was one of maintenance costs versus usage. The velodrome was built as a temporary structure and as such was not build to the highest specification and therefore required substantial maintenance. These demands had to be weighed against the usage of the facility and the kudos of having a velodrome. The relevance of these calculations will be immediately recognisable to those who attempt to measure the ‘legacy’ of sporting events, including those of Commonwealth Games (Preuss 2007; Fourie and Santana-Gallego 2011; Thomson, Schlenker, and Schulenkorf 2013; Smith and Fox 2007). The concept of legacy as we now understand it was not a formal part of the bidding process for sporting events until the 1990s. That is not to say that those cities hosting events did not recognise the potential longer-term benefits of holding these events. Even whilst the Games, chaotic as they were, lurched to their eventual end, Edinburgh District Council leader Mark Lazarowicz couched the Council’s expenditure in what would be the future language of legacy:

The Games will have long-term benefits. The city will be a shop window and, hopefully, this will encourage more visitors to come here. In addition, most of the money we have spent will result on improved facilities for top sportsmen and the local government. All this has been done without a single penny from the Government (Edinburgh Evening News, 15 July 1986).

The District’s recreation commissioner James Henderson additionally commented at the potential sporting participation angle:

Another of the attractions of the Games is that they will give a massive boost to sport at all levels in the city and we are now looking at ways of catering for that demand and encouraging people to keep up sport after the Games (Edinburgh Evening News, 15 July 1986).

The potential benefits, of course, must be offset against the costs, which were astronomical in the case of the 1986 Games. As the newspaper quotes from our research highlight, even before legacy planning became a mandatory component of bids, politicians were already beginning to realise that the expenditure towards events themselves were not justifiable unless long-term planning for their aftermath was put into place.

Legacy is something that something that events students discuss a great deal when analysing contemporary events. As we have shown here, while there was often no formal requirement for legacy planning for events in the past, organisers were often nonetheless thinking in these terms. Looking back at these events, we can trace the evolution of the theory around legacy and its growing importance. In stark contrast, the bid for the 2014 Games in Glasgow made provision for not only a velodrome, but also a facility which would be sustainable well beyond the Games. The Chris Hoy Velodrome, like its predecessor at Meadowbank, sits within a wider sports complex. However, it is situated within the East End of Glasgow, and was seen as important part of the regeneration of that part of the city. The facility was intended to be accessible to locals; however, at the time of writing, less than a year after the Games, it is hard to judge if this will ultimately be successful. The determination of whether or not the outcomes of the Glasgow facility’s construction have been successful will be evaluated via a variety of methods and sources, including the ones discussed in this chapter. Not all judgments about the ‘success’ of an event can be made at the time.


In this chapter we have made the case that history should be an important part of events studies. We have shown that this approach has much to offer in terms of understanding the development of, policy, funding and organisational structure and behaviour. This can be accomplished through a variety of sources as highlighted earlier. In this chapter we have shown that scholars can learn from historical events; our case study of the 1986 Commonwealth Games, which took place three decades ago, provided us with a deeper understanding of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Depending on what critical events researchers choose to look at, historical research can assist in enlightening and shaping various aspects of practise in the world of events. It can be very difficult to evaluate the success of an event in its immediate aftermath. Using historical sources to evaluate an event provides the student with a more comprehensive picture of the impact and consequences of that event than could necessarily be gathered at the time. In conducting an historical analysis, longer-term patterns and a more realistic understanding of the impacts of a specific event can be achieved. This, in turn, allows critical events researchers an additional means by which they can test theory against historic practice, and thereby learn what may work within a contemporary context.


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