Third-party assurance of sustainability reporting

The case of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Authored by: Eleni Theodoraki

Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138666153
eBook ISBN: 9781315619514
Adobe ISBN:


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The purpose of this chapter is to discuss third-party assurance of sustainability reporting in the case of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (Games). The production of sustainability reports has been evidenced in the last two decades (ACCA, 2004), and similar reports were produced by London 2012 Games organizers involved with Games preparations and hosting. As someone involved in the third-party assurance framework for this event, and as an academic with a research interest in the topic of mega-sport event management, I discuss the origins of the concept of sustainable development, what purposes assurance serves, and how it links to measurements of organizational effectiveness. I then consider the Aristotelian concept of phronesis recently revisited by Flyvbjerg (2005) to ask whether Games-related developments around the world could be deemed sustainable from a phronetic perspective. Additionally, I build upon Elinor Ostrom’s (2009a, 2009b) Nobel Prize–winning work on governance of common pool resources and her ideas on polycentric approaches for managing conflicting interests to explore its potential for informing sustainability reporting and then sustainability assurance of the Games. Gaps in sustainability reporting inadvertently affect sustainability assurance that follows. Therefore, I explore the limitations of reporting around the sustainability of the Games that also shaped the boundaries of sustainability assurance. Considering the plurality of stakeholders, I illustrate the complexity of first understanding and then assuring sustainability in this particular context. I draw upon my experience of working for the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL) between February 2010 and February 2013 and my membership in the expert group advising the Games’ Global Impacts program’s evaluation of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. I use the sustainability reports produced by Games planners and organizers, namely the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Organising Committee for the London Olympic Games, to name the reporting indicators used in them and compare them to the Global Reporting Initiative indicators, identifying any gaps in reporting. I then explore CSL publications to illustrate what assurance frameworks were used, which aspects of sustainability the commission considered, the modus operandi of Games organizers, and ultimately, the difference the commission thought it made and what its independent evaluators thought of its impact. Although I was part of the CSL, I acknowledge the limitations of my viewpoints and seek to adopt a critical stance to review the practices I was part of and those I observed.

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