I first got interested in ‘mega-events’ in the late 1980s. My home city of Sheffield made a successful bid for the (ultimately not-so-very-‘mega’ and enduringly controversial) ‘World Student Games 1991’ event in 1986. I made a study of this event, looking at its social context and policy implications and identifying themes and issues for further research. Ultimately I started work on this book in the mid- 1990s. Back in the late 1980s, and for a long time afterwards, my interest in mega-events—although it resonated with the interests of various specialist historians and other researchers, as I discuss in the book—was a perennial source of puzzlement to many of my sociological and academic colleagues. Thankfully this by no means applied to all of them (as is indicated in the Acknowledgements section). The colleagues who were puzzled seemed to regard mega-events as demonstrably trivial, populist cultural ephemera, irrelevant to ‘the problems of the real world’ and ‘the big issues’ of the day, such as struggles in the contemporary period against war, class inequality, sexism, racism and xenophobia, and, conversely, struggles to promote peace, social justice and citizenship and social inclusion. However their puzzlement was, in turn, a puzzle to me. How could they not see that these events were undeniably, even if only periodically, ‘problems of the real world’ for many citizens in modern societies, and that, as they always have done throughout the modern period, they continue to provide periodic focal points and symbolic expressions, and arenas of debate and struggle in relation to many ‘big issues’?
In recent years the clouds of mutual incomprehension have begun to lift. This is particularly so as the notion of ‘the Millennium’, and of the apparent imperative need to mark and celebrate it, has crystallised in the plans of governments and the consciousness of publics around the world. The fact that this book is published in the year 2000 was not something that had figured in my original plans for this project. Nonetheless it is a fortunate coincidence. In the year of such ‘official’ events as Britain’s ‘Millennium’ Expo, the World Expo in Hanover, the Olympic Games in Sydney and also numerous ‘alternative’ large-scale events, few people, even sociologists, can credibly continue to claim ignorance of, or indifference to, mega-events.
Mega-events have come to have a high political profile in the contemporary period. In 2000, at the turn of the twentieth century, they are beginning to assume, once again, the kind of high political and cultural profile they had in 1900, at the