Beautification Lies, Unfounded Hype, and Business Decline: The 2022 World Athletics Championships
On July 15, seven years after Eugene was named the host city, the 10-day World Athletics Championships began at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. In the end, while some were happy and local media was more-than-happy to publicize, there were other members of the local community who felt otherwise.
In an extremely unusual–but not unprecedented move in the world of international sporting events–the International Amateur Athletic Federation, circumventing the normal bidding process, announced that the WAC would be held in Eugene, a first for the United States.
It was a surprise announcement, though perhaps less surprising when coupled with the fact that IAAF President Sebastian Coe was, at the time, receiving “£100,000 a year for a ‘social engagement’” role with Nike – a role which eventually led to investigations by French authorities, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service.
And, perhaps even less surprising after learning that, in 2016, communications between Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Coe were revealed through the Freedom of Information Act. The messages made clear that Oregon Governor Kate Brown had told then IAAF president, Lamine Diack, that she would do everything in her power to gain both the financial and legislative support needed for the event though many already knew that the support wasn’t there.
One of the event’s “selling points” was the potential influx of several hundred thousand national and international tourists and, therefore, an increase in sales at local businesses and eateries. But this did not happen for businesses outside of the University and Riverfront areas — and even some within.
The hype surrounding the event led to some pretty wild estimations for the event in Eugene, a relatively small city with a population of approximately 170,000 residents. The previous three destination cities—Doha, Qatar; London, U.K.; and Beijing, China—have populations between approximately 2.3 and 21.9 million people.
Eugene isn’t the smallest host city, though. That title is currently held by Sittard, Netherlands where the championships were held in 1980. As of 2016, the population there is around 37,500 people.
According to World Athletics’ “Bid Guide,” dated December 2020, figures based off of the Economic Impact Study of the championships in London from 2017 noted:
- “Total of 335,371 unique spectators, including 230,000 that were non-local
- 705,000 competition tickets sold
- 56% of all out-of-town spectators (124,416) stayed in commercial accommodation, for an average of 4 days.
- Accommodation spend generated from out-of-town spectators: $30,000,000
- Non-accommodation spend generated from out-of-town spectators: $40,000,000 (average daily spend: $85)
- 91% of out-of-town spectators would recommend the host city as a holiday destination after coming to the event
- 81% of out-of-town spectators agreed that the event had increased their awareness for the host city as tourist and/or business destination
- 69% of out-of-town spectators agreed that they were likely to return to the host city in the next two years after attending the event.”
In 2019, the Register-Guard reported that the event would see an estimated “$205 million to the area, according to a 2015 study” and that there would be “upwards of 50,000 daily visitors.”
On July 13, just three days before the start of the WAC, local media reported that restaurants were preparing to “handle the Oregon22 influx.” Even after the event had started, some outlets predicted that the event would draw “200,000 visitors.”
This didn’t happen. The crowd never materialized, forcing Travel Lane County city to put out calls for more locals to come support the event and festivities — many of whom had already left the city in anticipation of huge crowds.
Though the crowds never came, the WAC did focus much more media attention on Eugene than ever before, presenting the city with a rare opportunity to sell itself as more than a backwater college town. As a result, the city spent considerable time and money fixing up the areas around Hayward Field, including the construction of a new Riverfront Park and, most notably, allowing Puma and Adidas to set up swanky–but temporary–headquarters in fraternity houses that were remodeled for the event.
But there would be no temporary housing for the people on the streets of Eugene.
In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging, Eugene and its police department began a two-year-long systematic effort to rid the downtown and university areas of its houseless population — which the city self-reports is more than 3,000 people.
By June 2021, there had been over 1,600 sweeps since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s nearly four sweeps a day.
When asked about this “beautification” by a UO law student during a panel at the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics in April, Eugene’s Chief of Police, Chris Skinner, said there had been “no discussions around some efforts around beautification, so to speak, of our city as we, for the first time ever, hold an event on American soil and will be seen by over a billion people worldwide.”
That confusing quote obscures the reality of his department’s actions.
In March, the city and EPD swept the houseless camp at Washington-Jefferson Park and closed it for use after revoking the pandemic-related exception to the city’s no-camping rule. A few weeks later, in early April, houseless residents living in their vehicles were evicted from Owen Loop.
The “disappearance” of Eugene’s houseless population was noticeable.
According to a statement by Stop The Sweeps-Eugene, “the numbers show that evictions perpetrated against the unhoused by Parks and Open Space staff and the Eugene Police Department have actually increased significantly” since the pandemic and preparations for the WAC began.
“In the eight months leading up to the WAC, the City shut down the only sanctioned encampments in Eugene, where at least 500 people lived at one time,” the statement said. “To justify the closure of these encampments, the City contracted with St. Vincent De Paul (SVDP) to offer about 80 beds in a temporary, carceral-like setting to a fraction of those forcefully removed out of the encampments.”
About where the majority of the houseless population can go, STSE said “no one has ever been able to tell people being evicted a place where they could safely shelter, because it is illegal for unhoused folks to sit, lie, sleep or exist anywhere in Eugene.” And even asking may lead to arrest.
Stop The Sweeps-Eugene’s full statement can be read below:
“Beautification” clearly only applied to the unhoused. While the houseless were swept and disappeared, the trash and remnants of a troubled and wasteful city remained. Cigarette butts, plastic waste, and the remnants of car collisions still litter the streets and sidewalks. Streams into the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers are still full of shopping carts, wood pallets, plastics, and other foreign debris. Parks have candy wrappers, discarded electronics, and even bags of household trash scattered around them. Yet all that seemed to garner little attention from the event organizers, university staff, city employees, and even public works. All of the spending that has gone into this event, all the hype, and desire to be ‘presentable’ has failed when viewed alongside all the garbage that one can see all around the county.
Some Eugene Businesses Suffered
Despite how some mainstream news proclaimed how much of an economic boost the WAC gave to Eugene businesses—their prime example being a pizza place directly across the street from the university—several others with different views spoke to DSM regarding their experiences during the WAC.
Felicia Hord, the general manager of Handel’s Ice Cream in the 5th Street Public Market said that they saw “a little more people in the mornings than usual but as far as our daily totals, and whatnot, it was not as high as we were expecting.”
Emily Chappell, one of the owners of Old Nick’s Pub on Washington St., said that they “never saw any business from the event whatsoever.” They added that they “did not stock up or add extra staff because from all my experience with these big sporting events the myth that it creates more business for small businesses is repeatedly proven false.”
Now that it’s over,” Chappell said. “We have seen people returning to our space.”
At the First National Taphouse downtown, bartender Molly Newhard said that she was “looking forward to being busy as a downtown bartender, but the city took that away by setting up the Riverfront festival.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that international travelers have somewhere to go where they feel welcome and comfortable,” Newhard said. “I just wish the city hadn’t hyped us restaurant workers all up just to rip the rug out from under us.”
One food truck owner who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fears of retaliation said that, due to their location away from UO and the Riverfront, they experienced a significant decrease in customers.
“I was anticipating some filtering of visitors,” they said. Prior to the event, they said “the only people that I talked to about [the Championships] was the director of events and fundraising for Food for Lane County to say, ‘stock up and be prepared, it’ll be busy’” adding that “the events lady from Eugene Magazine [said] pretty much the same thing.”
Well, they did stock up.
“We did overstock ourselves,” they said, “but when I noticed and discussed with others about the low customer flow, we just decided to run out of stuff.” Fortunately, though, they said that their menu is big enough that they were able to “limp through the second week without losses.”
About the lack of business during the event, they said “why make it impossible for the 1,000 plus visitors [to] have access to the whole city?”
Similar to Old Nick’s Pub, they said “Saturday we did have our usuals show their faces again, however it was just a few.”
Melissa Achtien, from gilt+gossamer also located at the 5th Street Public Market, had a more optimistic outlook. She said that, though her boutique’s revenue was “down about 30 percent,” she added that “I think the event showed that a small city can handle a big event.”
“Our area is beautiful, Hayward Field is world class. Our city is quirky and inclusive and that is a good thing to showcase, Achtien said, “the [Riverfront Festival] is fun and the new park is a wonderful addition to our space.”
So Where’s The Money Going to Go?
Sure, the WAC may have earned the city a lot of money. It will be interesting to see where it goes and how it is used to benefit the city’s residents — housed and, especially, the unhoused who were made to vanish from sight. This international event certainly drew tourists from across the globe and many, surely, spent their money at and around the event.
With all that said, though, it is also indisputable that the hype sold by civic leaders and spread by local media leading up to the event fell flat on its face. The optimistic estimates of 100,000 to even 200,000 visitors ended up peaking around 50,000 across the entirety of the 10-day event. Several businesses–those outside the WAC and Riverfront Festival areas–not only didn’t see an increase in business but also found that many of their regulars were absent.
And, with the WAC’s “Bid Guide” saying that “91% of out-of-town spectators would recommend the host city as a holiday destination after coming to the event,” it’ll be interesting to see how many people actually do return on holiday considering that this is Eugene and not Berlin or London or Doha or Beijing.
And if and when they do return, how will the city try to hide the people it’s most ashamed of?
Up next for Hayward Field and the city that’s attached to it—not the other way around—will be the return of the NCAA Track and Field Championships in 2024, 2025, 2026, and 2027. Without a doubt, there will be other large-scale events sprinkled in-between.