After being appointed as the leader of the London bid for the 2012 Games, two-time Olympic gold medallist Seb Coe paid his first international visit to Barcelona, where he met Juan Antonio Samaranch, the late former IOC President, and Pasqual Maragall, who was the mayor of the city during the 1992 Games.
“For me and for the London Organising Committee it is a city that is a reference point,” explained Coe at the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona in March 2012. “When we decided to present the candidacy, the first thing I did was come to Barcelona and speak with Maragall and the Secretary of State for Sports to get to know their experience in more detail. The Olympic Barcelona is an example for all of us. I have heard many mayors say that they would like to experience a transformation like that of Barcelona during the Games. London also wants to be like Barcelona and we are not ashamed of this.”
Rebranding a whole city
Indeed, the 1992 Olympic Games are widely credited with not only transforming the landscape of Barcelona itself, but also with rebranding a city that has since become one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
Barcelona used the Games as a catalyst for urban regeneration projects, with more than 100 hectares of former industrial land being redeveloped as the Olympic Village, providing residential housing and public facilities once the Games were over. The city’s seafront was also reinvigorated, with a new beach, restaurants and bars, while transport infrastructure was also improved.
“Sport changed Barcelona’s image, through creating 70 per cent of more green space, opening the city to the sea, building housing at reasonable prices, and transforming the city’s economy,” says Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG).
“I wanted to understand the nature of that Barcelona. I was very interested in terms of urban regeneration and legacy, and in how the city not only managed to promote an infrastructures project for seven years, but also in how such an Olympic infrastructure project is still valid. That was very important to me.”
Maximising the urban regeneration of the city
The success of Barcelona’s Olympic legacies was due to careful planning, with a number of Games venues located in areas that would maximise the urban regeneration of the city and ensure that there would be a community use for them post-Games. With that in mind, the IOC works hard to help current Games organisers, such as LOCOG, look at what they believe hosting the Games can do for their city.
But the Games don’t only provide tangible legacies, such as new apartments, parks and sports venues. One of the most significant legacies of the 1992 Games was how becoming an Olympic city helped Barcelona rebrand itself, showing a new and exciting city to the world. Now, 20 years on, Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
“Before 1992, Barcelona was not even in the top 16 ranking of European cities having tourism as their main source of revenue, while now it is number four,” says Coe. “This is simply incredible.”