GW Professor to Lead Graduate Student Research at Rio Olympics

Twenty-seven graduate students will conduct research on the Olympic Games in Rio with Professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti.

Students attend a pre-trip class before leaving for Rio de Janeiro. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
July 28, 2016

By Kristen Mitchell

A George Washington University professor is leading a group of graduate students to Rio de Janeiro to study the ins and outs of the Summer Olympics.

While the best athletes from around the world will be preparing for their moment in the spotlight, Associate Professor of Sport Management in the School of Business Lisa Delpy Neirotti and her 27 students will be collecting data on venue utilization and other subjects. This will be Dr. Neirotti’s 18th trip to the Olympic Games.

The students will be tasked with collecting data on space utilization in all the Olympic venues including seats, parking lots, and security portals.  They will also study spectator behavior and motivation, Dr. Neirotti said.

The program is a great opportunity to gain experience in the sports management field, she said, and there is always a wait list. At mega events like the Olympic Games, cutting-edge technology and innovative ideas are on display.

“Students get to see firsthand the best practices in sports management and marketing,” Dr. Neirotti said.

The data is used by the International Olympic Committee, organizing committees for future Olympic Games and local tourism organizations to better understand venue requirements, what Olympic spectators are most interested in, and how guests spend their money. Recently the IOC started to identify Olympic spectators as a client group and is putting more effort into improving their experience.

Dr. Neirotti leads the Olympic class every two years, and travels to both winter and summer events. Her favorite Olympic Games were in Barcelona in 1992 and Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994.

“Barcelona was extremely picturesque and the first time I lead a group of GW students to the Games, In Lillehammer, the international spirit was off the charts” she said.

While her students will have credentials to all Olympic venues, they will spend a lot of their time meeting with executives throughout Rio, Dr. Neirotti said. In addition to conducting on-site research, the students write term papers and study issues like transportation, media, marketing, event security and the ceremonies.

“They really do a lot of work ahead of going down to the Olympic Games including taking an exam,” Dr. Neirotti said.

While in Brazil, the students will hear from several speakers, from the organizing committee to athletes, and meet with Olympic and local government officials.

Lisa Chazanovitz, a Master of Tourism Administration student planning to graduate in spring 2017, is studying the volunteer program surrounding the Rio Olympics and plans to stay in the city for a month. This class was the reason she applied to her program, Ms. Chazanovitz said.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to attend the Games,” she said. “My goal is to eventually work for a company or organization that has involvement with the Games in some way.”

While she expects the language barrier and anticipated lack of sleep to be a challenge, Ms. Chazanovitz said the research project will be rewarding.

“I’m looking forward to just being in the thick of it, to talk to people who work for organizations that help put on the Games,” she said. “I also love the way the world comes together for it and puts everything aside.”

Jacqui Stevens, a Master of Tourism Administration student, said she’s looking forward to the once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to the Olympic Games. Ms. Stevens finished her career as a collegiate lacrosse player this year and was never able to go abroad as an athlete.

“I think it's important to see other parts of the world to bring your education to that next level, and what better time to have that experience,” she said.

Ms. Stevens will be in Rio for 12 days, and plans to write her class paper on security preparedness. Safety surrounding the Olympics Games has been a concern for many leading up to the event. Police in the city have been vocal about government mistreatment, citing pay discrepancies and inadequate security.

The students pay for the trip to Rio on their own, and aside from meal vouchers that can be used during volunteer shifts, they are responsible for all the costs associated with the trip.

Dr. Neirotti said many of the concerns about the Olympic Games—including risks of contracting the Zika virus—have been blown out of proportion. Because the events are being held during Brazil’s winter, the mosquito population will be lower than it was a few months ago.

“It's been the coldest winter they’ve had in years, so I think that everybody is prepared, we've got our bug spray, so I’m not that concerned,” she said.

Ms. Stevens said she has researched the health risks and largely is not concerned.

“I still will be packing an absurd amount of bug spray,” she said.

The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on Aug. 5.

In Rio for the Olympic Games? Join students and alumni for a reception on Aug. 10 and hear remarks from GW Professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti.