It was July 2000 and it was bloody hot in Athens. My employer at the time was a worldwide Olympic Games sponsor and the guy who’s job it was to manage all aspects of the sponsorship was due to retire. Someone thought that maybe I’d like to take over his role. This trip was my recce.
Taking on the role would have meant moving home every two years to prepare for both the summer and winter Games. The role itself included responsibility for stuff like operations. I knew bugger all about operations and the prospect scared me a bit. In the end, I decided against. But the trip gave me an insight into what it takes to stage an Olympic festival and a respect for the people and teams that do.
With four years to go to their opening ceremony, the Athens Organising Committee had only four employees: a CEO, her assistant, a property expert and a recruiter. They were housed in a prestige headquarter building in the heart of Athens that had the capacity to house a few thousand more. In the four years that followed, that office filled out and four employees grew to more than 150,000, including volunteers. Building the Olympics is like developing, and then dismantling, a FTSE 10 company in the space of just four years.
The Olympics is still the pinnacle for the world’s leading, mostly amateur athletes but my about-to-retire colleague explained that the only true amateurs are the organising committees. Recurring sponsors, he explained, had an important role to play in bottling their previous experience and transferring it from city to city to help ensure things went smoothly.
With a week of the Olympics to go, it’s ‘so far, so very good’ for London2012. Following Danny Boyle’s stunningly choreographed opening ceremony and the unexpected sporting success of Team GB, the country has got truly engaged and enthused by the Games.
While the Olympic experience will live long in the memories of the athletes and spectators alike, LOCOG is rapidly approaching the end of its journey. In just a matter of weeks, even before the Paralympic Games start, the breaking down and packing up will start. The thousands of journalists, VIPs and athletes will have left town and the LOCOG team will be effectively dismantled.
The gripes that dominated the news headlines before the sports started, about ticket allocations, transportation, empty seats, overly-aggressive brand censorship, missiles on the roofs of apartment buildings and G4S’ struggle to deliver on its commitments will have left town and been forgotten too.
London2012 has given the UK a renewed sense of optimism, pride and confidence at a time when the country, our economy and society need it most. It’s not too early now for everyone to help ensure an enduring legacy for London and the country, not just in a sporting sense but as a nation.
Greece, as we all know too well now, completely squandered theirs.