Exactly four years ago today, the London 2012 Olympic Games, the biggest peacetime
event in the history of the UK, and indeed the world, was about to begin with a very
unconventional and quirky but joyful and uplifting opening ceremony that would set the
scene for one of the most widely acclaimed sporting events in modern times. With the
Rio Olympic Games now just days, away and future Olympic bidding and host cities
updating and developing their plans, Michael Pirrie, a senior adviser with the Olympic
Organising Committee, looks at how the Games can transform a host city and analyses
the critical success factors of the London 2012 Games.
The moments and memories seem frozen in time as a ticker tape of Olympians rolls
across a succession of giant digital billboards inside the brain displaying sporting
images that thrilled the UK and the world – from Bolt to Murray, Jessica Ennis-Hill,
Sally Pearson, Michael Phelps and many more whose performances put a giant smile
on the face of the global community.
The athletes were the stars of London’s Olympic extravaganza. They
performed at awe-inspiring levels, and almost always with grace and sportsmanship
whether they won or lost, leaving trails of world and Olympic records and inspiration
in their wake.
The UK public and international visitors responded to the athletes with levels
of enthusiasm, passion, noise and sheer joy rarely seen at any major sporting event.
The performances of the athletes and interaction with the spectators was fundamental
to the success of the London 2012 Games, and much exhausting work was done to
create the conditions necessary for sporting magic inside the venues.
The successful delivery of Games events centered on effective Games-wide
and integrated operations, based around the best service levels and conditions for the
athletes, and involved many thousands of pieces of detailed planning.
Partnerships with core stakeholders were pivotal, especially with the British
Olympic Association (BOA), UK Sport and the UK Government to provide the
funding and pathways to sporting excellence needed for British athletes to perform
successfully at Games time to drive national interest and celebrations.
We knew we could not leave this to the ‘It Will Be All Right on The Night’ school of project management, nor allow our planning inadequacies to impact on the
Olympic experience of the athletes or the global community in any way, as our
chairman, Seb Coe would constantly remind us, supported strongly by members of
IOC Co-ordination Commission, including John Coates and Gunilla Lindberg.
In addition to providing an electrifying Games environment for the world’s
best athletes, we also promised important community legacies from the Games,
benefits which have often taken up to a decade and longer to develop and deliver
following previous Olympic Games, but which in London’s case are already in place
due to simultaneous planning of post-Games legacy infrastructure in parallel with
Games-times services and facilities.
London 2012’s dual focus on delivering a spectacular Games-time experience
and working with key stakeholders, partners and others to help deliver legacy benefits
in parallel with Games preparations is delivering significant community regeneration
and urban renewal.
The east end of London, one of the most under-developed communities in the
capital and country, where many of the new venues, facilities and services for our
Olympic Games were located, has been extensively regenerated, and millions have
benefited from preparations for the Games.
London has also benefitted from much needed new Games-related transport,
housing, and community services, including lower carbon energy infrastructure and a
collection of the best new sports facilities in the world.
As a result of these new venues, services and the knowledge legacy of how to
deliver major events efficiently and economically, London and the UK are winning
more bids to host international events in the rapidly expanding, increasingly
competitive and commercially valuable global major events sector, worth hundreds of
millions of pounds to local economies.
These include the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships, the world’s
third biggest event, which will be staged in the former Olympic Park and Stadium
next year, with athletes from more than 200 nations competing.
The construction of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the centrepiece of the
London 2012 Games in east London, has been the catalyst for the single biggest
transformation in London for decades.
This has created new facilities, housing, and services and a new future and
opportunities for some of the poorest boroughs in the UK that are located around the
Olympic Park site.
New homes, schools, better transport connections and Europe’s largest retail
development at Westfield, all in and around the Olympic Park site, are leading to
more jobs and other significant social and economic benefits. The changes will
underpin economic activity in one of the most under-developed areas in the capital
for decades to come.
The Games, encouragingly, have for the first time been the catalyst for greater
participation in sport amongst young people and also elderly people as well, with
many sports and sporting venues reporting increased participation and useage by
young people and an increase in new sports venues and infrastructure, including
swimming pools and diving boards and pools .
Baroness Tessa Jowell, the former Olympic Minister who persuaded the Blair
Government to bid for the Olympic Games against Paris, New York, Moscow,
Madrid and other leading international cities, said that the Games have also left many
deep personal legacies in the lives of Londoners, Games volunteers and many others
involved in Games events.
“I think my favorite legacy is all the conversations I had when I was deputy
Mayor of the Olympic Village, and this was really some conversations which
confirmed how far we had come in achieving everything we spent 10 years trying to
“So, the volunteer who said to me that on the day we won (the bid) way back
in 2005, she said that she started saving every month so she could close her
business for the duration of the Games and work as a volunteer, which is what she
did, and she said her dream came true. And so that story was repeated in different
ways, hundreds of times.”
“So I think the fact that the Games achieved that; that they gave memories to
people whether they were competing, whether they were watching, whether they
were volunteering is something more precious than is ever really possible to
measure, quite apart from going to east London and seeing the power of the
regeneration and the continuing power of the change there; the performance of
our athletes; but ultimately, when I think about 2012, I think about it in the words
of all the people I talk to.”
Baroness Jowell said the Olympic Games had also left a powerful image legacy
that has transformed views and perceptions of London and the UK.
“Part of our ambition in starting out on this long road was to show the world we
weren’t a country of Beefeaters and heritage sites, proud though we are of these, but a
country of innovation, entrepreneurship, knowledge and leading edge in the world, and I think we managed to do that. I think the perceptions did change, and
there are plenty of stories that showed how people’s perceptions altered.”
Legacy was worked out early and roles and responsibilities for legacy delivery
were also determined early. Planning of the Games and legacy proceeded in parallel.
The Games – and preparations for the Games – however, must work and must be
successful and inspirational to drive and support legacy.
Sir Keith Mills, CEO of the London 2012 Olympic Games bid committee and
deputy chairman of the London 2012 Olympic Games Organising Committee
(Locog), said it was important for future Olympic Bid cities and organizing
committees to have a clear vision of their Games legacy from the outset.
“First of all be really clear why you want to host the Olympic Games. I think
lots of cities aren’t really clear when they make that decision; because if you’re not
clear at the beginning, what you get at the end tends to be a lot of trouble.”
“I think when we bid for the Games we were pretty clear that we wanted to
both regenerate a big part of London and, at the same time to use the Games to
inspire a generation of young people through sport. And we focused all our
energies to do just that. But if you aren’t clear at the start, you are going to have a
lot of trouble when you go into the delivery phase,” said Sir Keith, who is
successfully managing Britain’s current Louis Vuitton America’s Cup challenge,
and leads a charity that helps young people through sport, called Sported.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games brought people in the UK
and around the world together through sport in unique ways, and was the catalyst for
major social, economic and community change in the capital and beyond. Social
commentators believe the Games may have also been the catalyst for an important
change in the way in which the UK is seen, and how Britons see themselves.
The London 2012 Games lifted the mood of the British people and economy
and united the country, while the Paralympic Games have changed the way we view
sport, disability, and ourselves.
The spirit of the Games, the regeneration of east London around the new
Olympic Park and the achievements of the athletes have even been invoked by
community, educational, cultural, business and political leaders as a source of
inspiration; an example of what is possible through teamwork and sharing of a
common goal and vision to help address key challenges and opportunities in the post Olympic era.
Along with cities and communities around the world, London now eagerly
awaits the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games as the
international community gets ready to be enthralled and inspired by the magic,
passion and stunningly beauty settings and love of life and sport that Rio will bring to
the first Olympic Games in South America. Go Rio!
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.