The big debate: Olympus fallen?

Post-Rio 2016, it’s time to reassess how mega-events are staged

Dr Andrew Smith

dr-andrew-smithUniversity of Westminster

“Multinational events will become more common”

The Olympic Games in Rio highlighted some important issues for the UK events sector. The controversies surrounding Rio 2016 – particularly those relating to the costs of staging the Games – will reinforce the scepticism about mega-events within Whitehall and devolved administrations. Concerns about public financing have already scuppered London’s plans to bid for the 2025 World Expo and a Welsh bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games.

UK mega-events are likely to be restricted to less grandiose events that use existing facilities. The UK already has an incredible range of sport and cultural venues, so the aim must be to attract events that can make use of those. Staging multiple European Championships in 2018 in Glasgow seems like a good way of using the facilities built and upgraded for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Rio 2016 also reminded us that the Olympic Games are a powerful tool to promote a city. What other vehicle could generate positive media attention sustained for over two weeks? However, this coverage reinforced what people already knew or thought about Rio de Janeiro – it’s a spectacular city with complex social issues. The lesson for the UK is to use major events to showcase cities or places that are less well known. This helps to justify projects such as the UK City of Culture, which Hull will stage in 2017.

The difficulties faced by Rio, and the decisions by Hamburg and Boston to withdraw from the race to stage the 2024 Games, may prompt the IOC and other rights holders to alter the way these events are hosted. The next UEFA European Football Championships in 2020 will be staged across the continent rather than in one host country; and these types of multinational events are likely to become more common. Britain has chosen to leave the European Union, but it may need to work with its European partners if it wants to stage mega-events in the future.

Nick Grecian

nick-grecian-gallowgass

Gallowglass Group

“Everyone gets caught up in the wonder of the brand”

It’s staggering that organisers of mega-events never learn from their predecessors. By the time the next organising committee has been assembled, even when it includes people from the previous event, the same mistakes recur.

In fact, the suppliers are far smarter. Experience has taught us that when an Olympic Games comes to a city the real attraction is not being part of the Games; it’s the surrounding circus – the sponsor activities, hospitality and meetings, which are far more lucrative and less onerous to deliver.

The first time around everyone is caught up in the wonder of the brand, willing to go through an excruciating tender process to get onto the roster. But those that make it find themselves hamstrung by regulations, while revenue is slashed by punitive rates. Meanwhile, their ‘unsuccessful’ competitors cheerfully mop up the spin-off business, commanding top rates.

Security is a prime example. In the run-up to London 2012, as the labour requirement more than quadrupled, G4S couldn’t get the staff at the rates they’d been forced to offer. Other security companies weren’t interested because by then they had more work than they could handle. In the end 3,500 extra troops had to be deployed to make up the shortfall.

For Rio, security was already a major issue for a city in recession with a soaring crime rate. In early August, the Ministry of Justice fired a security company contracted just one month earlier and once again the armed forces had to be drafted in.

Back in 2008, Gallowglass made a pitch to the London 2012 Organising Committee to consider a centralised labour force, giving them complete control over resourcing. We couldn’t convince them then, but discussions with subsequent organising committees lead us to hope that eventually this will become a reality for mega-events.

#Eventprofs, have your say. Tweet us at @Access_AA using the hashtag #OlympusFallen.

This feature originally appeared in the October issue of Access All Areas, out now.