Rooting for Rio

With just over two years until the start of the next Summer Olympic Games, the host city – Rio de Janeiro – isn’t ready.  This surprises nobody (apart from the town of Weymouth, who excitedly announced that their venue preparations for London 2012 were complete six weeks ahead of schedule and under budget… in August 2009), but the problem is that Rio is reportedly only 10% finished.  As a benchmark, London was 60% prepared at the same stage and the even famously-shambolic Athens was 40% ready.  All of this is apparently cause for concern at the IOC, and it’s definitely getting the international media shaken up.

What’s being done to help Rio is unclear – the IOC is a mysterious beast – but the hindrances and criticisms are obvious.  As it is the digital age, Rio is being cyber bullied, often by those who have no experience of running a piss up in a brewery, never mind a travelling global multi-sport festival which is held quadrennially.  And to add to Rio’s stress, it is also hosting the FIFA World Cup in a few short weeks.

This isn’t the first time that a host nation has been victimised for less than ideal preparations.  In the last five years alone, South Africa’s World Cup, India’s Commonwealth Games and, most recently, Russia’s Winter Olympics have all faced harsh criticism.  Incomplete and poorly constructed venues, insufficient security procedures, terrorist threats and unethical treatment of local residents are just some of the issues other venues have dealt with.  And what was the reaction from outside nations?  To apportion blame, display a lack of faith and put up barriers.

The very ethos of events such as the Olympic Games is rooted in the promotion of international cooperation: the highest standard of competition, an exciting spectator experience combined with the opportunity for the best athletes in the world to show who truly is the best in their field, whilst treating each other with respect and dignity.  But apparently that attitude doesn’t begin the moment hosting rights are awarded to a nation.  Those rights aren’t afforded to the teams who are recruited and given the responsibility of putting on the show, spending years and dedicating thousands of hours to ensuring that athletes are able to display the fruits of their own labours, whilst their supporters watch in wonder.

Because here’s the thing: as almost 200 other first day Events Management students and I were told back in September 2006 by the UK Centre for Events Management’s Head of Centre, Glenn Bowdin, “events don’t just happen” (in fact, Glenn gives that speech at least once per year – we were not the first to hear it, and we won’t have been the last).  It’s not a case of the BBC and NBC showing up with their cameras and plugging in whilst it all happens around them.  Danny Boyle doesn’t rock up with a magic wand, some Olympic fairy dust and a cast of thousands and put on a flawless show.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, venues don’t sprout from the ground and events don’t run themselves.  And these days, they aren’t run by assistants who can get away with opening a bag of crisps, pulling a bottle of sparkling wine out of the fridge and calling it a Christmas party.  The events industry has become increasingly professional, run by experts for everyone.  Except when it comes to quadrennial sporting events governed by bodies which are bound so tightly by red tape that they can’t find the hospitality tent.

Admittedly, that’s harsh.  The bidding and hosting process is such that, simply put, a nation is granted the rights to host, and given the responsibility of recruiting a team to do so.  Many events such as the Olympics are, these days, run by professionals who bounce from one Games or World Cup or Championships to the next.  Because it has been recognised that these things happen far more efficiently when activated by a team which has experience.  But something is still going wrong, otherwise Rio wouldn’t be answering these questions and fighting off the cyber bullies.  And this is where co-operation comes in.  Because all Rio and other similar cities need is a chance; a bit of additional support.

Legacy is important to all events, and following several poor examples after recent Games, it’s something the IOC is very keen on.  It’s an important part of honouring the effort which goes into setting up an event: making sure that a long-term benefit is achieved, and that the event doesn’t just disappear once it has happened.  If venues are being built, they must have a sustainable use, and in order to continue being used, people will need to run them.  Cities which invest heavily in regeneration and infrastructure, building new facilities such as hotels in order to cope with the influx of people at Games-time will be left with these facilities once the cameras are packed away and the media and spectators swoop on to their next event.  Staff will need to run these facilities beyond the event in order to ensure best usage and profitability, but hotels don’t stay full and venues don’t remain used and kept up without fully-trained and responsible employees.  These things are an opportunity for any host city, and as such, they are also a risk.

The IOC and the media have the power to give, but they have the power to give problems and unwanted challenges as much as they are able to bestow the possibility for greatness.  Whether we are a human being learning to tie our shoelaces or feed ourselves using a knife and fork rather than our hands, or a city which is beginning to realise the opportunity to maximise inherent greatness, we are all beginners once.  None of us advance alone.  We can sit at our computers, tweeting about inevitable failures and wastes of money and ruined areas, or we can use the knowledge and expertise we have to help others.

Rio, like Delhi, South Africa and Sochi before it, does not need criticism.  It doesn’t need whispers behind backs discussing the laughable possibility of London taking the reins – incredible as 2012 was, it would be both the wrong decision and an impossibility at this stage for London to host in 2016 (since this post was written, Moscow has also been mentioned as a possibility).  Rio needs support, guidance and a bit of consideration for where the city has come from.  The IOC should not step into this situation with lead boots, parachuting in a team who will take the wheel and steer until the closing ceremony finishes, when they will then disappear again.  The experienced professionals should step forward, though.  Hold a few hands, share a few tried and tested methods, encourage development of new and better ideas, and train a city to stand up and support itself.  This will create possibilities and opportunities, rather than waste.  After all, peace, development and solidarity through sport are supposed to be what the Olympics are all about.

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5 thoughts on “Rooting for Rio

  1. I see your point, but I also think that we do need to demand better than what some venues have given us. Sochi sticks in the mind, being most recent, and if the very least we can expect is that the events be safe they failed on even that – competitors were pulling out of the downhill events because they thought the course wasn’t safe enough. Added to that is a lot of concern about the way that these competitions have been awarded, especially since the World Cup went to Russia and Qatar – a country with no football heritage and a climate that’s completely unsuited to it and could well completely screw up all the domestic competitions.
    No games is without its detractors. We only got behind London because Mitt Romney came over and agreed with us that it was going to be a disaster.

    • Thanks for commenting 🙂 and that is exactly my point: these enormous governing bodies have a habit of making poor decisions (based on politics and/or money), but as one of my lecturers used to put it, it’s because nobody holds them to account. The IOC governs itself. FIFA governs itself. There’s no equivalent of non-executive directors to keep things in line. And once the sketchy decision has been made, hosts are left to fend for themselves until there’s a big and obvious problem, and their solution at that point is just to stand screaming and pointing the finger at the hosts, like an older child trying to pin the blame on their younger sibling. So my short term suggestion in the case of Rio is that somebody parachute help in and fast, to help teach them how it’s done and try to save the situation. But my long term suggestion is that those people are there at the beginning, nurturing and developing so that, ultimately, less capable hosts are able to be left standing on their own two feet.

      And you’re right about that too: my skepticism didn’t lift until the opening ceremony finished (I’d forgotten about Romney, but your comment made me laugh, thank you!) – I was a precocious event manager and aggrieved Londoner who felt bad enough that my journey to work could be a nightmare on any given day of the year, never mind if it were to then be disrupted by something like the cycling road race (sensibly, those took place over the weekend).

      • If it’s true that there have been backhanders to get the games to unsuitable places, then the governments in question are every bit as responsible. Both organisations need a through shakedown, to make sure that the gams are awarded on merit, just like the medals.
        I was a northerner, cheesed off that everything happens in London. I’m still pissed off that 80% of new jobs are create in London, but I also still cry when I watch the opening ceremony because it was so amazing.
        The Olympics are supposed to be one of those events where you end up watching taekwondo because it’s interrupting the dressage.

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