2 months after the 2018 Commonwealth Games and as we begin to look towards Birmingham 2022, ORIGIN Sports Group’s Board member Debbie Jevans speaks about her experience of bidding for major events and talks to us about the London 2012 Olympics, the 2015 Rugby World Cup and Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Debbie shares her valuable insight into the world of major event planning and common factors which need to be considered and addressed when putting together a proposal.
Q: What are the most important factors to think about when putting a bid together?
The most important thing to understand is why you are bidding. The staging of a multi-sport event should never, in my view, be the sole reason to bidding. For example, when we bid for the Olympic Games in 2012, it was very much about the regeneration of East London. The area that comprised the Olympic Park in East London had received little financial investment for over 50 years. The then London Mayor, Ken Livingston, realised that the staging of the world’s largest sporting event would fast forward the regeneration of a deprived area of London. If you look at what’s happened in the lead up to the Games and post the event, it’s incredible. Hundreds of millions of pounds of inward investment, 8,000 new homes in the area that was the Athlete’s Village, a state of the art shopping centre, a new park and world class sporting facilities. This is in addition to the added value to the economy, job creation and the feel-good factor.
Once you have decided to bid it is important to understand the technical requirements and the needs of the athletes first and all of the other stakeholders. Infrastructure requirements go way beyond the sporting venues.
Before Birmingham threw its hat in the ring for the 2022 Commonwealth Games we pulled together an in-depth feasibility study that comprised both its ability to host along with the benefits to the city and region. I have no doubt that the Games will be transformational for the city especially with all the other activity in the region including HS2.
My fundamental point here is that it’s important to understand why you are bidding, what the event comprises and to ensure that such bid demonstrates the benefits to both the city, country and to the event that you want to stage aligned with, of course, fully understanding the financial commitment.
Q: How has the bidding process evolved over the years and have there been any developments from the 2012 Olympics to the 2022 Commonwealth Games?
The overarching bidding process itself is pretty much the same. What has changed is that major event owners are now looking to make the process less costly for those that are bidding. This is entirely sensible as it can cost tens of millions of pounds to bid for an event.
If you are asking me specifically about our bid for the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2022 Commonwealth Games the two campaigns were very different. For the 2012 bid we did not have a domestic competition and bid against 5 other major cities, it was also a lengthy process. The Commonwealth games in 2022 was very different not least because of the shortened process caused by Durban’s, who were the original selected host, withdrawal. We first had a domestic competition against Liverpool and then it was a matter of complying with the financial and technical requirements of the CGF.
The most recent bid process for the Olympic Games was the same, but with only two cities in ‘the race’, the IOC awarded the Games over two cycles – Paris in 2024 and LA in 2028.
Q: What complications were faced in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games bid and how were they overcome?
I think the main factor we faced with Birmingham was the timescale. The initial feasibility was based on a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. With the Government decision to bid for 2022 everything was brought forward into a more condensed timeframe. We focussed on ensuring that a Birmingham Games would be low risk and utilise existing infrastructure rather than relying on a lot of new build.
A Games is complex and there are a lot of agreements that need to be put in place to demonstrate the viability of a bid, the CGF was rightly insistent that all agreements and underwrites be in place, and we had a very short timeframe to pull these together. We overcame these challenges by pulling together a great team and also due to the fantastic support of the city.
Q: How essential is government and public support for a bid and why?
Government support is vitally important. Any major sporting event has to have some form of government underwrite not least from a financial perspective where a Government underwrite is often required.
Government bodies are responsible for any of the legislative changes or approvals required and without Government support a bid is often not possible.
A practical example is that in 2012 the National Olympic Committee team doctors would not have had the right to prescribe medication to their athletes whilst in this country without the approval of the GMC and licences being put in place. Equally, special customs procedures were needed for the import of firearms for the shooting events. Government support is vital.
As for public support you cannot, in my view, deliver a successful event without the fans. To get the nation behind you is so important. If you look at recent events we’ve delivered and that I’ve been heavily involved in – the 2015 Rugby World Cup and London 2012 – the Great British public were amazing.
We focused on engaging the country and ensuring that the spectators had a great experience.
You have to think beyond the field of play and consider the whole customer journey. The ambition that I always had for the 2015 Rugby World Cup was that everyone would have a brilliant experience, I wanted us to control what was in our gift. We couldn’t have any influence over who won the competition, but we could help ensure that every single person who attended a match went away thinking – ‘Ok my team lost but that was the most amazing experience’ – and that is what I hope we achieved. We had the same approach for London 2012.
Q: How do you go about putting together the right team when bidding for a major sporting event? What are the key factors and expertise required?
Understanding the needs of the bid and bringing together experts in their field who work together as one team.
You need people who will work together and support each other. Skill sets vary from architects, lawyers, master planners, transport experts I could go on. The key is to ensure that you bring in subject matter experts and a team who you know will have great attention to detail and who will work for each other in an often pressurised environment with short timeframes.
Q: How do you identify the long-term benefits a major sporting event brings to a city and nation, and what is the importance of acknowledging the bids weaknesses?
The tangible benefits of staging a major event are often assessed through economic impact studies, for the 2012 games in London this was assessed at circa £28 billion through the construction and delivery of the Games.
Benefits can also be intangible, for example raising the awareness of the skills and ability of people with a disability. The athletes showed their immense skill during the Paralympic Games and the raising of this awareness is something that I am very proud of.
In terms of acknowledging your weaknesses; ultimately, in many ways you are only as good as your weaknesses or perceived weaknesses.
For example, at the time we bid for London 2012 we had just pulled out of hosting the World Athletics Championships. During this period, our athletes were also not performing as well as was expected, so there was this perception out there that as a country we didn’t really care about sport. You also had the panorama exposés surrounding some IOC members and alleged financial irregularities resulting in a fear that our media may ‘hound’ IOC members during the Games if they were in London. You, just have to address each issue as it arises and mitigate challenges by demonstrating the positives of what hosting an event will bring and that such positives outweigh any perceived negativity.
In Birmingham, the major issues for us were just demonstrating what a great city Birmingham was as it hadn’t necessarily had the best PR of late. Most people said you go to Birmingham to drive through it, which is grossly unfair because it is an amazing city. So, for us it was being able to alter people’s perceptions of Birmingham and demonstrate what a wonderful and vibrant city it is.
Q: What is the golden rule to bid writing?
Making sure that you have a well thought through and defined vision, a good narrative and be able to articulate clearly the reason for why you are bidding and why your city/country is the obvious choice to host the event.