Member Insights: How the 2012 Olympics reshaped the city of London and the Olympic Movement – A view from inside the planning committee of Britain’s biggest sporting event
July 27, 2022
Michael Pirrie was an early member of the London bid and led the capitals successful global media campaign to secure the Games, and served as Executive Adviser to the Games Organising Committee and Chair, Seb Coe.
With the eyes of the world focused on one of its most iconic cities, London was about to deliver the planet’s biggest sporting event.
The ultimate test had finally arrived for organisers after more than a decade of painstaking planning.
The Opening Ceremony was underway amid unspoken fears about whether planning for the Games would hold.
The moment of truth arrived as Danny Boyle lifted the curtains on the Games with a daring, reimagined journey through British history, culture and contributions to the world – from the dawn of the industrial age to the World Wide Web. With a bit of British humour throw in for good measure.
The London Games ten years on can now be added to this list of achievements.
The almost crushing weight of expectation was slowly lifting as the ceremony continued. Like the athletes, organisers also dared to dream the Games could soar like the highly choreographed ceremony.
The opening ceremony had Britain, and the world, at Hello and the sport had not even started!
The hit organisers had long hoped for, looked like it might happen.
Audiences liked what they saw, and gushed in hushed tones they had ‘never felt so proud to be British.’
The ceremony had done its job, introducing the London Games to the world in spectacular whimsical style that captured national and international interest and imagination.
London’s dream start embodied the master plan for the Games as a symphony of surreal sport and spectacle filling venues and lifting hopes and expectations.
The rave ceremony reviews were a true indicator of what was to come.
A series of dream-like sequences conjured from Boyle’s Hollywood playbook of special effects transformed the Olympic stadium and mood of the nation and world beyond.
The Games produced rare public displays of affection at Games tube stations, venues and live sites like a ‘Love Actually’ Olympic movie.
After decades of corruption in elite sport, London reminded the world why it fell in love with the Games many years ago.
The blueprint for the Games began to emerge on the horizon of the Stratford Olympic stadium as organising committee chairman Seb Coe addressed ceremony crowds inside.
“There is a truth to sport, a purity, a drama, an intensity, a spirit that makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch,” Coe said, eloquently distilling the essence of the Games.
He hinted at the experience ahead that his teams had worked towards for more than ten long years.
“In every Olympic sport there is all that matters in life,” he said.
“Humans stretched to the limit of their abilities, inspired by what they can achieve, driven by their talent to work harder than they can believe possible, living for the moment but making an indelible mark upon history,” the Olympic champion said.
London would leave its own historic mark; the last of the super cities to provide a universal Olympic experience in the current era of global instability and uncertainty.
London took the world from war to sport at the historic 1948 Games following the Second World War.
On the ten year anniversary of London 2012 the sporting landscape remains clouded again by the fog of a new war in Europe and possible bans on Russia at the Paris Games.
The unrelenting Covid pandemic will also continue to impact Games indefinitely into future. While unrealistic expectations and goals have been projected retrospectively on to the 2012 Games, the scale of London’s success has become more vivid over the past 10 years.
London provided a new model and outlook for the Games, revolutionizing sport in the host city and nation while fast tracking urgently needed urban and community facilities
The Games provided a vitally needed economic injection following the Global Financial Crisis. More than £6.5 billion worth of Games-related contracts were awarded to companies the length and breadth of the U.K during the crisis.
London took sport into new directions in wider society.
There was new transport, housing, and low carbon energy infrastructure and a collection of the best new sports facilities in the world.
We are winning bids to stage major international events in London and in other parts of the UK, which are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the economy,
The scale of the planning involved was Herculean.
Hundreds of sporting and cultural events had to be delivered simultaneously and perfectly, in multiple venues and locations across the city and the country, involving multiple stakeholders, client groups and support services.
Everything depended on our capacity to address any and every operational issue almost instantly.
There was almost no margin for error, over 17 long days and nights, with the entire world watching and the nation’s pride and international reputation at stake every minute of every hour.
We then basically turned around and did this all again a short time later for the Paralympic Games.
It is staggering to think that this was equivalent to staging five FA Cup or NFL Superbowl Grand Finals every day for 16 or 17 consecutive days.
There has been much discussion about how London organizers were able to achieve such highly regarded Games events and experiences, and why the Games worked so well.
The London 2012 model successfully brought together, for the first time, the best elements of previous Olympic Games.
These included the party atmosphere of Sydney, forensic planning of Beijing, and spirit of Barcelona and combined them with the look and magic of London and British sporting and Olympic heritage.
This provided a rich and deep Games-time environment.
The successful delivery of Games events centred on effective Games-wide operations.
This was result of intensive planning and preparations by teams that were well prepared, enabled and empowered by a leadership team whose confidence in the delivery of the Games came from strategies and plans that were carefully developed, tested and reviewed.
London also benefited enormously from a generation of learnings from previous Olympic Games through the IOC’s transfer of knowledge programs.
Much has changed since the Games, and Her Majesty no longer wears a parachute vest when attending opening ceremonies in east London.
The UK has also lost key figures involved in the Games. These include the legendary Sir Roger Bannister. Also Mike Lee who led the communications for the bid, and the late Dame Tessa Jowell.
Great Games need great leaders and London had great leaders: . Seb Coe, Sir Craig Reedie, Sir Keith Mills, and Sir Hugh Robertson, and others across all stakeholders especially the IOC.
These included the late IOC President Jacques Rogge, Gilbert Felli Denis Oswald and Christophe Dubi.
Most importantly, 2012 had the late Dame Tessa Jowell, and remembering the London Games is very much about remembering Tessa Jowell, the former secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport who made the forever decision to reject her department’s advice not to bid for the Games, as she explains in a rare video interview with iSportconnectTV .
The visionary Jowell, rejected the almost overwhelming climate of fear and doubt that the Games could not succeed in London and persuaded Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that the UK needed to host the Games after securing an understanding form the IOC that Paris had not been preordained as the host for 2012.
While there has been much debate over the legacies of the Games ten years on, the impact of 2012 can perhaps be best summarized through an exchange between Coe and a Games volunteer whose paths crossed on the tube.
The two were discussing the Games and who should be more grateful to the other when the volunteer explained he was present at one of the terrorist bomb sites that rocked the capital just hours after London was awarded the Games by the IOC in Singapore in 2005.
“I saw the worst in humanity that day,” the volunteer told Coe. “At the Games I have seen the best of humanity.”