The Olympics: exploring new ground- Sir Craig Reedie
By iSportconnect | December 5, 2012
The ‘magical’ feeling emanating from the Olympic Games has still to depart British shores. Sir Craig Reedie, the man who helped bring the world’s greatest sporting spectacle to London, reflects on the history of the Games, and also looks ahead to Rio 2016.
Much of the build-up to the 2012 Olympics focused on how London would compete with the spectacle offered by Beijing in 2008, how did London compare?
Beijing was the greatest celebration of national pride in the history of the biggest country in the world. London didn’t need to do that, London decided to do it differently. London was certainly very athlete-centred; sport was at the heart of the Games. We got the big things right, the sport was terrific, the athletes were happy, the venues were full, and when you do that, you get great sport. It all came together very nicely, after years and years of good planning.
In the last few decades, the Olympics have changed a great deal, it’s a very lucrative event now, when and how did that change?
You can put it back to the Los Angeles Games (1984). At that time, the IOC needed to have a financial guarantee from the city. Los Angeles said, “We’re not going to give you a guarantee, we’re going to put together a commercial company to run the Games, run by a man called Peter Ueberroth.” Peter ran a very successful financial exercise which showed a substantial surplus, which is still happily investing and is still assisting sport in Los Angeles. The IOC looked at that and said: “ah, here is a different and new model”. It hasn’t always worked, but the Games have been better organised and the IOC pay much more attention to the franchise that they hold than ever before.
How big a role does the Olympic Games play in breaking down political barriers?
We try very hard to be a non-political organisation; we have 205 national Olympic Committees. A National Olympic Committee is instructed to have good relationships with governments but to remain independent from it. It’s interesting that certainly in British terms, the greatest demonstration of that was the ability of the BOA to take the team to Moscow in 1980. The British government did not want to go, but we live in a free society. The world comes together every four years in the main in peace and harmony and that doesn’t always happen in the political world, so in my view the sport and the Olympic movement has the ability to do much good.
This year, there was a huge increase in interest in the Paralympic Games, how is that going to be improved going further? And how will London be used as a blueprint for future Paralympic Games?
If you look at the last few Games, the Paralympic Games in Atlanta were not hugely successful. I think that it was around a $15 million bill that the organising committee was reluctant to pay and it didn’t work. It worked very well in Barcelona (1992), where there is an interest in disabled sport. And it worked well in Sydney and pretty well in Athens. It worked very well in Beijing, who to our surprise told us that there were 96 million people in China with disabilities. I mean, the numbers are huge, and it did a lot of people good. I think the joy of the London Games was the selling of 2.8 million tickets. Because that means that all of these athletes are elite athletes, because you buy a ticket to watch the athlete, you are not just paying money to watch someone with a disability. I think the whole definition has changed on the basis of the London Games, I think it’s now up to the International Paralympic Committee to make sure that continues and when we do the valuation of 2020, there will be a representative from the IPC – there always is – on the evaluation commission to make sure that the arrangements for the Paralympic Games are as they would be for the Olympic Games.
You talked about the economic benefit to London from running the Games. Do you expect all future bidding cities to turn a profit?
I think you have to be careful how you define profit. The organising committee in London has always said it wants to produce a balanced budget. And I hope it will show a small profit because that profit will go back into sport through the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association. The overall cost of the construction of the infrastructure in London turns out crudely at about £8.5 billion, I’m not sure how you value that, except that it is the most enormous physical entity. I mean, one of the most contaminated and deprived parts of the city has turned into a magic place, so I’m not quite sure what value you put on that. But that’s what a city should understand, that cities frequently use the Games as a means of doing things to the city that otherwise wouldn’t be done unless the Games came. That happened for the Manchester bid (in 2002), East Manchester was a most dreadful place, it was completely redeveloped and rebuilt on the basis of the Games. So it works for cities and countries of that kind of interest. The organising committee should want to at least break even, but if it makes a surplus, that surplus can be invested in sport.
The Olympics will make its South American debut in 2016 in Rio, why do you think it’s taken so long?
There were Games in Mexico City (1968) which isn’t that far away. In general terms, you cannot demand that a city or a country bids if the enthusiasm is not there. Rio became a real proposition after the Pan-American Games which is clearly geared towards an Olympic bid. Buenos Ares tried once, but then for all sorts of economic reasons, they decided not to go any further. The IOC is perfectly happy to be going to that part of the world for the first time. Brazil is an enormous country – geographically huge – it’s got over 100 million people and it’s got a very strong and healthy economy, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t deliver a good Games.
Could there be a Games in Africa in the near future?
As far as Africa is concerned, there is a mood to try and do that as well. However, there’s also – for example – the Commonwealths Games and I’ve got no idea what the authorities are planning in Africa. Abuja bid against Glasgow (for the 2014 Games), but clearly Glasgow’s concept was much better than the Abuja concept. I would have thought that it would have been entirely possible for a South African city to have bid for the Commonwealth Games and have a big multi-sport event in South Africa and do that as preparation for a full Olympic bid as well. You also have to remember that the weather is different down there. Traditionally, the Games in the northern hemisphere are held between May and August, but it gets a bit cold in Johannesburg around the end of July.