The SIG Column - 11 July

11 Jul 2007

The UK, and London in particular, has turned opinion around in terms of hosting major sporting events. Five years ago we were a joke but now everyone wants a piece of the action. Drew Barrand, head of media at Sport Industry Group, asks what prompted the change of heart...

Make no bones about it. At the turn of the century the UK was a laughing stock when it came to hosting sports events.

In one of the most farcical bids to stage a major sporting event in history, the botched attempt to land the 2006 football World Cup was swiftly followed by the rather unceremonious decision to pull out of staging the World Athletics Championships only a matter of months before the event due to the much-vaunted Pickett’s Lock stadium not being complete.

The UK’s reputation was, it seemed, damaged beyond repair. And yet, here we are a little over five years later and the country, and London in particular, has the sporting world clamouring to set up camp within its borders. Tour de France, ATP World Tour Final, NFL, NBA…you name it, we’re hosting it.

Obviously the victory in securing the London 2012 Olympics - which let’s not forget was actually a bit of a surprise in itself to most observers – has prompted a re-evalution of the city and the country as a host of sporting events.

But in truth, the turnaround started much earlier with the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

Delivering a multi-sport Games with the level of professionalism attained was no mean feat. But to attract an almost total buy-in from the general public to a sports property which realistically had slipped in the national conscience to that of an also-rank event was perhaps the more impressive achievement.

It is delivering this level of public support for a sports event that has marked out the UK more than anything else in recent years for future hosting honours.

The trick to this has been a mixture of the innate desire for the UK public to watch sport of any shape, size or format and a change in the organisational structure employed by the country’s sports bodies.

Last weekend’s hosting of the opening stages of this year’s Tour de France is a case in point.

Having succeeded in persuading the Tour hierarchy that London would make an exciting venue for cycling’s flagship event, Transport for London (TFL) then issued a tender for an agency that it could work with to actually co-ordinate and deliver the event.

This is the crucial area. Whereas in the past, UK sports bodies could have been accused of trying to take on too much themselves without the requisite experience or know-how, the new ethos is the recognition of the need to bring in professional support. This ethos has worked wonders in attracting the crowds and subsequently the exposure and status of the event.

25,000 people watched the Opening Ceremony of the Tour de France in London’s Trafalgar Square. Approximately 4 million people attended the cycling over the course of the weekend – the largest audience ever at an event in London.

Such numbers were a result of a co-ordinated effort from the delivery agency – in this case Innovision – the organisers (TFL) and the sport property concerned. Delivery of the event required over 21,000 people from all manner of organisations and only a professional co-ordinated approach could have brought the required results.

The 2002 Commonwealth Games started a ball rolling which has gathered steam at a rate not even the most optimistic nationalistic sports fan could have hoped for.

Whisper it quietly but professionalism is fast becoming the new watchword of UK sport and, for all the media negativity currently surrounding the 2012 Olympics at present, it is worth noting that the last few years have been highly successful for this country in terms of hosting sport.

Admittedly hosting the Olympics is on a logistical scale far bigger than anything we’ve tried since the turn of the century but, if the organisers can deliver to the level of recent times, we’re in for one hell of a Games.

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