The SIG Column - 24 November

28 Apr 2008

By: Sport Industry Group

Finding yourself pulled into the negative opinions forming around the preparations for London 2012? Nick Keller, chairman of the Sport Industry Group, explains why now is not the time to lose faith in the benefits the Olympics will bring...

'I, for one, am sick to death of Olympic bashing. The seemingly intrinsic British media trait of looking for the worst in everything has once again raised its ugly head this week as Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell announced to the House of Commons that the construction budget for the 2012 site had increased by £900m.

Cue ridiculously exaggerated allegations of mismanagement and all round predictions of the world ending.

Ok…so in an ideal world the cost wouldn’t have gone up. But this isn’t a fairytale, its business. If you look at any preparations for previous Olympics or indeed the preparations for any major sporting event and the costs have always risen as the project goes on. There are two undeniable reasons for this.

Firstly, there’s a little thing called inflation which will always see continual revisions of budgets. And secondly, such is the lead up time required to initiate and implement projects of this magnitude, that it is impossible to predict exact budgets so far in advance.This is not unusual in business by any stretch of the imagination. Name one company’s five-year prediction plan that has turned out to be true? Name one business sector which has forecast its growth chart for the future accurately? The answer is none because, quite simply, it is impossible to do so.

Not that the 2012 Olympic organising committee and the government are totally blameless. How they misjudged the VAT bill so dramatically is anyone’s guess and the varying speculation on the contingency budget - a figure which has never been confirmed by the organisers - is creating murky waters around the whole process. Many people might say, and I’m inclined to agree, that the mere fact that they have put in contingency plans immediately lends an air of doubt over the organisers’ faith in the validity of their financial position as laid out in the bid document.

But there is nothing here that can’t be fixed with over five years to go and it’s certainly no reason to assume that the whole project will collapse around our ears. Transparency of the figures was certainly required and, to a certain extent with Tessa Jowell’s announcement, transparency is what we’ve got. The Olympics can still deliver substantial reward for London and the whole country.

The bottom line is that the British public have been allowed to forget the euphoria that came with winning the bid to host the Games far too quickly. The optimism of what hosting the Olympics will bring to this country both culturally and economically has been replaced by a wholly unattractive string of media headlines. Headlines that attempt to draw concrete conclusions of a bungled operation but fail because it is impossible to make a concrete statement regarding finances at this point in proceedings.

It is not helpful to anyone to play the blame game so early in the project’s lifespan. The public and indeed business needs reminding that the 2012 Olympics is a massive opportunity and will have a lasting effect on this country the like of which we will never see again in our lifetime.

In this light, I’ve drawn up five points that everyone should remember the next time they read a negative 2012 headline which might help keep things in perspective.'

1) Winning the bid has reinvigorated investment in grass roots sports programmes and gone a long way towards getting sport back on the schools curriculum. So you don’t want your kids to grow up obese? The 2012 Olympics will be the reason this doesn’t happen.

2) The Olympic Park will regenerate the most rundown area of London into a thriving economic community. Think about the years after 2012 not just the years before it.

3) Ok, so we haven’t got a great track record with construction projects but have a little patience. Lost in the myriad of escalating budget headlines was the fact that planning approval for the sites were actually approved early. It is on track despite what media speculation would lead you to believe.

4) Do you have fears over issues such as transportation and security? Winning the Olympics has placed a greater emphasis on dealing with these issues. Solutions will have to be found as opposed to continuing to procrastinate through never-ending debate.

5) We’re hosting the Olympic Games. That’s the biggest sporting event on the planet being staged on our doorstep. This is NOT a bad thing.