London’s bid for 2004 Games hinges on transport and athletes’ welfare

When was the London bid conceived? The British Olympic Association (BOA) decided to sit out a couple of bidding processes and it recognized, as I had many, many years ago, that London is the capital city. We are a relatively small country and I did not genuinely think that, however good these bids were, that the IOC would support any bid from the UK that wasn’t London-based. So the BOA discussed the situation and decided that, when it got back into the table, that it had to be London. I had sufficient conversations with IOC members to be absolutely sure that, if London put their hat in the ring, under the right circumstances and the right coordination, that they would stand a pretty good chance. But the BOA has been discussing with the government for a year and a half, or two years, before the bid was officially announced in June 2003. The bid Were you involved in it right from the start? No. The original president, Mrs (Barbara) Cassani, was appointed in June 2003. I was asked to join the board toward the end of that year. I became one of three vice chairmen and then Barbara decided [to step down as chairman] because we were going to refocus the bid after May 18 (2004, the date the five finalists were announced) specifically into sport and the welfare of athletes and we knew international relationships were going to be very important after that date. Up to that point, we had built a structure, we had got to the table with the other four cities but, after that point, we realized we had to go off into more specific areas and that is when we swapped the roles. Were you appointed because of the fact that you are an Olympic champion? Well, it’s not a disadvantage. I do have the advantage of knowing about Olympic sports; I have competed, I have worked as a member of several IOC commissions during the Games and, up to this point, I was an Olympic broadcaster. There’s not a lot about the process of an Olympic Games that I feel I don’t understand. Do you feel that a great part of the bid hinges on your personal popularity? Of course, any bid president has to persuade the [IOC] membership that they’re competent, are able to deliver the Games, have a vision for those Games, feel comfortable with those people. No one person wins or loses a bid. You have to have a vision, you have to have structure, you have to have very good people around you. I can’t get to everybody, I can’t get to every event between now and Singapore. What I can do is make sure I’ve got a team around me which is fully focused, confident and very structured. Is the bid structure now in place? Entirely. I needed to make a few changes when I became chairman, it was inevitable. I needed to refocus, we needed to move more obviously into a sporting context. I don’t believe people are going to get excited about the Olympics for reasons other than sport. There are other underpinning things you’ve got to get right: We’ve got some exciting ideas about [power] generation, transport, the compactness of the Games and adopting a transport policy for those, about the welfare of the athletes… Instinctively, the people that came out about six weeks ago to watch the Torch Relay go through London – a million of them on the street, over 80,000 at the Mall in Buckingham Palace to celebrate a pop concert – came out because they want the Olympic Games in London. They see the connection between the torch going through London and the possibility of that being their own Torch Relay in 2012. That’s why I think it was right to shift the focus to sport; also, to make a real virtue out of the transport plan we have. Comments were made about transportation in London in the IOC evaluation in January. To a certain extent, I can understand why they evaluated it that way. Actually, they are now beginning to understand, as do the international media, that our transport plan is the best of any Olympics, ever. The question I asked myself immediately when I became chairman is: «Can I produce a transport plan for London, for four weeks, in August of 2012, that allows athletes and spectators to move about the city in the best possible way? And the answer is: «Yes, I can. Do I have 240 trains going into the Olympic complex every hour? Yes, I do.» But, setting apart transport for the moment, it is the compact nature of the Olympic Park that makes it such a unique prospect. There are 17 venues in this park, all of them within 15 minutes of the Olympic Village, which is located in the absolute center of the park. Athlete-focused Games I have to say that, when I talk about an athlete-focused Games, I have more resonance than most other people because I have lived in a village, I know what the difficulties are if you don’t have the athletes at the center of your thinking. And we have had Olympics that did not have the athletes in the center of their thinking. Such as? Atlanta. Atlanta was a classic example of a Games that was put together with very little consideration about the athletes. Actually, I understand, better than anybody, what it means to be in an Olympic arena. I cannot, by conscience, put together a transport plan, or a venue construction that risks unraveling the hard work all those competitors have put into preparing themselves for the Games. What most people, even journalists, don’t appreciate, is the sacrifice. Those guys have been there for 10, 12, 13 years. I am not going to bring somebody to an Olympic Games for all that hard work to unravel because I can’t put a transport plan together or I haven’t cared where the venues are in relation to the village. So, all these issues are very important and I think they make our bid very, very strong for that reason. You have attended several Olympics, as an athlete, a broadcaster and a sports official. Can you tell us how Athens compares? Let me tell you what I’ve been impressed with first. I’ve been impressed with the village, I’ve been impressed with the venue design, which has been sensational. I think the atmosphere in those venues has been very good. The ability to get athletes in and out, quickly and safely, which, of course now, sadly, is a very important concept to everybody, has been very good. At the margins, I think the village has been extremely well-designed. It is a large village; it could have been more compact. I have spoken to a lot of athletes, not only of my own team but also to Americans, Australians and the Kenyan team. But these are marginal points; I think these have been extremely well thought-through Olympic Games. How about attendance? Have you found it satisfactory? You know, everybody got excited about attendance. I will wear a different hat for the moment; I am also an IAAF councilor. I have not noticed any problems with attendance in our stadium. Last night, we had a full house. The very first morning, when we had the first events of the women’s heptathlon, we had 28-30,000. And, actually, as I’ve gone about the venues during the course of the first week, some of these venues now are absolutely heaving. I went to the canoeing venue, which was packed out. I went to archery; I don’t think archery competitions in any other Olympics have been held in front of 2,000 or 3,000 people. Rowing, you couldn’t get a ticket. I met my first ticket touts – rather pleasingly, they were from Britain. When you meet ticket touts there is generally no problem with attendance. When you presented London’s candidacy to the media, you emphasized the city’s cosmopolitan nature. There is, however, a flip side to it and it has to do with security. How much emphasis are you placing on security? Security for every Games has got to be a large part of the budget. London has, mark my works, one of the highest-caliber police forces in the world. Policing in the UK has always been of the highest standard and, actually, very unobtrusive. You feel safe in the city but you don’t feel surrounded all the time by a very obvious police force. Peter Ryan, who is running your security (actually he is an adviser with Athens 2004), was a chief police constable in the UK before running Sydney’s security operation. London has been dealing with security implications on an everyday basis.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.