The final Olympic Games of my 12-year term as president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were received with great fanfare this summer in London. Evidence of their success continues to reach me almost daily in the form of the question: “Were they the best Games in history?”
As much as it would please me to simply answer in the affirmative, I know such a response would be premature. My reply is always the same: “Let history be the judge.”
I say this not to take anything away from the thousands of people responsible for delivering London 2012, which was clearly an across-the-board success, but to draw attention to the considerable importance the IOC places on legacy – what an Olympic host city leaves behind long after the 16 days of sporting competition are over.
The Olympic Games are the largest sporting event in the world and for most host cities they are the biggest and most complex project they will ever undertake. Their organisation affects the whole of the city and its population and often includes urban, economic, social and environmental development that requires the broad and cohesive involvement of city leaders, regional and national authorities, Games organisers, local communities, commercial partners and all the members of the Olympic Movement.
The IOC actively encourages each city that bids for an Olympic Games to consider from the outset how they could utilize the event to bring positive, long-lasting benefits to its area and citizens. This sort of planning typically begins a decade before the start of a Games.
By the time Chairman of the London 2012 bid committee Sebastian Coe spoke at the host city election in Singapore in 2005, for example, the London organisers already had a firm and highly detailed vision for what they wanted to deliver in 2012 and beyond.
It included the regeneration of a massive industrial wasteland in East London, providing the local community with world-class sporting venues to train and compete in, new parks and residential areas, better transport connections and infrastructure, employment and business opportunities, sustainable construction, an increase in volunteerism, and the creation of the next generation of sporting champions by inspiring young people everywhere to become more involved in physical activity.
The organisation of the London 2012 Games themselves cost around 2 billion pounds, much of which was covered by the IOC and private funds. But the local authorities earmarked a further 9.3 billion pounds to leverage the Games as a catalyst for rapid city development and improvement, both tangible and intangible, that would otherwise have taken decades to achieve.
London 2012 has already delivered on many of its promises and by continuing to pursue others we are optimistic that the citizens of London will benefit from the Games long into the future.
The foundations for London’s achievements in this area were firmly built on the knowledge and expertise of past Olympic Games organisers. Massive urban regeneration projects undertaken by Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000, environmental and sustainability standards set by Lillehammer 1994 and Vancouver 2010, and programmes to encourage volunteerism and youth participation by Beijing 2008 are just a few of the success stories from past organisers that London used as a springboard for its own Games.
As the link between past, present, and future host cities, the IOC assists Games organisers through a comprehensive transfer of knowledge programme. Organisers of upcoming Games in Russia (Sochi 2014), Brazil (Rio 2016), and South Korea (PyeongChang 2018) are already benefitting from the programme, which includes an important debriefing that the IOC organises to give future host cities a comprehensive look at what worked well at previous Olympic Games and what could be improved.
This year it was London’s turn to pass the torch at the London 2012 Debriefing in Rio de Janeiro from 17-21 November. The Debriefing focused on all aspects of Games operations, from the moment a bid city wins the right to host a Games to long after the Games conclude. These meetings were also attended by representatives of the 2020 candidate cities Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid, as well as other stakeholders responsible for staging the Games.
The London organisers had a great deal to pass on to their successors, who were given crucial insight into, among other things, producing and remaining focused on a long-term vision for their Games, the importance of collaboration between all parties during the planning and preparation phases, and ways to integrate the public into the event.
The Debriefing is by no means meant to provide a cookie-cutter template for future hosts. Rather, it is intended to provide valuable lessons that host cities can adopt and adapt to fit their own unique circumstances. We encourage upcoming Games organisers to innovate and expand on what they learn and ultimately improve upon the best practices of their predecessors.
London managed to do exactly that in preparing for and delivering the Games of the XXX Olympiad. It may still be too soon to call them the greatest Games ever, but ask the same question again in 20 years and you might just get a “yes.”