Having won the bid, the initial euphoria diminished somewhat. Beijing still had to host their games and there was sure to be a lot of controversy there. In addition, in typical British ways, as soon as we’d done something successful we started picking it apart; if self flagellation became an Olympic sport we’d be nailed on for Gold every time.
It was going to be too expensive. We’d fail to build the facilities on time and make the Greeks look efficient (this was an appallingly familiar theme). The Chinese would set the bar too high. Londoners would prove themselves to be indifferent at best and downright rude at worst. The rest of the UK would shun yet another London-centric project.
The critics weren’t without evidence. We had rebuilt our national football stadium at Wembley but with a massive cost and time overrunS. Ditto the building of the Jubilee Line and any number of Government run projects. And don’t mention the Millennium Dome.
I watched these tall poppy harvesters with a mix of annoyance and mild despair. If we talked it down then we’d succeed in ruining it.
On a personal level I did manage to have a small role in those early days. One of my partners, a boulder of a man with a genial smile and an intellect of gargantuan proportions wanted us to be the lawyers of choice. One of the small but compelling elements in London’s bid was that the London Olympics would not just have commercial sponsors but also professional ones. This was new and only possible because of the size of the professional firms that inhabited the London market. In the legal sphere there were perhaps a dozen firms with the size and technical expertise to be able to provide the range and depth of legal resources needed. If a law firm could provide the manpower, gratis, in return for sponsorship associations with the Games then the money that would otherwise have been spent on hiring lawyers could be defrayed elsewhere.
Now, let’s be honest here. Corporate sponsorship of the Olympics is one of the bugbears for a lot of people. But it costs a ridiculous amount of money to run these Games. I understand those, some who will read this piece, who are convinced that the money spent on a six week sporting extravaganza across the Olympics and Paralympics is an egregious waste of that money. You are welcome to that view. But it would no more be found and spent on other worthy projects that will the money saved from being in the EU somehow go to reduce the waiting lists in the NHS. I see the upside, the improved infrastructure, the redeeming of dereliction, the fun, joy, buzz that comes with the Games. I will always thing it worth it. If you don’t then of course you are perfectly entitled to that view. Even if it is wrong…
But whatever your view on that, it takes a bunch of cash to have the Olympics. The headline figures that we had to grapple with were initially something like 2.4 billion that rose pretty quickly after the bid to 9.3 billion. What? You’re kidding?
Nope, the figure that was needed in the bid documents was not and was never actually ever going to be the cost of the Games. But that wasn’t explained up front and as a result a lot of people called foul. Governments, hey? They are incapable of telling it as it is. And this is true.
And even there, that 9.3 billion – it didn’t cost that btw, that contained a contingency which wasn’t all called on – wasn’t all of it. Nope the 9.3 was to create the facilities to house the Games, not the cost of hosting the six weeks of sport.
There are two parts to any Games. The cost of putting in place the facilities the infrastructure etc to house the events and the running of the extravaganza itself. There are always two entitles involved. A public sector one for the first element above and a private sector one for the second.
In London’s case that meant the Olympic Delivery Authority formed under statue – the Olympic Act of 2006 – technically a non governmental public authority (oh I do like a bit of nerdy legalese) – funded by the 9.3 billion to buy build and maintain the Olympic park and all the other facilities and LOCOG a private limited company jointly owned by the government the London Mayors office and the the British Olympic Association (I think) which was funded to the tune of some 2.4 billion to run the Olympic and Paralympic Games. That 2.4 billion came for a mix of corporate sponsorship, ticket sales and broadcast fees.
These two entities had many differences. Structure, funding, goals, personnel. Obviously they wanted to see a successful games hosted but there are many ways to achieve that and the big beasts involved with even bigger egos were never going to get on totally smoothly.
In the run up to the moment I really dipped my toes in that piranha pool, one memory sticks out. I helped source some temporary office space for the Bid Committee which led on all aspects of the early stages of the construction of the facilities, that was before the ODA came into existence with the passing of the Olympic Act. The in house lawyer then, Charlie W and my colleague were discussing some aspect of the bid documents which needed refreshing. ‘Take a look’. They were unusually simple for major legal contacts, less than a page. In simple terms the document between HM Government and the International Olympic Committee spelt out one truism which anyone with half a brain would realise but which I found took my breath away. It said come what may the British Government would pay whatever it needed to host the Games. No contingencies, caveats or wheedly wording. No wriggle room. That didn’t surprise me. What did was the signatory: our famously (self proclaimed) Mr Prudence himself Gordon Brown. I wondered how many scotches he needed before he signed that?