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Only a bronze medal for silver service at golden games

Author : Tim Fryer

18 January 2012

It may not be ‘hold the front page’ news, but we are soon to have an Olympic games taking place in this country.

What may be of news to the FM community is who is going to do the cleaning, catering, security, landscaping, logistics, maintenance, M&E, logistics and all the other services that are going to make the Games run smoothly – but this news is going to have to wait until after the final gold medals have been awarded and the Olympic family has moved on. And this is a great pity.

In a recent speech David Cameron predicted that the Olympics would show Britain at its best – a real opportunity to sell itself to the world. And I agree. You can generally divide the British into those who are anti or pro the Olympics. The anti-Olympians believe that £9 billion (worst case scenario) in such austere times is as obscene as it is inappropriate and what is more it will be a shambles, the transport infrastructure will be unable to cope and the world, particularly the French, will laugh at us in derision. And it will rain.

The pro-Olympians believe that it will be a triumph. A sporting and cultural festival that will be a celebration of the finest in sport and the best of British in terms of creativity, organisation and friendship. Although admittedly it probably will rain.

Both my feet are planted firmly in the latter camp. Even visiting the site early in 2011, while it was still very much at the muddy stage, was a thrilling experience. Seeing the sporting arenas nearing completion set the imagination on fire as to the dramas that would unfold there during the summer of 2012. And as a showcase for Britain I think it stands to be second to none.

However, what does it mean to be ‘good for Britain’? Certainly we can look at the balance sheet and hope that incomings exceeded outgoings – but so what? There is no long-term business legacy in that. The real heroes of the hour are going to be the hundreds of (largely) British companies lurking in the supply chain. If these companies were to use the Olympics to showcase their products and services to good effect, they would be in a strong position to market themselves in the future. Winning contracts. Employing good people. Investing in skills. In short, being good for Britain in the future – a proper Olympic legacy.

Sadly these companies must keep quiet, at least until the Games are over. I know companies that have won catering, cleaning, security contracts and all the rest, who are not allowed by Olympic rules to publicise their involvement. Equally companies who have provided any products are obliged to remain silent. This is to protect the publicity rights of the sponsors, who have exclusive rights to the Olympic branding in the run-up to the games. I have no idea how much money these sponsor pay, but I acknowledge that they are entitled to lion’s share of the Olympic pie, but to have the whole pie seems both unnecessary and self-defeating. There are so many great stories that I would love to bring you in the pages of PFM and through our web site that I am morally (and probably legally) bound to sit on until the autumn, by which time Olympic fatigue may render some of them less riveting than they would have been pre-event. Surely the sponsors would benefit from more coverage about the workings of the Games, rather than the more sanitised drip feed from the organisers which has little supplier-specific information.

So for all that I agree with the Prime Minister that Britain will shine, I think that he isn’t aware of the commercial shroud that is draped over the Games and that this shroud is proving impenetrable for companies who could provide this country with the real long term economic benefits. If he really wanted to use the Olympic Games as a springboard for our economy he would do well to address this issue.

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