Do Mega Events Need Megabucks?

skynewsEarlier this week I was invited onto Sky News briefly to discuss the, possibly unofficial, decision to move the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup mega event from a toasty summer to the significantly cooler winter. This was met with outcry from some footballing quarters; there are eight years to work out how to get around the problem in my view though. Far better to host a world-cup without players, spectators and the (literally) thousands of other people working on the event melting. People melting isn’t great for the atmosphere or PR.

This discussion coincided with a piece in the Guardian by Simon Jenkins. In summary he calls for or predicts an end to these mega events given their proven ability to bankrupt a city and turn perfectly acceptable locations into military forts for a few weeks.

Other commentators, including David Owens of InsideTheGames.biz debate the merits of the IOC and FIFA considering a single location for these mega events. I would argue that this might happen automatically given these events are being increasingly awarded to cities with the most money. A trend evidenced by Sochi 2014 and Qatar 2022. There will soon only be a handful of cities with the cash required to win.

Is there not another, far easier, more palatable solution? I would argue there is.

If an IOC and FIFA sanctioned event were organised like nearly every other event under the sun there wouldn’t be a problem. The Olympic and Paralympic Games for example: a collection of 41 sports. I have been involved with events both inside and outside the IOC bubble. Take just one of these sports: triathlon, I pick this purely as it’s an event I’m familiar with having set up the Central London World Championship Series Triathlon in Hyde Park back in 2009.

A relatively straightforward event that might cost £1m or £2m to stage on a normal weekend, and is successfully organised by just a handful of people. This with international competitors and broadcast live on mainstream TV around the world.

Sprinkle the word Olympic or Paralympic over exactly the same event and everything changes. In the race to win the right to host the event and then impress the IOC: boards, advisors, consultants, more committees, inspections, maybe another committee or two, auditors etc etc all combine to try and organise the event in what results as the most complicated way possible. It’s probably impossible to work out what an Olympic or Paralympic version of this triathlon event costs accurately given the number of committees, de-centralised cost centres and departments involved, but the figure is enormous. If the true cost of the London 2012 Games was £12bn for 41 sports, a rough calculation might be almost £300m per sport. Of course this calculation is too simple but I can guarantee it cost considerably more than the £1m or £2m it usually costs.

Of course many will argue the Olympics is a completely different beast with higher profile, more infrastructure required, more at risk and increased security concerns. This is true. Even if you doubled or tripled the typical cost of staging such an event you still get no where near what it seems to cost at a mega event.

Many will argue too that these mega events offer great economic benefit to cities. I would agree. I would argue that they would create far more economic benefit if they didn’t cost as much.

So why do these mega-events cost so much? They are machines, the IOC and FIFA aside, there are huge swathes of industries and consultancies that move with them – coupled with governments hurriedly forming committees and the steep learning curves everyone seems to go through in every city. Compare these mega events to the energy industry. We all know how to move away from oil, gas and coal – the technology exists. It won’t happen quickly though as there are too many invested interests, jobs and livelihoods at stake if the change were made.

There is no reason these mega events should cost so much or leave such devastation where they do.

London 2012 was rightly billed as a great event around the world. It was also one of the most expensive events ever staged. When you throw all the money you have at something and throw as many people as possible at something – it’s pretty hard to fail. It’s not the only answer though. A more efficient alternative to hosting and staging mega events is possible and it doesn’t need mega bucks. Such an alternative requires strong leadership. Leadership starts at the top and in this case that’s the IOC and FIFA.