If London 2012 achieves a lasting legacy it will be for the very same reasons these games have been such a success for audiences – focus and expectations. Being clear about where the focus should be and realistic about the expectations.
In its modern version, the Olympics are one of the world’s biggest festivals of sport, bringing together around 10,500 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees competing in 26 sports. In terms of volume, it’s roughly the equivalent of 20 Football World Cups in one fortnight. Nothing else compares.
Before the sport got underway I feel there were lots of embarrassing and controversial moments including:
- the logo which is considered by some as a travesty and was virtually invisible at venues I have attended
- the torch which can be compared to a garden ornament
- the ticketing process which compares with the national lottery
- American celebrities without a permanent home in Britain as torch bearers
The focus of Lord Coe
However, the great success of London 2012 – from the initial bid to the current games – has been its leadership under Lord Coe. Ultimately he is an athlete who won two gold medals and he has always maintained the focus on what matters - the sport. So the track in the Olympic Stadium is softer than Beijing, making it faster, the velodrome is an elegant masterpiece designed to create conditions for maximum speed, the aquatic centre has wings with thousands of additional seats, and the pitch for the hockey is blue which makes it easier to follow with a yellow ball.
Now, while the whole country is watching, it’s easy to get carried away in the euphoria and assume that for years to come the public will flock to watch swimming competitions, learn to love basketball and turn out to support the next gold medal shooter.
This is where the team at LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games)have been particularly impressive. They have realistic expectations about what will or will not be a permanent legacy. So the Aquatic Centre will be turned into a community venue with a crèche, and reduced seating to host a more modest 2,500, the basketball arena will be deconstructed and may be used in Rio, the stands at the Royal Artillery Barracks will be packed away and the property returned to the MoD.
These realistic expectations were notably absent from two infamous Olympic legacy busts – Montreal (’76) and Barcelona (’92). In both cases they built massive Olympic parks with a wide range of permanent venues, forgetting that their cities did not have the population or the sporting culture to keep using them. In both cases they also made sweeping predictions about how being an ‘Olympic City’ would transform their importance in global financial and political terms. This didn’t happen. Instead, people still know Barcelona for Gaudi’s iconic Cathedral and their football team and Montreal for being the only French city in North America with the world’s most successful ice hockey team.
But these games will create a legacy because the team behind them – in the face of a number of crises and controversial moments – have maintained their focus and worked to realistic expectations.
Lessons for CR leaders
The lessons for most Corporate Responsibility leaders could be the same - focus and expectations.
Too often an organisation will choose two or three very broad themes for their community investment programmes instead of one very specific and directional one. For example, they might have health, education and employability as three ‘core themes’, which means they could partner with tens of thousands of charities and community groups. Instead they could focus efforts on supporting young people with life limiting diseases, on improving numeracy amongst adults who have not finished their education or on getting young people into more permanent jobs.
Similarly, the reality is that in resource terms (both financial and non-financial), very few corporate partnerships are worth as much to charities as the equivalent private donations. Yet typically corporate partners are more demanding and expect credit for helping to solve issues that are out of proportion with their input - the equivalent of Lord Coe and his team expecting 20million people to tune in to next year’s junior athletic championships just like they watched Usain Bolt in the 100m final.
If Corporate Responsibility professionals take anything from London 2012 beyond their own Olympic experience, it should be:
- Stay focused. (And, if necessary refine your focus to something that really resonates with your stakeholders).
- Work to realistic expectations.
The rest should take care of itself.
Find out how CAF can help you develop a focused CR strategy with realistic expectations.
Derek Ray-Hill, Senior Company Relations Manager, CAF