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Five-ring circuit for  Olympic organisers



THEY are Australia's Olympic gypsies - highly flexible, go­ anywhere executives who have leveraged their Sydney 2000 Games experience into a globe­ trotting career advising the Olympic cities of tomorrow.


After running 'the greatest Games ever', Australian experts are in great demand in the Olympic host cities of the future, John Lehmann and Natasha Bita report:




On September 15, it will be five years since Australia surprised the world with what Interna­ tional Olympic Committee pres­ ident Juan Antonio Samaranch described as "the greatest Games ever". The peerless logistical performance - even Sydney's trains virtually ran on time for those magical 17 days - estab­ lished Australia's "big event" credentials and left the next generation of Olympic city hope­fuls clamouring for the talent that made it happen.


"We didn't advertise or specif­ ically go looking for work - it came to us," says one of  the "gypsies", Sydney Olympics executive Richard Palfreyman, who was snapped up to run the 2006   Winter   Olympics   press centre at Turin, in Italy's north. Scores of Australian executives and companies that worked  on the 2000 Games now find them­selves   at   the   centre   of   the international  sports event man­agement business.


Expertise developed in Sydney is transforming  how cities win and  stage events ranging  from rugby  World  Cups  and  rugby league  sevens tournaments  to Pan American and Asian Games. This  is  one  of  the  greatest legacies of Australia's Olympic experience  and  has  translated into lucrative contracts in indus­ tries  such  as  architecture  and construction, corporate hospital­ity, communications technology, security, transport logistics and media management.


"People who are staging these huge events are now realising you buy in the skills - rather than starting from scratch -and because of Sydney's Games, Aus­ tralians are at the forefront," says Sydney lawyer and leading sports business consultant Rod McGeoch , who led the winning Games bid in 1993.


Look behind London's recent 2012 Olympic victory and you'll find a team of street-smart Aus­ tralians, including former Lend Lease senior executive Jim Slo­ man, who was the 2000 Games chief operating officer, and Syd­ney Olympic transport specialist Paul Willoughby.


Go to Beijing  and you'll see Australian  companies,  such  as Macquarie   Bank,  Telstra   and architects Bligh Voller Nield hard at work  as China undertakes  a colossal  $US35  billion  ($45.4 billion) infrastructure program in preparation for the 2008 Games. With former Sydney Olympic chief  Sandy  Hollway  opening doors through his work with the NSW    Government's    Sydney­ Beijing Olympic    Secretariat, Sydney-based PTW Architects is designing Beijing's $144 million national  swimming  centre  and the $600 million  Olympic Athletes Village, while Bligh Voller Nield is planning the Beijing Olympic Green precinct and the Beijing Aquatic Park. Macquarie Bank is advising on structural finance for Beijing's Olympic Stadium.


In Turin, Winter Games orga­nisers have installed 20 Austral­ ians in top jobs, including former NSW top cop Peter Ryan, who was picked up as a consultant to the IOC after overseeing Syd­ ney's Olympic security, and Syd­ ney Games' opening and closing ceremonies maestro Ric Birch.

"There's a circuit of Olympic specialists," says Evelina Chris­ tillin, deputy president of the Turin Games organising commit­ tee. "They are the elite of the elite - super-professionals who move from one Olympics to the next. They are more flexible, open to big changes and more used to moving around."


Take. 34-year-old hospitality graduate Paul Foster.


He was working as an assis­ tant  manager  at  Darling  Har­ bour's Accor  Hotel  in Sydney when he was seconded to super­vise accommodation for Olym­pic officials  in  2000.  So  im­pressed  was the IOC with his work, it tapped him to become protocol chief for the Salt Lake City, Athens and Turin Games. In  Turin,  he'll  manage  3000 VIPs, including dozens of presi­ dents, prime ministers and prin­ cesses. His duties include liais­ g with embassies, organisingimterpreters, preparing  flags flowers and national anthems' choosing  VIP  wardrobes  and even measuring the height of lecterns for official speeches.

"You pinch yourself when you're meeting ambassadors, heads of state, and propos­img where their president will sit," he says.


Staging an Olympics must be on othe world's most complex , logistical exercises.


The  organising  committee must build up quickly to the size of a Fortune 500 company, raise and  manage  a  $2.5  billion budget, undertake massive in­frastructure programs -which usually include a housing estate capable of accommodating 10,000 athletes and officials - market  6 million tickets and ensure its city can transport and accommodate  100,000 tourists and handle 17,000 journalists .


And that's not even mention­ing the core task - the staging of world championships in 28 sports over 17 days.


But until the 2000 Olympic Games host city would find itself starting its planning from the ground up, receiving virtu­ally no assistance from previous Olympic committees and only arm's-length supervision from the IOC. The old joke was that the only amateurs left in the Olympics were the organisers.

Former SOCOG board mem­ber and Australian Olympic Committee secretary-general Craig  McLatchey  remembers the  frustrations   of   SOCOG's

early planning.


"You had a situation where every two years, a $2-$4 billion Olympic event would be staged somewhere, and every time the organisers would start all over again - no historical data, no corporate knowledge," he says. "You  would  see  SOCOG staff literally sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper, trying to work things out."


"Sitting down with General Motors-Holden for example, and not even knowing how many cars we actually needed -it just wasn't right."


In a bid to improve such an inefficient system - and to make a few extra dollars for the cash-strapped SOCOG budget -SOCOG executives started a "transfer of knowledge"  pro­gram, drafting a set of "how­ to" documents and selling them to the IOC for $4.5 million.


McLatchey , a Harvard busi­ ness school graduate, took the strategy further after the Olym­pics when he was headhunted to run a new IOC-backed enter­prise, Olympic Games Knowl­edge Services, which was set up to provide detailed advice to Olympic organising commit­tees.


That enterprise has now been spun off into the privately held Event Knowledge Services, of which McLatchey is chief exec­utive officer.


Not   only   is   McLatchey's group advising cities hoping to bid for an Olympics as well as those that  have won  Olympic events, but it has leveraged its . "big event" expertise into other sporting codes.


Event Knowledge Services' clients include the International Rugby Board, FIFA, the Com­monwealth Games Federation and the Olympic Council of Asia , which is holding its 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. Based in Lausanne, Switzer­ land, McLatchey relies on the expertise of seven key staff and 40 advisers, some of whom cut their teeth in Sydney.


Sydney based M1 Associates, a company Jim Slo­man formed with two  SOCOG general managers, John Quayle and Peter  Morris, has  also established itself as an  influen­tial player on the  international scene.


Before deciding to take a "career risk" and sign up to work on Sydney's Olympic team, Sloman, now 60, had worked for Lend Lease for more than 23 years.   


Now, his work takes him.from London  to Beijing,   to Ri0  de Janerio -which  hopes to hold South America's first Olympics.


"It's been  a terrific chapter and you  do think to yourse!f sometimes,  gee,  how  did  this happen?" Sloman says.







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