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What really goes on at the Olympics (and other events)

By the time you read this, the Olympic Opening Ceremony may have already taken place, on 27 July. Danny Boyle’s spectacular, The Isles of Wonder, involves 10,000 volunteers, apparently recreating the British countryside, in the Olympic Stadium, complete with wildlife, clouds, artificial rain and Sir Paul McCartney.

The wildlife worries me. Let’s hope it went better than the ceremony at the 1998 Seoul Olympics, where, after the official lighting of the Olympic Flame, thousands of doves were released, many then promptly incinerated in front of a worldwide audience of billions.

There will be over 10,000 athletes, from 204 nations, converging on the London Olympic Village. No newspaper is now complete without an article covering the fact that 150,000 condoms are being provided for these athletes (an Olympic record already).

Talking about the sexual Olympics, US world-record-holding swimmer, Ryan Lochte, who will be in London for his third Games, says: “I’d say it’s 70 to 75% of us Olympians at it.”

Apparently the dining room is the place to meet and, as one competitor charmingly puts it; “Even if their face is a seven, their body is a 20.” Another says: “Unlike in a bar, it’s not awkward to to strike up a conversation, because you have something in common.”

But the athletes are not the only people involved in the Olympics, or indeed, any major sporting event, who have something in common.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), is the Swiss-based organisation, responsible for organising the modern Olympic Games and it has 137 members, most of whom, if not all, will be attending London 2012.

They in turn, have handed power for these Games to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (29Aug- 11Sept) – commonly known as LOCOG and chaired by Lord Sebastian Coe.

LOCOG needs a workforce of around 200,000 people; 6,000 paid staff, 70,000 volunteers and around 100,000 contractor roles. There will also be 21,000 accredited media attending the Games.

Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Acer, Atos, Dow, GE, Panasonic, Omega, Samsung, P&G and Visa are the Worldwide Olympic partners. Their employees, mostly in marketing, will have the pick of the best tickets and hotels the Olympics has to offer. As will the employees of Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF and Lloyds TSB, who are official London 2012 Olympic partners.

Seeing as these companies pay so much for their sponsorship, it is staggering the 2012 Games will cost the British taxpayer around £24 billion.

These marketers all have staff, whose role is to associate their brands with other sporting events as well as the Olympics; be it football, Formula 1, tennis, rugby, cricket, athletics or even polo: sport has essentially become a giant trade fair for big business.

I wanted to find out what it is actually like to be be part of a travelling circus, forming communities and relationships around the world, as the athletes, organisers and contribitors to the Olympics all are.

Stephen Pearson, CEO of Sports Media Gaming Ltd, previously worked for TEAM Marketing, based in Lucerne, Switzerland, for five years, where he was responsible for the commercial rights and sponsorship for the Champions League (formerly the European Cup) football competition.

This involved an incredible amount of international travel and Pearson was abroad for long periods of time, often with the same groups of people, involved with the tournament’s organisation and on occasion, with the actual Cup itself.

When he travelled individually with the Cup, maybe to show to sponsors, or to a match, it was packed in a black box and even had its own hotel room. Obviously, it required its own seat on an airplane and Pearson says: “Security were always shocked when I opened up the box for them and showed them the Cup. Most of them wanted to be photographed with it.”

I ask him a few delicate questions.

Pearson answers: “Most of the people on the tour were to do with sports; TV rights perhaps, TV production or sponsorship. There are loads of people and lots of networking events. A lot of the sponsors were famous for employing pretty girls, who were always at these events, some were hired specifically just for a specific event, in some kind of PR role.”

I ask whether the constant travel, meeting the same people, often in exotic locations, puts a strain on some people’s relationships.

Pearson says: “I would put it this way. If you’re a married man, it can turn you into a bachelor again. You’re staying at the top hotels, there are all these parties and you have your company credit card.”

“Affairs happen, of course they do. I’ve seen marriages break up, but it doesn’t have to be because of an affair. You are taking clients and associates out to these best restaurants night after night and when you return home, the last thing you want to is take your wife out. Harsh but true.”

So, over the next month or so, spare a thought, not just for the athletes, but also for the thousands of people who are part of organising the Games (and who outnumber the athletes by around 50 to one); all those visiting dignitaries and politicians, the thousands of journalists and sponsors, who travel around the world together. Well someone has to do it I guess.

Nigel Phillips

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