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 Katherine DeClerq | Fulcrum Staff

ON JULY 27, millions of people will be glued to their computers and televisions to watch one of the greatest sporting events in history. That’s right—preparation is underway for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, and Canada has less than five months to ensure its athletes are organized and ready to compete.

But what do we really know about the Olympics? Despite the ease with which the events run from a viewer’s point of view, a lot happens behind the scenes in order to keep the athletes organized and the events progressing smoothly. Preparation begins years in advance, coming to a head at the six-month period where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its working groups finalize their plans.

The Fulcrum takes a look behind the scenes of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and how Ottawa is gearing up to participate in the summer games.

Protocol and VIPs
Milena Parent is an associate professor of sport management at the University of Ottawa, specializing in the organization and management of major sporting events such as the Olympics. In 2010, she was in charge of protocol and language services for women’s hockey at the Vancouver Olympic Games as part of her research with the U of O.

“My interest is how organizational committees work as an organization,” said Parent of her research. “You do an event, and most people helping have never done a major event [like the Olympics]. They may be experts in governmental relations or human resources, but not [everything] applies to a sporting event—which is a completely different beast.”

Parent was responsible for the dignitaries and Very Important Persons (VIPs) who attended the games. This included the president of the IOC, the king and queen of Greece, the Prince of Monaco, Princess Royal, and heads of state.

“You are there to facilitate their stay,” she explained. “When United States Vice-President Joe Biden came with his 22 cars, I had to facilitate that because there [were] only three parking spaces. And we are talking Secret Service, then we have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because Secret Service can’t have guns in Canada.

“So how do you deal with people who aren’t secure coming into a venue that is supposed to be secure?”

One of the biggest challenges Parent faced was conflicting egos, as the president of the IOC supersedes all heads of state and dignitaries.For those who are used to being treated as the most important person in the room, this can be a challenge to understand. For example, the concerns and desires of the IOC would be considered before that of Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Vancouver games, as Harper was simply a guest to the IOC event.

In addition to dealing with the VIPs, Parent also provided language services for the media and other functional areas such as medical and anti-doping in order to facilitate interpretation and ensure  athletes were given the proper information regarding procedures—a miscommunication within procedures could result in a recall of a test.

Athletes’ Village
Communication between athletes and Olympic personnel begins months before the event. Before travelling to London, athletes have to be registered with the Canadian Olympic Committee, which organizes their flights and accommodations. Elise Desjardins, former soccer player with the Gees and current U of O master’s student, was recently hired to do just that.

After working as a Young Ambassador for the 2012 Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, Desjardins was asked to join the Canadian Olympic Committee to help prepare for the London games.

“I help … with everything from getting athletes set up and registered to ensuring they have the information they need,” she explained. “But it’s not just the athletes—you have to ensure that coaches, medical staff, family, and even alternates have their flights and tickets.”

Desjardins commented on the sheer difficulty of organizing such a big delegation and guaranteeing the transportation, entry, and access the athletes have at the Olympics.

On the other side of the world, there are those who volunteer at the Canadian Olympic House within the Athletes’ Village. The role of these volunteers is to make sure the athletes have everything they need—equipment, food, or family access.

Mathieu Fleury, Rideau–Vanier city councillor and volunteer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, was one of the lucky few who worked within the Canadian Olympic House in Vancouver.

“During the games, there is the Athletes’ Village which is very restricted. It was meant as a private and restricted area, [because] if they left then people would want autographs and to take pictures,” he explained. “I did whatever they wanted, [ensuring] access to food, limited access to athletes, and distributed tickets to family.”

Sponsorship and athletic representation
The most important aspect of organizing the Olympic games is coming up with funds to compensate the cost of such a large event. The most popular way to do that is through sponsorship.

Norman O’Reilly is a professor of sport management, sport finance, and sport marketing at the U of O, and has researched how sponsorship can be used in large-sale sporting events such as the Olympics.

O’Reilly defines  sponsorship as an integrated relationship between an advertisement and an event—the example he used being Coca-Cola and the Olympic games.

“A partnership like Coke and the Olympics is a tremendous fit,” he explained. “Coca-Cola is in 200-plus jurisdictions around the world, and so is the Olympics. The Olympic games is all about global solidarity [and] peace … Coke wants to be linked to those themes.”

These integrated relationships are then activated through advertisement and product placement so the correlation with the event is made.
The IOC sells sponsorship in categories at the international and regional level. Sponsors chosen by the IOC have the rights to the entire Olympic movement, during which time they get exclusivity within any sport connected to the games—meaning only their products can be activated during that time. Additional categories, including beer, airlines, and banks, are chosen at a country level and signed by their committee, in Canada’s case the Canadian Olympic Committee.

In each case, the sponsorship would be activated differently in each region.

“They will have a different activation in Canada than they do in Argentina or Brazil. [The goal is] to reach all these people in different countries under one platform.”

Successes from previous Olympic games may also be used as a means to market products. For example, marketing by the Canadian Olympic Committee may use the 2010 gold-medal hockey game to draw Canadians into the advertisement.

“Hockey is a want for Canadians,” said O’Reilly. “Companies are delivering on that and the IOC, through the structure of the games, shares the value of the big draws in all sports.”

Whether it’s marketing, administration, or facilitation, there is a lot more to the Olympic Games than can be viewed on a television screen. Luckily, Ottawa seems ready to get our athletes to London 2012—let’s just hope everything else is ready as well.