Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Third Report


149. The Olympic Games are different in scale to all of the other events considered in the course of our inquiries. The staging of the Olympics poses a unique set of challenges. A decision to bid for the Games would profoundly affect strategy for events and for facility provision in the United Kingdom. Equally, as we have noted before, an unfocused sentiment in favour of a bid without the will, commitment or capacity to see that bid through could distort those strategies to the disadvantage of sport in the United Kingdom.[440]

150. While a new British Olympic bid has been long in preparation, discussion of the issue has been given new impetus by the overwhelming success of the Sydney Olympic Games. That event was an organisational and sporting triumph. Despite scepticism and press criticism in the build-up, the Sydney Games captured the imagination of people in Australia and across the world.[441] That impact may have been felt particularly in the United Kingdom, both because of the striking success of British competitors in the Olympics and Paralympics and because of the comprehensive and effective television coverage.[442] It must nevertheless be borne in mind that the Sydney experience is likely to make a much sought-after event even more desirable to many other countries as well.

151. If there is to be a British Olympic bid in the foreseeable future, it will be based in London. A decision to concentrate any future effort on the United Kingdom's capital was made by the British Olympic Association after the successive failures of bids from Birmingham and Manchester.[443] The Association, whose view is of decisive importance, showed no signs of flexibility about the issue.[444] The arguments for a London bid rest first and foremost on a perception of what will be appealing to the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who determine the venue for the Olympics rather than on a conviction that, within the United Kingdom, London is uniquely suited for the staging of the Olympic Games.[445]

152. Since late 1996, the British Olympic Association has been committed to an examination of the feasibility of a London Olympic bid. The Association's initial study was expected at the end of 1999, but was delayed by a further year following the Government's decision not to pursue the option of developing an athletics capacity at Wembley.[446] A draft feasibility study was delivered to the Government on 15 December 2000. The study remains in provisional form and is expected to change in response to the views of those consulted. The document contains what the British Olympic Association views as sensitive, commercially confidential information, relating, for example, to possible sites, disclosure of which might, according to the Association, distort land prices.[447] Since delivery of the draft study to the Department, the document has also been made available to the Mayor of London. We have also received a copy of the draft study. We will respect absolutely the confidentiality of the document, although we note that the Minister for Sport questioned the rationale for the restrictions imposed by the British Olympic Association on public discussions of its contents and we regret that the confidentiality has not been respected by all recipients, because the contents of the document have been selectively leaked to members of the press.[448]

153. The decision to mount a bid formally rests with the British Olympic Association, and indeed the role of the National Olympic Committee has been enhanced by recent changes to the IOC's selection process.[449] The Association has now made it clear that it wishes to bid, but that the Association will not allow a bid to go forward unless that bid has "unanimous stakeholder agreement".[450] In the context of a London bid, both the British Olympic Association and the Government define the key stakeholders as the Government, the Mayor of London and other London agencies.[451] UK Sport and Sport England have not yet received or been consulted about the draft feasibility study, although they have both been contacted by the British Olympic Association with a view to such consultation.[452] We consider it essential that the views of these specialist sporting bodies are central to the consultation process. We recommend that, once Sport England and UK Sport have received copies of the feasibility study on a London Olympic bid, their views be sought by the Government. We further recommend that this advice, insofar as it does not contain commercially confidential information, be published before the end of July 2001.

154. There are various phases of consideration that will have to be undertaken before a final decision is taken on any Olympic bid. In the first instance, as both Mr Clegg and the Secretary of State noted, the outcome of the 2008 bidding process in July this year will have to be known. It is accepted that there would be little point in bidding for the 2012 Games if the Games of both 2004 and 2008 are to be held in Europe.[453] Nevertheless, some of the issues examined during our inquiry will need to be tackled at some stage if progress is to be made on consideration of a London bid for a later date.

155. If a London bid is to be made for the 2012 Olympics, there is a clear timetable that must be adhered to: in particular, a formal bid must be announced by February 2004.[454] The British Olympic Association stressed that the first deadlines for this process were "fast approaching", but Mr Clegg said that the Association was "a long way" from a decision on a bid, and that there was a great deal of work still to do.[455] It would be wrong for the British Olympic Association, the Government and other agencies involved to decide in haste whether or not to bid for the Olympics in 2012 and then to repent at leisure. For this reason, our conclusions in this section are not couched in terms of definitive recommendations, but seek to identify the issues that must be considered and discussed fully before a decision on a bid is reached.

156. The first issue that must be clarified is the rationale for bidding. The staging of the Olympic Games can certainly bring sporting benefits, in terms of encouraging investment in elite performance, motivating participants from the home nation and inspiring participation in sport.[456] The staging of the Olympic Games in this country would, as the Minister for Sport noted, also move sport up the national agenda.[457] The sporting benefits of the Games are properly the primary consideration of a National Olympic Committee.[458]

157. However great the sporting benefits, the commitment required for the Olympic Games needs a broader rationale. There is evidence that the staging of the Olympics can provide an opportunity for regeneration and bring economic gain, as well as offering less tangible benefits.[459] Nevertheless, such gains can be neither guaranteed nor taken for granted. The success of Atlanta was certainly not as unalloyed as that of Barcelona or Sydney. Professor Tomlinson was sceptical about whether the Olympics would bring real benefits to London, in part because London is already established as a city of world status.[460] Moreover, judged purely on tourism grounds, a London Games might be held to run contrary to the strategy referred to by Mr McCartney to attract tourists to areas of the United Kingdom outside London.[461]

158. In Australia we were reminded of the importance of a clear focus on long-term aims at an early stage.[462] In Manchester, we were encouraged to learn of the strategy to use the Commonwealth Games as part of the long-term regeneration of East Manchester, the City as a whole and the North West of England.[463] Those long-term opportunities must be examined before rather than after a bid is made.

159. We recommend that the Government set out in advance of any decision to bid for the Olympic Games its assessment of the rationale for any bid—both sporting and non-sporting—and the objectives that would be sought from the staging of the Games. This assessment must be clearly focused on a specific analysis on the rationale for London and the United Kingdom and not simply rely on telling good news stories from previous Olympic Games. It must also explain the Government's strategy to ensure that any London Games have enduring economic, social and regenerative benefits.

160. Full consideration of the case for a London Olympic bid is dependent upon a prior decision on whether to concentrate the proposed Games in West or East London. The need for a prior decision on this issue arises from the view that "all sporting facilities should be within thirty minutes' commuting distance of the Olympic village".[464] The Mayor of London has given a personal "commitment to bring an Olympic Games to East London".[465] Sir Rodney Walker suggested that the British Olympic Association was also inclined towards sites in East London, although the British Olympic Association's draft feasibility study gives full consideration to both West London and East London options.[466] Even though a London Olympic Games are not likely to be as concentrated on one site as was the case in Sydney, it will be important, at an early stage, to identify sites and preserve the opportunity to develop them.[467] In identifying any such sites, the Government must respond to the legitimate points made in respect of the use of Wembley as a central Olympic location that identification of a site might blight regeneration and that sporting development might not be compatible with high-density, mixed development ambitions for deprived areas. We recommend that the Government make its views known on where in London an Olympic bid should be concentrated well in advance of a decision to bid. In doing so, the Government must respond explicitly to the challenge of preserving the opportunity to stage the Games on identified sites while not jeopardising the opportunity for appropriate regenerative development of that land.

161. The sporting facilities available for a London Olympic Games and those that would need to be developed would only be apparent once a decision to concentrate on East or West London were made.[468] Nevertheless, as matters stand, it is hard to envisage that London can currently offer a similar degree of preparedness as Athens, where 74 per cent of facilities were said to be in place before the Games were awarded, or Paris, where over half of the facilities for the Games are considered by the IOC to have been already built.[469] In some cases, temporary provision may be required or justified, but the IOC is thought likely to look favourably upon bids where facilities are already in place and have established their long-term viability.[470] The near-scandalous absence of international competition-standard swimming facilities in the United Kingdom's capital is one example of how far short London currently falls.[471] We recommend that, as soon as possible after a decision on sites in London and in advance of any decision to bid, the Government publish an assessment of the facilities for a London Olympic bid including (a) those that ought to be developed as a priority regardless of whether London is awarded the Olympic Games, (b) those that would be developed as permanent facilities with a viable long-term use in the event of London being awarded the Olympic Games, and (c) those that would be built on a temporary basis for a London Olympic Games with no long-term legacy. For each facility, the Government should also specify the likely sources of funding.

162. We would expect such an assessment to give particularly careful attention to proposals for the main Stadium for a London Olympic Games. Although a direct public investment of nearly £200 million is envisaged in major stadia for football, rugby league and athletics at Wembley and Picketts Lock—with accompanying infrastructure costs of a similar order—neither of these stadia is deemed by the Government or the British Olympic Association suitable as the Olympic Stadium.[472] Mr Clegg conceded that it was now unlikely that a separate Olympic Stadium would be built unless London was successful in an Olympic bid.[473] He also accepted that, in this country, involvement of football was almost essential to ensuring the long-term viability of a large capacity stadium.[474] Any such Stadium will thus face similar design challenges to those confronted by the designers of Wembley National Stadium.[475] The Government considers it to be clear that, if the United Kingdom is "to mount a bid [for the Olympics] with a realistic chance of success, we must do so with a stadium which offers comparable, or better, quality" of sight-lines to those offered by the stadia for the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics.[476] We recommend that, in advance of any decision to bid for the Olympics, the Government set out its proposals for a Stadium for a London Olympic Games. These proposals must be specific about the site, the funding arrangements for both the Stadium itself and the surrounding infrastructure, the proposed design concept for the Stadium and arrangements to ensure the long-term use and viability of the Stadium.

163. Transport has assumed great importance for the Olympics, as a factor in the perceived failings of the Atlanta Games, as a strength of the Sydney Games and as an element in the assessment of bids. The costs of necessary changes to transport and infrastructure are likely to outweigh the direct costs for the sporting elements of the Games.[477] The Corporation of London has raised doubts about the capacity of London's transport system to cope with certain sporting events.[478] The Olympic Games can be seen as an opportunity to improve London's transport system and general infrastructure,[479] but an Olympic bid might well be judged on the infrastructure as it then appears. We recommend that, in advance of any decision to bid, the Government publish an assessment of the transport and wider infrastructure changes required if London is to stage the Olympic Games, clearly distinguishing between investment that would be justified on other grounds and costs that would be specific to the Games.

164. A recurring theme in this consideration of the issues to be analysed before a decision is made on a London Olympic bid has been that of cost. The British Olympic Association observed somewhat euphemistically that "budgeting and accounting sensibly for the costs and revenues associated with bidding for and staging an Olympic Games is [sic] a unique challenge".[480] Olympic budgets are formulated well in advance of the event and require considerable change to reflect circumstances at the time of the Games.[481] The illusion of profitability of the Olympics is usually created by the simple expedient of ensuring that the majority of costs are met directly by Governments rather than by the organising Committees.[482] The British Olympic Association implied in its evidence that a full financial assessment had to precede a decision on whether or not to bid.[483] Such an assessment must examine both the costs of a bid and the sources of funding to meet those costs. The Games would involve sums beyond the current Lottery sports funds and much of the necessary expenditure may not be attractive for private investors. We recommend that the Government commission and publish an independent analysis of the likely total cost of a London Olympic Games in advance of a decision to bid. Publication of this analysis should be accompanied by a statement from the Government about the extent of the Exchequer commitment both to meet these costs and to underwrite the Games.

165. We have previously argued that the Government must have a prominent role in the decision-making process about a bid and a clearly-defined role in bidding for and in the staging of any Olympic Games in this country.[484] The Secretary of State accepted that a bid would require "a very close partnership between the British Olympic Association, the host city and the Government".[485] There will be important contributions to be made by the British Olympic Association and by the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority, but the main funding burden is likely to fall on the Government. If the Government is to pay the piper, the Government must call the tune. For the Sydney Olympic Games, a Minister in the New South Wales Government was designated as Minister for the Olympics and chaired the Organising Committee. We consider it essential that any London Olympic bid—and the organisation of any subsequent London Olympic Games—must be led by a Minister with direct budgetary control and consequent political responsibility and accountability. The Government cannot be at arm's length from these processes. If the Government is not prepared to accept the ultimate responsibility implied by this approach, it should not embark upon the venture.

166. In making the commitments to Government investment and to Government leadership that we see as essential to success, Ministers must be prepared to tackle legitimate concerns about equity. The Government has a general policy that "there should be an equitable spread of [sporting] facilities nationwide", but argues that the need to stage events might justify departures from this general policy.[486] The Secretary of State said that he "would not want to see any of [the] existing streams of commitment to the development of the sporting infrastructure of this country being disadvantaged in any way because we had decided to move ahead with an Olympic bid".[487] This is a welcome statement, but does not tackle the wider problem about equity. We recommend that, in advance of any decision to bid, the Government explain how it proposes to ensure that the massive investment in London's sporting infrastructure implied by a London Olympic Games is reconciled with the Government's general commitment to an equitable spread of facilities. We further recommend that the Government explain how it proposes to ensure that concentration on elite facilities will not lead to a neglect of investment in community facilities in London.

167. There is now a joint bidding process for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, with the latter staged in the same city as the former shortly afterwards.[488] The Paralympics have been likened in scale to the Commonwealth Games.[489] British teams have a distinguished record of success in the Paralympic Games.[490] The British Olympic Association has made a welcome commitment to ensuring that the Paralympic dimension is integrated in its preparations.[491] Should there be a London Olympic bid, we recommend that the Government establish as one of its priorities that plans for the Paralympic Games represent an integrated and prominent aspect of such a bid.

168. Following the scandals about the Olympic bidding process that broke late in 1998, the Government stated that its support for a British Olympic bid would "depend on the introduction by the IOC of a bidding system which is seen to be transparent, honest and can enjoy the confidence of all bidding cities as well as the entire Olympic movement itself".[492] Since then the IOC has reformed its bidding process to prevent corruption and to facilitate more systematic scrutiny of bids on their technical merits.[493] These proposals do not go as far as the measures proposed by the IOC Executive Committee and supported by the British Olympic Association, but the Association expected the new process to be proved "to be transparent and honest" and predicted that the procedures would "enjoy the confidence of all bidding cities, the entire Olympic movement and the public".[494] The Government welcomed the reforms and the increased transparency of the IOC, but noted that the new procedures had not been sufficiently tested to justify categorical statements and indicated that "we will be paying close attention to how the new procedures operate".[495] We recommend that the Government state explicitly before the end of July 2001 whether or not it considers that the conditions for its support for a London Olympic bid established in February 1999 relating to the IOC's selection process have been met.

169. The policy of the British Olympic Association is that "a future bid should only be made if there is a realistic chance of its success".[496] A decision must accordingly be preceded by a critical assessment of the prospects for a London bid. Professor Tomlinson suggested that international sporting bodies like a "can do" attitude of the kind so evident in Australia.[497] The "can do" approach is not always apparent in this country, as the Commonwealth Games Federation noted:

    "If the United Kingdom wishes to be a serious contender for hosting major sporting events, there has to be a change of attitude in the country. At present, the image promoted in the press of any major event in the United Kingdom is of a squabble over how much it costs."[498]

The Chief Executive of the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain concluded of an Olympic bid: "Without doubt we have the management skills and technical knowledge to stage the event, but I remain to be convinced that we have the necessary commitment at this moment in time".[499]

170. Any assessment of the prospects for success must consider the competition. There is already a strong field for the 2008 Games and some of those contenders that are unsuccessful this year may well go forward to bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, building on experience gained in the current process. They will be joined in contention for 2012 by a United States bid arising from an internal competition in that country. Among European cities, Paris might well be a strong contender for the 2012 Games if it is not selected as the venue for the 2008 Games. The Paris bid has already received high markings from the IOC's Acceptance Procedure Working Group.[500] Paris has facilities such as the Stade de France, where the 2003 World Athletics Championships will be staged, in place. France has a more distinguished record of sporting performance at the Olympics in several recent Games than the United Kingdom and it has been rather longer since the Summer Games were staged in France than it has been since they were staged in the United Kingdom.

171. The British Olympic Association envisaged an assessment of the prospects for a bid being made by the Government, the Greater London Authority and the British Olympic Association.[501] We do not consider that satisfactory, because at least one of those parties has a vested interest in a particular outcome. We recommend that the Government commission an independent assessment of the prospects for success of a London Olympic bid, including an explicit comparison with other likely bidding cities. We would wish to see the assessment undertaken if at all possible by a team including non-British members of the IOC or of international sports federations with appropriate experience.

172. The Minister for Sport rightly observed that there needed to be commitment to the Games from the country and she wished to see an open public debate on the possibility of a bid.[502] The British Olympic Association acknowledged the importance of public support and made proposals for professional public consultation.[503] There is a danger that opinion surveys would show high levels of public support that might prove to be only skin deep.

440  HC (1998-99) 124-I, para 141; HC (1999-2000) 164, paras 146-149. Back

441  QQ 178, 395. Back

442  Evidence, pp 137, 284; The Government's Plan for Sport, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, March 2001, p 37. Back

443  HC (1998-99) 124-I, para 142. Back

444  Q 289. Back

445  QQ 204, 289. Back

446  HC (1998-99) 124-I, para 143; HC (1999-2000) 164, paras 22-23; Evidence, p 140. Back

447  Evidence, pp 142, 144. Back

448  Q 542; The Times, 12 March 2001; The Daily Mail, 12 March 2001. Back

449  Evidence, pp 138-139; Q 326. Back

450  Evidence, pp 137, 140; Q 293. Back

451  Evidence, pp 142, 201. Back

452  Evidence, pp 160, 50; QQ 161, 333. Back

453  QQ 298, 470. Back

454  Evidence, p 139. Back

455  Evidence, pp 139, 142; QQ 293, 322. Back

456  Evidence, p 137; Q 179. Back

457  Q 472. Back

458  Evidence, p 137; HC (1998-99) 124-I, p lxvii. Back

459  Evidence, p 140. Back

460  Evidence, p 59. Back

461  Q 426. Back

462  HC (1998-99) 124-I, p li. Back

463  Q 393. Back

464  Q 308. Back

465  Evidence, p 239. Back

466  QQ 60, 279, 290; Evidence, p 144. Back

467  Evidence, pp 143, 237; QQ 282, 316. Back

468  Q 312. Back

469  HC (1998-99) 124-II, p 28; Report by the IOC Candidature Acceptance Working Group to the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee, August 2000, ch 3. Back

470  Q 284; HC (1998-99) 124-II, p 28. Back

471  Evidence, p 253. Back

472  Evidence, pp 143, 236; QQ 292, 294, 313. Back

473  Q 317. Back

474  QQ 304, 305, 306. Back

475  Q 172. Back

476  Cm 4686, para 13. Back

477  Q 159. Back

478  Evidence, pp 257-258. Back

479  Evidence, p 237. Back

480  Evidence, p 145. Back

481  Evidence, p 59. Back

482  Evidence, p 145. Back

483  IbidBack

484  HC (1998-99) 124-I, paras 144-145. Back

485  Q 470. Back

486  Cm 4686, para 19. Back

487  Q 538. Back

488  Evidence, pp 222-223. Back

489  Official Report of the New South Wales Parliament, 10 October 2000, p 6. Back

490  Evidence, p 221. Back

491  Evidence, p 146. Back

492  HC Deb, 9 February 1999, col 157W. Back

493  Evidence, pp 138-139. Back

494  HC (1998-99) 124-II, pp 26-27; Ibid, Q 110; Evidence, p 146. Back

495  Evidence, pp 201, 202; Q 553. Back

496  Evidence, p 137. Back

497  Q 186. Back

498  Evidence, p 223. Back

499  Evidence, p 253. Back

500  Report by the IOC Candidature Acceptance Working Group, passimBack

501  Q 288. Back

502  QQ 472, 542. Back

503  Evidence, p 142. Back

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