The devil is in the detail for England's success at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games
Sunday, 09 December 2012
Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Alistair Brownlee, Mo Farah. How good would it be for England if all four of those Olympic champions were able to turn up at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, now less than 600 days away? (All these competition countdowns...it's getting like Christmas shopping days...)
Answer, of course, very good. And all the signs are that this dream-list could become reality once Scotland welcomes back the version of Games it last hosted in Edinburgh in 1986.
England's experience at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games – despite the dire prognostications about dengue fever and dirty rooms – turned out to be largely positive as they were narrowly beaten by the hosts on the final day to the runners-up spot behind Australia, the perennial – sorry, quadrennial – leaders of the medal table.
Sir Andrew Foster, the Commonwealth Games England (CGE) chairman, was by and large a happy chappie as he toured the England lodge in Delhi's Ambassador Hotel, chatting to medallists, medallists' friends and family, and the press. By and large – but not totally.
He admitted afterwards that he had been "disappointed" about the level of performance in the cycling, where only one of Britain's 13 Beijing 2008 Olympic medallists was available. Part of the reason for that, admittedly, was the proximity of the Delhi Games to the opening World Cup event in Melbourne six weeks later.
The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, from July 23 to August 3, will not offer the same conflict of interest. Nor will the travel from British Cycling's Manchester base be quite the same issue.
As Glasgow 2014 begins to realise an ever-clearer profile on the horizon, the CGE is working its way through the Stepping Up strategy released in the wake of Delhi 2010, a document designed to upgrade the organisation in four key areas: improving delivery during the Games, developing better relations with other organisations such as national governing bodies, building the CGE brand with sponsors, and "renewing and optimising" the management structure.
Delhi 2010 marked the final Commonwealth Games as the CGE's chief executive Ann Hogbin after 20 years of outstanding contribution to the cause. After Hogbin had stepped down and stepped out to play a key role in the London 2012 Paralympics as Deputy Chef de Mission for Operations, alongside her former colleague and Chef de Mission, Craig Hunter, the role was filled by Adam Paker.
Tall and engaging, Paker worked formerly in the marketing area with FIFA – where he created the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup – and then 888.com, where he was instrumental in setting up a major sponsorship of the Snooker World Championship. Since the beginning of October, he has been installed in the CGE's new office in High Holborn, where they reinstalled themselves at the same time from their old base at the Crystal Palace stadium.
The view from the CGE boardroom takes in a complex pattern of courtyards formed by some of the ancient Inns of Court. Happily, the landscape they are operating in as Glasgow 2014 looms is a far simpler one. It's a home Games, coming on the back of an outstandingly successful home Olympics. A very happy circumstance, as Foster foresaw in the wake of Delhi.
"There hasn't been a time when we have had an Olympics in the UK followed by a Commonwealth Games," he said.
"We expect that will mean an unprecedented level of interest in multi-sports. We want to use this opportunity to develop and enhance the Commonwealth Games and England's role in them. We believe there never could have been a better opportunity for us to develop the Games."
And as he applies himself to the task of doing just that, Paker – sitting with a view out of the boardroom window – acknowledges that point.
"We are in an incredibly strong position with the Games taking place on our doorstep," he says. "So it's convenient, and also there is this chance for the athletes to perform in front of a home crowd, and to get, almost, another taste of the glory they had at London 2012 – performing, winning, excelling on home soil in front of a home crowd, something which is hugely motivating to them.
"That's why a number of top athletes have already put themselves forward for Glasgow 2014 without any prompting. It's an easy sell. As Harold Macmillan said: "We've never had it so good.
"Some of the athletes see Glasgow 2014 in terms of completing a grand slam in their portfolio. Without it, their trophy cabinet is not complete. They feel that very strongly – that this is something which they need in their collection.
"For less seasoned athletes, clearly there is a huge developmental opportunity at a Commonwealth Games. We don't see the Commonwealth Games as being purely a pathway event; we certainly resist seeing it in those terms. We see it in terms of being one of the grand slams. But there is no doubt that it can be a hugely valuable developmental event for young athletes – both the Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth Youth Games.
"Many athletes have excelled at the Commonwealth Games and have gone on to big success. Jessica Ennis is one example – she competed at the Commonwealth Youth Games before getting a medal at the 2006 Commonwealths in Melbourne.
"For Bradley Wiggins, the 1998 and 2002 Games of Kuala Lumpur and Manchester were a big part of his development as a track cyclist."
In terms of their efforts to provide the likes of Ennis and Wiggins with optimum comfort in Glasgow, CGE has already sorted out the location for its team lodge – where competitors will be able to get away from the hurly burly and meet their friends and relatives in a relative sanctuary – which will be close to the Games Village, where the CGE will have an office.
A hotel – still to be announced – has also been identified and will provide another office and spaces for VIPs and sponsors.
"There is a fantastic infrastructure which has been put together in Glasgow," Paker says. "The Athletes Village is going to be superb; the competition venue is first rate. There are a lot of new structures and refurbished structures. So it is going to be absolutely world class in terms of competition venues and accommodation. So the athletes are going to have a wonderful experience from that point of view."
On the home front, Paker has recently been joined by Don Parker, who has been involved in the last four Commonwealth Games on England's behalf, as the CGE's sporting director, and Christopher Cox has been appointed as communications assistant.
There is also a new commercial manager, Kristin Nopson, and a new business support manager, Amanda Scarfo. Both worked for London 2012, and several of their colleagues are currently on the shortlist of nine for the next appointment, that of logistics manager, selected from 75 top class applicants.
"Our timing was deliberate," Paker explains. "It made sense to look and learn from London 2012, who had some very skilled people."
CGE has also shortlisted applicants for the post of Chef de Mission for Glasgow 2014, with an announcement due early next year. That will also be the time when the identity will be revealed of the latest CGE sponsors, who have recently been secured.
The CGE, which already has National Express and Southern Electric as its main partners, is joining forces with Glasgow 2014 in its hunt for sponsors before the Games get underway.
"We've got National Express at one level, and Southern Electric coming in at the same level as that. The new sponsor, coming in from a completely different sector, will be at the next level down," Paker says.
"They will be a sponsor of both properties, with the announcement probably early next year."
The England team that competed at the 2006 Melbourne Games did not even have a kit sponsor. That situation was rectified at Delhi 2010 and the new deal for Glasgow is already being worked out following interest from several big brands. As with Delhi, also, there will be a Friends programme, offering lower tier sponsors a field of operation for their money. Meanwhile, Indian entrepreneur Bhanu Choudhrie, who helped raise funds with great success before Delhi, has joined the board with a similar brief.
"What we have done with our sponsorship since March is to join forces with Glasgow 2014, so what is being sold is actually a joint offering. What would make less sense would be for us to be out in the market selling our sponsorships and the Glasgow 2014 selling theirs, when in fact there is a strength in drawing together into one single offering.
"Every new sponsor coming on board is a massively big deal for us. They carry our message much more powerfully in many ways than we can do on our own.
"We certainly don't think this is the end of the pipeline. We are certainly expecting more sponsors to come on board between now and Glasgow.
"The general crescendo interest in Glasgow is building up very nicely. Partly the athletes are doing that, partly the national governing bodies are doing that.
"Glasgow 2014 are doing a first-rate job in terms of their marketing programme. They've launched their mascot, and an Ambassadors programme. That all complements the effort to get on board more sponsors.
"Where I try to add value is by understanding the sponsorship cycle, and by trying for an attitude of thinking not what the sponsors can do for us, but what can we do for sponsors.
"It's amazing how many rights holders out there still think that sponsors are there for their good, and it's a little bit of a one-way street. I think what I am all about is making sure that the offering stacks up with sponsors. And then sponsors will come on board and activate.
"There is always a danger that the sponsors will come on board, sign up, get the rights and then they don't activate. I've seen that happen many, many times. That is, they don't invest in their sponsorship or leverage it.
"We don't want to see that – otherwise sponsors won't renew. We don't want them to stay on board just for the home Games because of the prominence that that gives them and not see us as a property worth staying with for the long term."
Paker is clearly pleased to be operating at a location that feels as if it is at the heart of things.
"Here we are in a central, modern office which sends out a message of us being professional and brand-driven," he says. "What we have tried to do with this office is put ourselves on the map in a way which we probably haven't done so much before.
"You can see it and experience it, and it has already paid dividends to us. We've been able to host all kinds of meetings here – many of our stakeholders have come through here already. We've had visitors from the British Olympic Association (BOA), our funding partners Sport England, and our sponsors.
"We are trying to create a hub that people can come and visit. We want this to feel like a home-from-home for people from Glasgow 2014 and from the different sports. They can come in and hot desk, they can log in to the Wi-Fi, and they are just ten minutes away from their train back to Loughborough or Manchester.
"So we are trying to encourage people to come – it's great for us, giving us a chance to engage, and it also has value for them."
Last week the CGE organised a communications and PR summit at the Emirates Stadium to which 13 of the 17 national governing bodies involved in Glasgow 2014 came, as well as guests from the BOA and Sport England.
"Rather than asking them what they can do for us, it's asking them what we can do for them," Paker says. "They are our single most important stakeholders. Without them, we are nothing."
He adds: "We now have a very, very good relationship with BOA. Perhaps the two bodies have been a little bit too detached in the past for historical reasons. One thing I have really tried to do with the help of my board is to bring the two groups together because there is so much benefit from by co-operating. We'd be crazy not to, I think.
"The London 2012 experience is still fresh in their minds, and there's so much we can learn from them. But clearly there are a lot of opportunities to think about potentially for BOA staff seconded to our Glasgow 2014 team which will be useful to them as they go on to Rio 2016. So there is a virtuous circle created between the BOA and the Commonwealth Games."
If the omens look promising for a joint CGE-BOA initiative, the question remains – how promising are England's medal prospects at Glasgow 2014? Paker is cautiously optimistic on this front.
"We take the fact that the last time we finished top of the medals table was at Edinburgh in 1986 as a good augur. We compete well north of the border. So we would be very happy to see history repeat itself.
"We know that we can put together an extremely strong team with a very wide range of medal prospects across all 17 of the sports. We really want to give the Australians a run for their money this time – that is absolutely our ambition. And we feel in a very strong position to do it.
"That said, we don't underestimate the challenge from them. It is going to be a heck of a contest."
But Paker and co are being careful not to crow – or read too much into – Britain's superior showing in the London 2012 Games, where the host nation finished third with 65 medals, 29 of them gold, and Australia were tenth with 35 medals, of which seven were gold.
"Clearly the medals total is something on which we are going to be judged, and we do recognise that," Paker said. "We don't get too complacent about the results of London 2012. We know that in that selection of sports we did outdo the Australians – Team GB that is – but the range of sports is different in the Commonwealth Games.
"There may be sports where other teams medalled in the Olympics and, for instance, an Australian swimmer came fourth and an English swimmer came fifth or sixth. So those results wouldn't show up on the London 2012 medal table but they would show up on the Commonwealth medal table. So there is a lot of devil in the detail there."
There is a fair amount of devil in the detail as far as CGE is concerned right now – and the signs are that the pieces are being put in the right places.
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian.