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Sporting chance: European Games Head of HR Operations discusses delivery

A review of the recent seminar hosted by the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, given by Nicola Sweeney. "Delivering a Winning Team for a Global Sporting Event. The case of Baku 2015"

Sporting chance: European Games Head of HR Operations discusses delivery

Sports events are about much more than sport. The drama of a games and the group effort of preparing and staging it can provide an inspirational focal point for a host country, transforming the way it sees itself and is seen by the world; stimulating social and economic development and the creative industries; and forging national and international cross-cultural and commercial links – and human resources teams are instrumental in achieving such success.

This was the perspective that emerged from an open seminar by Nicola Sweeney, London-based Head of HR Operations for the 2015 European Games, hosted by Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre.

The seminar allowed students of human resources, sport and event management, along with working Londoners and the public, to engage with an industry professional at the forefront of a top-level sports event, and Sweeney offered a fascinating personal insight into her work.

Three years may have passed since London 2012 (for which Sweeney was selection event manager, then workforce operations manager) but she was still moved when she reflected on it following a highlights reel of the London Olympic Games 2012: “Videos like that are what inspire people to work in sport”.

The first European Games opens in Baku, Azerbaijan next month. Though smaller than the Olympics, the scale is still a daunting challenge: 6,000 athletes, 20 sports, 253 medal events, all of Europe – and one unalterable date by which everything must work: 12 June.

Arrays of different helper teams are essential. Volunteers particularly come in all shapes, sizes and specialisms, but everyone has to share one thing: a passion for sport. For those with that passion, volunteering offers a great entry into sports management.

As is well known now, when a games ends, implementing its legacy begins: a legacy that must be designed into every aspect of the event from the start. Here too HR plays a vital role – and that also means a legacy for the people involved. Their participation develops considerable transferable skills, and part of the event organisation involves helping people build on their skills, working on CVs, planning and interview techniques to find further career paths.

Coping with cultural differences is another part of Sweeney’s job. Azerbaijan, whilst looking to the future, differs from London in many ways – notably a strong focus on formal administrative processes and emphasis of the country’s centralised decision-making structure. However Nicola noted the infrastructure is outstanding and on par with any other international sporting venues.

Looking forward to Baku 2015?

“As organiser of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre Public Seminar Series, I was honoured to host a speaker of Nicola’s level and pleased that she provided a 360° overview of the complexities involved in Human Resource Management for mega sports events. Moreover, I emphasise that Nicola confirmed for us how competent and professional are all the professionals previously involved in London 2012, now working across the globe for other mega sport events and for other sport governing bodies” Dr Giambattista Rossi.

This seminar was part of Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre’s public seminar series, and exemplified the college’s value as a central London hub, where academia and business can meet to develop new ideas. We would like to thank Global Sports Jobs for their support.

To attend future events visit the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre events page for more information.