IOC members share Olympic ideals and challenges at Birkbeck

Leading figures from the IOC joined academics at an international symposium

Leading figures from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) joined academics at an international symposium to discuss the opportunities and risks associated with staging the Olympic Games.

They emphasised efforts to promote sport for youngsters and tackle drug-taking, as well as protect sponsors, during the event held at Birkbeck in London to coincide with the capital hosting the world’s greatest sporting contest.

Views about London 2012, its legacy, and the past and future of the Olympic movement were also shared at the 5th International Sport Business Symposium on 7 August.

Inspiring a generation

Sam Ramsamy (pictured), IOC member, from South Africa, focused on involving the youth in sport and referred to the legacy of London 2012. His views are pertinent because of his membership of the IOC’s Commission for the Coordination of London 2012, and his experiences teaching in East London when he lived in exile in the UK.

He said: “We have ensured that all aspects of the Games’ facilities have a legacy. As far as participation is concerned and the amount of inspiration that the young kids are getting, everyone is talking about Jessica Ennis – that type of legacy is taking place.”

Ramsamy spoke about the Youth Olympic Games for athletes aged 14 to 18, and how the contest aims to instil in youngsters values of friendship, anti-doping, and fair play. He mentioned how his compatriot Chad le Cros – the swimmer who recently beat Michael Phelps to become Olympic 200-metre butterfly champion – was discovered at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. Ramsamy added: “We would like to transmit the values of the Youth Olympic Games to the world. The important thing is to bring the youth together.”

Brands and sponsorship

The business model of the Olympics was explained during the presentation by Gerhard Heiberg, IOC member, from Norway. He said the top 12 sponsors pay a total of $1 billion for a four-year Olympic cycle (covering one Summer and one Winter Games), supplementing the $4 billion from broadcasters.

He said: “Our vision is to contribute to building a better world through sport. It is important that we protect our sponsors as otherwise there is no value to the rings. The five Olympic rings have never been stronger than they are today. All the sponsors are very keen on what is happening in London, and no complaints have been received.”

Heiberg also focused on the challenges ahead for the Olympic movement. He said new and interesting sports are needed to attract the young generation, and, given the already packed Olympic schedule, this will mean some current events will be replaced in future. Regarding doping, Heiberg added that more and more research is being undertaken. He said: “We will never win the war, but we will get closer and closer. In London we are taking more tests than ever.”

Television rights

The IOC’s successful efforts to increase income from television rights were described by Richard Pound, IOC member, from Canada. As the chairman of the IOC’s Television Rights Negotiations Commission from 1983 to 2001, he was heavily involved in this process. Whereas television rights only raised $35 million for the Games in Montreal, this rose to $225 million in 1984 for the Games in Los Angeles.

Pound set out how relationships built on trust have been fostered between the IOC and broadcasters, and how this led to bids being placed even before the host cities were known for the Games in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Contracts between the IOC and host cities have also changed over the years regarding television rights, from being joint negotiations to IOC-led talks “in consultation with” host cities. Pound predicted that television rights could level off or even decline in future as technology improves and more and more people use mobile devices to watch sport.

Reflections on the symposium

In addition to the presentations by the IOC members, academics shared papers on experiences from past Olympics and preparations for future Games. Subjects included public opinion in host cities, Olympic values, ticketing, commercials, and urban planning.

Sean Hamil, Director of Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre , co-organised  the symposium with Professor Holger Preuss, of the University of Mainz, Germany. Hamil said: “There has always been a tradition at Birkbeck of critical and informed discussion. “I’m surprised by how candid and open the IOC members were. It was terrific, and it is important that people in the Olympic movement talk about their experiences. I learned a lot from them.”