Games of the future

What goes into planning the Olympics

Sophisticated planning is an essential part of successful logistics – particularly for mega events. There are few events that require a greater effort in this respect than the Olympic Games. There has to be planning for 10,500 athletes and up to 11 million visitors at over 300 medal competitions in more than thirty sports venues. All of this in harmony with the least possible impact on nature, sustainable urban development and the requirement of an ecological and social legacy as well as economic success.

The Frankfurt planning offices PROPROJEKT and AS+P have developed concepts for more than ten Olympic bids and have prepared feasibility studies for the possible organisation of the Games. In an interview, PROPROJEKT managing director Stefan Klos explains the key aspects of planning for the Olympics.

Where do you start when a city approaches you with the idea of applying for the Olympics?

The first thing is to look at the city and its surroundings and evaluate what the region already possesses in terms of sports venues and infrastructure, what the region needs for its development and how the specifications of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for awarding the Games can be met. Then you determine what is still missing.

That means in concrete terms what would have to be built for the Olympics?

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That too, but not necessarily. You look in the increasingly wider surroundings, maybe even in neighbouring countries, as to where you might go to meet the requirements without having to build something new.
Here there has been a crucial paradigm change towards sustainability. Previously you looked at the IOC’s specifications for awarding the Games and then made your application fit in with them. Today you develop concepts which adapt the Olympics to the city and region. So the trend is to use existing sports venues even if they are smaller and don’t accord precisely with the specifications of the IOC. In planning for the Olympics today, the operative concept is: “Sustainable is the new compact”.

What effect has this change of thinking had on the logistics?

The greatest logistical challenge in Olympic Games is the transport of tens of thousands of accredited persons on the roads and millions of fans, mostly on local public transport. Previously the question was how the city should expand its traffic routes to accommodate these transport and travel movements. Today we first ask the logistics experts and traffic planners how many people can be transported using the existing infrastructure. That is then used as a guide for the capacity of the sports venues.

Does that mean that the accusation of supersizing and cost explosions in Olympic Games is already being countered at the concept development stage?

There is a new frugality on both sides – at the IOC and also at the future hosts. The new IOC Reform Agenda 2020 means that there is a new flexibility in the conception of the Games and fewer fixed demands are made of hosts so that economically modest and sustainable Games have become possible.
As a result of greater public pressure and attention from the media associated with the Olympics, organisers are also reducing their own budgets. After all, the level of services to be provided lies with the organiser. A good example is the opening ceremonies. The budgets for the bids have also grown smaller than previously.

Yet past Olympic Games have shown that the ultimate costs are much higher than set out in the bidding documents. What is the reason for this cost discrepancy?

There are two reasons above all for this. The Olympics have the first one in common with large-scale projects in general: the long planning horizon of approximately 10 years and the lack of detail in the precise requirements when planning starts.
The long timescale as well as the inclusion of many stakeholders and stakeholder groups often lead to changes and thus delays.  In contrast to a construction project, Olympic Games cannot be opened a year later. Speeding things up during the final phase often cost a lot of money. Second, it is the case with Olympic Games that it becomes difficult to limit costs if the Games are used as a political vehicle and financing for measures which are not really necessary for organising the event are inserted into the Olympic budget.

Do Olympic planners today take account of public opinion and potential referendums at the concept preparation stage already?

A referendum influences Olympic planning in a fundamental way. As a result of the paradigm change mentioned earlier, the question is asked from the beginning as to the benefit for the region and its inhabitants and what their expectations are. The public becomes a stakeholder who has to be included right from the beginning. The planning for Hamburg 2024, for example, had to be very detailed at a very early stage because the stakeholders, including the public, had to be informed in much greater detail and earlier – among other things to have a solid foundation for the vote. At the same time planning which is designed to be participative increases complexity and length, and thus, of course, also costs.