We British are natural born pessimists. After some initial euphoria on winning the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games in 2005, the “British Disease” kicked in and we reverted to type. “Waste of money”, “it will be late”, “it will be rubbish like the Millennium Dome” etc. When construction contracts were being tendered some contractors refused to bid, citing too much risk, too high profile and other such platitudes our notoriously risk-averse industry is inclined to trot out when they see an opportunity they don’t understand.
The bid win presented me with an opportunity I did not understand, so I packed in my job and grasped it with both hands. I was honoured to chair the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 from 2006-13, a unique, ground-breaking assurance body to oversee the promise to deliver “The most sustainable Games ever”. During this time I was stitched up by some politicians and NGOs (and one of my own commissioners), abused and physically threatened by a small majority of the public and bullied by some sponsors and their lawyers. I don’t regret a minute of it because over time I was able to build support and trust on all sides.
Nothing succeeds like success, the London 2012 leadership understood that and demanded levels of performance previously unseen in our industry. The ODA demanded unprecedented standards for Health and Safety, Productivity and Sustainability and they got them
But has London 2012 inspired change? Yes in part. When I was appointed to my role, then Mayor Ken Livingstone told me he sees London 2012 as “a 200 year regeneration project interrupted by six weeks of sport”. This is clearly work in progress but the transformation of East London to a desirable and vibrant place for people to live and work is there for all to see. The ODA was the first project to leave behind a comprehensive learning legacy, sharing what they learned with the world free of charge. I am pleased to see Crossrail following this example, even using the same project manager to compile it. Primarily inspired by London 2012, the construction sector has the Supply Chain School and a performance tool to manage and benchmark sustainability performance. The event management industry has its own standard for sustainable events ISO2012.1 and the procurement profession will have a global standard for sustainable procurement, ISO 20400, in mid 2017.
Not everything is perfect. Major sport events in general have a poor record on human rights and the Playfair Alliance exposed London 2012 in its report “Toying with Worker’s Rights”. I have been pleased to work with the Institute of Human Rights and Business on a voluntary basis to build consensus for an independent centre similar to my commission to oversee these aspects of major sport events, not just Olympics. This is also work in progress but encouraging.
Not everything in London 2012 was successful but most of it was and the culture of success and ground breaking achievement has undoubtedly inspired change.
Shaun McCarthy OBE is speaking at “On Your Marks, Set, Build…” the Constructing Excellence Annual Conference on 23rd November 2016. Book your tickets here.