The Evening Standard

Modern nations come together at Olympics or World Cups, not merely to prove athletic prowess on the field of play.

The off-the-field activities of their businessmen can be more lucrative than those of Chelsea footballer John Terry, as they seek money-making opportunities.

These global sporting events have now replaced the Victorian great exhibitions as the places to network and promote a nation’s trade. No country is more confident that it has got its “Olympics means business” message right than Britain.

So, although British winter athletes returned from Vancouver holding up the bottom of the Winter Games medals table along with Estonia and Kazakhstan, away from the ski slopes and ice venues, British officials have been hailing the Games as a triumph.

In Vancouver the British were determined to prove that, when it comes to wining, dining and holding breakfast meetings to promote trade, it will always be near the top of the medals table.

Nothing illustrated this better than the event held at Vancouver’s BC Place not long after Amy Williams had won Britain’s solitary gold in skeleton. Outside thousands of Canadians thronged Robson Square to toast their Olympic success. Inside this venue, advertised as Vancouver’s great business place, the British paraded what they saw as their unique trade skills.

A film called Love and Money was screened, a sort of business version of Love Actually. Meant to celebrate 50 years of Britain’s creative genius, it featured everything from the Mini and mini-skirt to Wallace & Gromit, CS Lewis, Damien Hirst, Hockney, Dyson, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Mary Quant, Roald Dahl and the Rolling Stones. With drinks and canapés on offer, and the great and good of British Olympics led by Sir Steve Redgrave, Princess Anne and Olympics minister Tessa Jowell in attendance, who could resist such a delightfully whimsical portrayal?

The event had been billed as British Olympians helping businesses to go for gold and its significance lay in the fact that the UK is the second largest destination for Canadian investment outside of the US, while Canada is the UK’s third largest export market outside Europe.

The British were not the only ones in search of lucre. Vancouver promoted itself as a convention centre hoping to share in the lucrative market that at present heads for nearby American cities like Seattle and San Francisco.

The national airline Air Canada, which over the years has had numerous financial problems, used the Games to re-establish itself as a major international carrier. And the neighbouring province of Alberta, to the annoyance of some locals, even borrowed Vancouver’s very own Rocky Mountaineer train to run special promotional trips.

But the British feel they have gone where no Olympic city has gone before. Through “Host2Host” agreements they target places staging major sporting events. So back in 2008 they signed an agreement with Vancouver.

Similar agreements have been signed with South Africa, World Cup hosts in the summer, Singapore, which stages the first youth Olympics in September, and Sochi, venue for the 2014 Winter Games. Rio, which will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, is the next target.

In Vancouver British officials also held talks with two of the cities hoping to win the 2018 Winter Olympics: Munich and PyeongChang.

The government estimates that Britain won £2 billion of business at the Beijing Olympics, the successful businesses including consultants Arup, who advised on Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium and the water complex.

In many ways PKL, a Cheltenham firm, illustrates how modern Olympics business works. Back in 1998 the organisers for the Sydney Games were looking for people to construct temporary kitchens. UK Trade and Investment put them in touch with PKL. They constructed one temporary kitchen at the Sydney Games.

Since then PKL has won the gold for constructing temporary Olympic kitchens — 30 in Athens, 26 in Beijing — and if they built only two in Vancouver this reflected the economic reality of the first bailout games.

Commercial director Peter Schad says: “We have developed a new niche and, with modern sporting events becoming the Victorian equivalent of the Crystal Palace exhibition, there are wonderful business opportunities.”

So much so that Lloyds Banking Group has doubled its estimate of how much business the 2012 Olympics will generate for the country. In 2005, when London won the games, it had estimated a figure of £10 billion, now it says it could be as much as £21 billion.

That may go the way of all economic forecasts but British officials are confident that they have fashioned an effective investment tool to help British business make money from major worldwide sporting events.

Where there is a sporting event there is money, is the British motto.


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