Britain’s voice at the IOC is thrilled that city has ‘guarded and cherished’ the Olympic spirit and is sure the cynics will be proved wrong
Sir Craig Reedie is often asked whether it is impossible for London to match Beijing’s amazing Olympics. “We don’t need to,” answers the only Briton on the executive of the International Olympic Committee.
“The Beijing Games were the greatest celebration of national pride by the biggest country in the world. We will do it differently.
“As I said to my fellow IOC members in Singapore, if they voted for London to stage the Games, we would guard the Olympic spirit, cherish it and proudly hand it on. We have guarded and cherished it and now have one month to proudly hand it on.”
On Thursday, the day before the opening ceremony, Reedie could be elected as one of two new vice-presidents of the IOC. If that happens he will be the first Briton in the role since Lord Burghley 46 years ago.
These days, Olympic officials hold Britain in such high regard that IOC president Jacques Rogge spoke at the weekend of the Games coming back to the country which invented modern sport. However, the mood was very different in 1994 when Reedie, then chairman of the British Olympic Association, was elected to the IOC. Britain looked like a country with an Olympic past and no future.
That year Manchester lost out to Sydney for the right to stage the 2000 Games, having already missed out to Atlanta for the 1996 edition. Those two disappointments followed Birmingham’s failed attempt to stage the 1992 Games which went to Barcelona.
“We had to find out why regional British cities couldn’t win,” he says. “It took us no time to work out that, if we came back into the bidding business, it should be with London. The world wants to come to London.”
Could it also be that the wives of his IOC colleagues like going to Harrods and other London shops? “You’re being cynical,” says the 71-year-old sharply.
“To host an Olympics, you need size. Manchester is a booming city but it has about two and a half million people. Sydney was four million people and it was only just big enough to host the Games. But it took quite a long time to put a London bid together.”
And, even then, it nearly came unstuck at the shortlist stage. Not only was London ranked fourth behind Paris, Madrid and New York but the 2012 bid leader, Barbara Cassani, resigned. Not everyone was convinced that Seb Coe should succeed her.
Richard Caborn, then sports minister, had to persuade the deputy prime minister John Prescott, who was not happy about a Tory leading the bid. Reedie had his own doubts about Coe and met the former Olympic champion at the Trafalgar Hilton hotel before agreeing to his appointment
“I told him it was serious, it would involve a huge effort and it was not something he could do two days a week. Seb said he understood so I advised him to go to Barcelona to see Juan Antonio Samaranch [the former IOC president] who thought very highly of Seb, as it would send all the right messages that the leader of a London bid understood how the IOC worked.
“It was quite brave to make him leader but, boy, has it worked. His political skills have been considerable. His media skills are without par. He is outstanding in every way. Having won the bid, then it was a question of putting together the right people in the right places.”
A bold claim given the G4S security fiasco but Reedie defends the organisers. “I don’t think it could have been foreseen that a company, which routinely has hundreds of thousands of employees all round the world and are absolute experts at this, should have found it so difficult to do what they were asked to do. I was surprised to hear the story when it broke a few days ago but Locog are involved with the Government in solving the problem.”
However, the Scottish lawyer is more defensive when I ask him about the IOC members being treated like visiting heads of state. The evidence can be seen at the plush Park Lane hotel which has been barricaded to protect them.
“The IOC are made up of volunteers. I get $6,000 a year as a contribution to my mobile phone and postage costs. We get a stipend when we’re on IOC business but not a salary. It is somewhere around $150-$250 a day. I’m not doing this for the money. I couldn’t do this unless I had other resources.”
Such voluntary work may be ¬admirable but surely the IOC are being ruthless in -protecting their sponsors, rigorously policing any unauthorised use of Olympic emblems? Reedie’s argument is that, with the money from the top 11 sponsors for the Vancouver and London Games combined close to $1billion, the IOC have managed a unique marriage between sport and Mammon.
“Unlike all other sporting events, we do not allow advertising around the field of play. We try to make sure that nothing takes the attention of the spectators away from the sports action. The sponsors enter into long-term contracts where they are committing literally tens of millions of dollars. They are entitled to an element of exclusivity.
“Within a certain area of the city, billboards have to be protected [from advertising rival products]. But it’s for a limited period. That’s fair enough.”
Reedie goes so far as to argue that the IOC money keeps world sport going. “In a four-year Olympic cycle, the IOC raise the thick end of $5billion, of which 94 per cent is distributed to the cities organising the Winter and Summer Games, to the 205 national Olympic committees and to every international sports federation which belongs to the Olympic movement. All of them need the money, with the possible exception of FIFA.”
But can this justify sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, some of whose products have been criticised for not promoting healthy bodies?
Reedie’s defence is stout. “Without sponsorship from major worldwide companies, a truly worldwide event will struggle to raise the necessary funds. Should we just turn round and take a view that we don’t much like the colour of his eyes, so we won’t do business with him. Both McDonald’s and Coke have been inventive in trying to improve their products. I’ve seen some of Coke’s presentations which will be all over London during the Games. They are mainly based on Coke Zero. These are responsible companies.”
And, despite the fact some people seem to be approaching the Games in a grumpy mood, Reedie is certain the public are behind the Olympics.
“I took the torch to Northern Ireland. It has had one of the highest approval ratings for the Games of anywhere in the country. We live in a healthy democracy. If you can get between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of the people supporting you, you’re doing pretty well.”
Reedie admits that lack of enthusiasm for football, where Britain are competing for the first time since 1960, is a problem but is confident the Games will be one to remember.
He says: “In football, they have blanked out bits of the stadia because they will not sell out so that it looks better. There is some evidence of less enthusiasm in Scotland. Maybe that’s got something to do with the political situation up there.
“I have no worries about our ability to arrange good facilities. If you do that, with all the best athletes in the world coming, you will get really good sport and attract the crowds.
“I hope there will be a real buzz. I want every restaurant and pub in Westminster to get a late licence so we can have a party after the sport.”