Speakers at Host City 2020 are shedding new light on how rights holders and organising committees are adapting to the impacts of the COVID-2019 pandemic.
The largest annual meeting of cities and sports, business and cultural events, is being held virtually to debate the theme of “The Big Restart” and evaluate how event stakeholders can bring about “Recovery with a Purpose for the Digital Age”.
The two-day conference opened on Tuesday with welcome addresses from its supporting partners, Paul Bush OBE, Director of Events at VisitScotland, and Dr. Bridget McConnell CBE, Chief Executive of Glasgow Life.
Bush sounded an optimistic note despite the difficulties being experienced by many in the events industry due to coronavirus. He said the next few years may be challenging for everyone: “We have not lost our drive, ambition and determination for Scotland to continue to be the perfect stage for events.
“We as an industry will have to be even more focused, brave and ambitious along with seeking logical pragmatic solutions that are evidence based.”
McConnell outlined Glasgow’s rich heritage and expertise in staging international events. She noted the roster of upcoming events including holding UEFA Euro 2020 matches and the UCI Cycling World Championships in 2023, the year Glasgow is European Capital of Sport.
She spoke about the need for event organisers to remain ambitious, bolster strategic partnerships and focus on innovation and citizen engagement to deliver their visions.
Keynote addresses were given by Sir Craig Reedie GBE, a member of the International Olympic Committee, Etienne Thobois, CEO of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and H.E. Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai.
Thobois said COVID-19 had forced Paris 2024 to “review our priorities and adapt our planning… but our vision has not changed”. There was a renewed focus on promoting sports participation, using sport as a tool to change society and showing through a major public engagement program that “everyone can play a role”. He cited the Le Club Paris 2024 digital platform as one area where the organising committee was increasing engagement to maximize the social impact of the Games.
Expo 2020 Dubai was scheduled to be one of this year’s biggest international events before it fell victim to COVID-19. Al Hashimy told said that when it runs from 1 October 2021 it may be the first mega-event to take place in the wake of the global pandemic.
Commenting on the resilience of Dubai, she said the Expo was a product of extensive international cooperation and even at the height of the pandemic “work continued apace with its partners”. The bulk of construction for the Expo will be completed in the next few weeks.
In the first panel ‘Hosting with a purpose in the digital, post-Covid era’, Paul Foster, COO of the Global Esports Federation, talked about the importance of connecting with Esports audiences, athletes and the communities in a sustainable and dynamic way. The huge growth of Esports, which has triggered plans to stage the first Global Esports Games in December 2021, was an opportunity for host cities “to think about how we consume entertainment”.
Despite the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to next summer, Reedie said the IOC was confident in Japan delivering and getting crowds back to sport, encouraged by the fact that Japan was now bringing spectators into baseball and soccer matches.
The theme of adaptability surfaced again and again in conference panels related to the repercussions of COVID-2019.
In one titled ‘Preparing to deliver the greatest shows on earth’, Paris 2024’s Thobois said the biggest shift for Olympic organisers was integrating new hires into the team while adopting a working from home philosophy during the pandemic. But he said Games preparations were “very much on time and on target into terms of planning” with construction on a limited number of projects due to start in early 2021.
Ian Reid, CEO of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, said the shake-up of the 2022 events calendar to incorporate the rescheduled world and European athletics championships in Oregon and Munich respectively, together with the 2022 UEFA Women's Championship, was one challenge.
Reid said the athletes’ village for Birmingham 2022 had “fallen foul to COVID” but led to a multiple village model welcomed by the Games family: “It has de-risked the project”. The impact of coronavirus lockdowns on office working was also being felt. Hiring through the pandemic has seen staff grow from 80 to 250; procurement had also become more difficult as Birmingham accelerates its preparations.
A panel discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement evaluated whether it was causing sports, business and cultural events industries to change for the better.
Densign White, Chair of Sporting Equals and CEO of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, said BLM had made people more aware about institutional racism and forced organizations “to rethink and re-evaluate how they do things to be more diverse and more inclusive”.
But he raised concerns about the ongoing lack of diversity in ethnic minority representation in the leadership of sport at board level and in coaching: “There’s a lot of talk but the needle has hardly moved into terms of those numbers”
“Unless there are targets and consequences for governing bodies for not making sure targets are met I don’t think we are going to see any change,” he said.
In a session on inclusion and diversity in the boardroom and playing field, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, winner of 16 Paralympic medals in a glittering career, said sports bodies needed to listen to the lived experience of disabled people and include more of them in coaching and administrator roles
On a future event delivery panels, Bruno Marie-Rose, Director of Technology at Paris 2024, said the organising committee was harnessing digital platforms to connect with the French population. Technology was also being used to contribute to the Games’ neutral carbon goal, he added.
Elsewhere on Day One, Saoud Al Ansari, Precinct Director of Al Thumama Stadium, Competition Venues, Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, gave an update about progress across the project. He spoke about the organiser’s responsibilities to deliver an outstanding World Cup while aligning with the long-term legacy vision of Qatar.
Three of the eight host stadiums are finished. All venues in the compact host city plan are within 75km distance, a “strong advantage for players and the fans,” Al Ansari said.
‘How major events are contributing to environmental goals’ was an interesting panel. Georgina Grenon, Director of Environmental Excellence for Paris 2024, said the environment was a focus in early concepts of Games preparations. It had guided decisions including a sustainable procurement strategy and throughout the supply chain.
Wrapping up the day was a session looking at ‘Aligning event strategies with green city plans.’
Tim Briercliffe, Secretary General, AIPH – International Association of Horticultural Producers, said global horticultural expos “provide a great opportunity to showcase green innovation and to set the scene for the development of a city into the future”. They also provided huge economic benefits and stimulate environmental and sustainable best practices.