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The Logistics of Hosting The Olympics

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Ever wondered just how logistically insane the Olympics are? Me too.

A 17-day event that requires a decade to prepare for must be complicated.

Cities throughout history have managed to underestimate the cost so significantly, they have ended up in $1.5 billion in debt (you impressed us, Montreal).

Year after year, countries underestimate just how challenging, expensive, and complicated hosting the Olympics can be. No feat is greater, in my opinion. However, getting the logistics of Olympics right isn’t so different from getting the logistics of any large event right—just on a much bigger scale.

Events like this must have strict guidelines and requirements. The IOC’s Operational Requirement Contract is so detailed that it covers everything from the number of seats required in each venue to the required differing degrees of lighting for each camera used to broadcast the events.

By looking at what goes into planning and executing such a large event as the Olympics, your business can gain better insight into its own planning processes. It’s like watching F1 racing, but learning something about your own driving.

At the end of this piece you’ll understand the importance of logistical planning in every aspect of business regardless of size.

The Olympic lingo

Just as an FYI, here is a list of about 472 acronyms you’ll need to know if you want to host the Olympics.

But the following are the ones you’ll need to know for this article:

OCOG = Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games

IF = International Federation

OBS = Olympic Broadcasting Services

ITO = International Technical Officials’

NTO = National Technical Official

Olympic Rings (Source) Now let’s highlight a few key logistical plans that are vital for the smooth functioning of the Olympics just to get a small idea of what’s involved.

Transportation

Let’s start with transportation. This covers airports, train lines, and general transportation from hotels to events, etc.

The transportation project for the Olympics is “the most complex transport operation to cope with 1.5 to 2 million supplementary daily journeys in the Host City.” That is a lot of additional journeys.

According to the IOC’s host city contract, there must be free access to public transport for all persons with an accredited Olympic pass. Transportation between host city and other “co-host” cities across the country must be made available. The host city must “provide specialist vehicles and/or motorbikes to the OCOG’s Sport Team, IFs, OBS Crews and photographers involved in road cycling, marathon and race walking,” and all travel expenses for ITOs and NTOs must be paid for.

There have been a few hits and misses with transportation plans in the past.

Beijing seems to have hit it. More than $20 billion was invested into urban transportation for the 2008 Olympics:

This included:

  • Adding a third runway at the Beijing Capital Airport, tripling its possible capacity of inbound and outbound passengers
  • Improving the metropolitan roads and adding two capital airport motorway links, which reduced congestion during and after the games
  • Creating five new train lines, including a line that accessed the airport
  • Expanding the bus system to 20,000 vehicles, which were environmentally friendly and cleaner

Beijing Airport Line (Source)

Not only did Beijing implement some strategic transportation plans, these added public systems resulted in a 55% traffic reduction during the games. This also resulted in a significant reduction in air pollution, temporarily

With the need for a massive increase in transport production, comes the need for these bodies to sleep somewhere.

Which brings us to having to put a roof over all these visitors’ heads.

Accommodations

According to our trusty host city contract, all athletes and those involved in an acronym-type group need accommodations for the following duration of time:

Accommodation time period requirements (Source)

The handbook puts a significant amount of emphasis on ensuring reasonably priced rooms. Rio took that to a whole new level and apparently wanted the athletes to get what they paid for (my favorite Rio horror stories are #10 and 12).

The IOC requires each host city to have approximately 41,001 rooms (very specific), for all IOC stakeholders. However, this does not accommodate spectators.

The number of rooms and their star rating for each group of persons involved in the Olympics is clearly stated in the IOC contract. The following points are a snippet of some of the requirements for the Olympic Village:

  • “effective management and oversight of all village operations;
  • convenient village accommodation, capacity and service requirements;
  • efficient travel times to competition venues, and to any other official accommodation;
  • consistent controlled access for media and guests; and
  • a high-level food service that meets the cultural and dietary needs of the athletes”

…all of which Rio failed at.

Speaking of food, who’s hungry?

Food

Athletes eat a lot of food… tons in fact. So how does the host city go about feeding this influx of hangry, testosterone-driven beasts, who can’t seem to be pleased with hotel rooms that leak and have exposed wiring? Needy, am I right?

The IOC requires the Olympic Village to “provide food services 24 hours per day (including hot meals) at the main dining hall.”

Beijing Olympic Kitchen (Source)

But how do you go about getting (safe) food to the city. That’s got to be a large scale production nightmare (again, Rio never ceases to surprise).

The U.K. hosted one of the most well-planned Olympics in history in 2012. This report analyzes the logistics of everything from linen to waste collection.

Bidvest Logistics was in charge of the London Olympic catering. “Despite rescheduling its London services to night-time and carrying more in half the time, Bidvest achieved 4,999 out of 5,000 deliveries during the Olympics.”

Bidvest also achieved all this with only 18 months of planning.

So on top of hosting the Olympics, Bidvest managed to meet all Olympics requirements and deadlines and managed to restructure their operations for 17 days to meet their day-to-day deliveries as well.

Now that’s impressive.

Athens, 2004, provided some fun stats

“At the Games’ peak, 7,000 people might pour into the cafeteria at once. Sixty thousand dishes, prepared by 700 chefs and cooks, was an average day. Crane said 225,000 pounds of seafood would be ordered for the athletes by the end of the Games, along with 119,610 pounds of beef, 71,920 pounds of lamb, 4,706 pounds of garlic, 2,697 gallons of olive oil, 19,547 pounds of olives, 75,856 pounds of salad greens and 176,334 pounds of potatoes.”

At its peak, the athlete village kitchen prepared 60,000 meals daily, produced from daily shipments of 210,000 kilograms (460,000 pounds) of raw ingredients—all served up on four million biodegradable plates for 18,000 athletes, coaches, and staff.

Personally, I think hiring enough people to manage all this food alone would outweigh the benefits of hosting the Olympics… which is why the Olympics are essentially run by volunteers.

Volunteers

According to our good friend the Olympic contract, the Beijing Olympics had 1,125,799 people apply to volunteer.

The Sydney Olympics had 40,000 volunteers that were estimated to have saved the city $60 million in wages. At the Rio Olympics, 70,000 volunteers saved them $100 million over having to pay minimum wage workers. This would have raised the entire cost of hosting the Olympics by three percent.

Sydney Olympic Volunteers (Source)

When we’re talking about billions of dollars, that’s a significant increase.

We salute you, volunteers—even if at times you didn’t want to show up.

Conclusion

The Olympics are a crazy logistical challenge. If cities pull it off, they are hailed as heroes. If they don’t, it’s actually totally expected.

You’re given ten years to prepare but it’s all about the strategic planning and logistical aspects. If these aren’t in place… there’s no point even hosting.

If you are further interested in successful ways to plan the Olympics, here is a short how-to guide you might be able to pass on to your state governor, if the topic arises.

Thankfully, your business doesn’t have to host the Olympics but if you need help managing logistics, check out Capterra’s logistics software directory.

Looking for Logistics software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Logistics software solutions.

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Comments

Hosting Olympics is a giant feat but hosting FIFA? That is another monster in itself. After reading this, I’m seriously thinking how Qatar will pull it off.

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