The Portland Interview

Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, answers our questions

2012 is a big year for London. What do you think the lasting legacy will be?
Of course, I want legacy in every manifestation possible. But I think I’ve always been clear that this has primarily been about more young people playing sport and then the clear economic and social dividend. We also have a Cultural Olympiad where we want young people involved in that community post the Games.

How will the London Olympics distinguish themselves from previous games?
All Games are different and that’s the beauty of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Having said that, over 80% of the project management is uniform. The closer you get to the field of play, the more so it becomes. But clearly London is a very different city from Beijing or Athens and we will showcase the creativity, diversity, tolerance and our unique ability to want to party on every possible occasion.

What is the biggest communications challenge for the games next year?
I’ve always instinctively understood that the most demanding stakeholder we have on our journey is the population of the country. Whether it’s those who live in the host boroughs, or those living in further flung communities in Scotland or Cornwall, but at all times communicating and engaging, explaining why, where, when and how. And particularly making the Games relevant to those living outside London and the South East.

What Games have ‘got it right’ in the past?
I’ve said all Games are different but if you pressed me, and I think most people in the Olympic movement, they would say that Sydney ticked many of the boxes.

How do you make this a non-London thing?
Communicating and engaging all the time is key. Many days a month I spend in communities from northern Scotland to Cornwall – and in the last few years witnessing all the extraordinary things that they have done to make the Games relevant to their local communities. Of course, the nation-wide involvement of our volunteers, the 20,000 schools signed up to our London 2012 education programme, our use of the “Inspire Mark”, which celebrates their contribution, often in the classroom to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and of course the Torch Relay that starts its 70 day journey next May and will reach 95% of the population – a journey of 8000 miles and 8000 torch bearers, all nominated to run because they’ve made a difference in their community.

Encouraging kids to get into sport is a key objective and schools could play an enormous role in this, especially after the games. What will you be doing with the education system to ensure you meet this legacy goal?
The responsibility for delivering legacy beyond the Games does not reside with the Organising Committee. In 2012 we will deliver and then dissolve. After that the responsibility lies with the government, its agencies and, of course, the Mayor. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary State for Culture, Media and Sport was very clear with me when he came into government that he wanted to use the Games to energise competitive sport in schools. Due to this he set up the new School Games and has provided £20 million of funding over the next two years. They will give every schoolchild the opportunity to take part and next year’s finals will take place in our London 2012 venues, including the Olympic Stadium. The Mayor has set up a fund of over £15m to encourage London schoolchildren to play more sport.

How can sponsors ensure they are genuine partners and not a necessary evil? What makes a good sponsor?
We could not have delivered these Games without the vision and generosity of our sponsors. Not just in providing a large chunk of the operating budget but also activating those sponsorships that help us meet our Bid ambitions.

A lot has been made of “ambush marketing”. Do you think you’re doing enough to protect sponsors?
Yes. This is a vital protection for organisations that have dedicated a discretionary spend towards the successful delivery of the biggest national event in the living memory of most people. Parliamentary legislation that was passed within the first year of the project gives them those guarantees, which will be rigorously implemented to protect their rights and, of course, the tax payer.

Is it really going to be the “most sustainable Games possible”? What role do you see sponsors playing in helping you achieve this?
I believe it will. Understandably, we set ourselves ambitious targets – that’s the way it should be. For me, sustainability deals with everything from the design and build of our venues, the standards we have set in the construction of residential property in the Park and the operational management of the Games, particularly waste management and emissions.

What is your own favourite Olympics moment both as an athlete and a fan?
As an athlete, successfully defending my 1500m title in LA in 1984. As a fan, the men’s 10,000m final in Sydney where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Paul Tergat from Kenya swapped the lead 3 times in the finishing straight – Gebrselassie finally tumbling over the line with a smaller margin of victory than in the men’s 100m final earlier that evening.

Lord Coe is a double Olympic Champion and 12-time world record holder in athletics. He became Chair of LOCOG after successfully chairing the London 2012 bid team.