Bench strength: Winter Olympics 2010

Major sporting events can boost economies, while giving people a boost too. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, which were pulled off to great applause despite the odds, were no exception. How was it done, and what lessons did the organisers learn? We spoke with John Furlong, who headed up the organising committee responsible for the games.

“We were not given a get-out-of-jail card by governments,” says John Furlong. “A one-dollar deficit would have been unforgivable.” The CEO of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) was referring to the CAN$1.75 million operating budget for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr Furlong dismisses the notion that he was creative in getting the Olympics under way in the midst of the economic crisis. “It wasn’t creativity,” he says. “We were fighting for our lives.”

It was a good fight, better than anyone had imagined, and not just economically. Canada won 14 gold medals, the highest number of medals won by a country in a single Olympic year. Not only that, it took the gold in the sport that for many defines the nation: ice hockey. Canada was jubilant.

“Canada did not have an Olympic experience of its own,” says Mr Furlong. “It had a profound effect on the country.”

How did he navigate the slalom of the economic crisis? The answer was to pull in the crowds, not least because if Canadians were spared the demoralising sight of vacant stands, they were more likely to cheer for their athletes. “I remember that when I was in Beijing, at some events over half the seats were empty. So what we did was set up a bartering system. People who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend one event could exchange their tickets with someone who did. That way, we always had a full house.”

Confidence was vital to the success of the games. The economic crisis had left financial partners grimacing. “There were dire predictions that General Motors would fail. We decided to believe they would not fail. And they came through. No one wanted to let us down because of what it meant to the country. None of our partners failed us.”

Hosting global events such as the Olympics can be harrowing, as OECD studies have shown. Organisation, budgeting and the economic aftermath of an event can burnish or tarnish a host country’s image. The OECD notes that the scope and sustainability of the post-Games legacy is a major factor in the evaluation of Olympic bids.



Mr Furlong chose to make confidence and trust a point of policy. Organisers had worried that the 45,000-kilometer torch run, the longest in any host country, which would pass through more than 1,000 cities and towns, might meet resistance from some aboriginal communities. Mr Furlong invited them to participate. “We tried to build a relationship with every community in the country,” he says. This led to a CAN$15 million contract with aboriginal firms to do some preliminary construction. “We bet the farm on these relationships,” he says, “and we were so pleased by the result that we upped that to CAN$50-million dollar contract.”

In 2010 Mr Furlong was nominated one of 25 “Transformational Canadians”, who immeasurably improved the lives of others. And today he is much sought after as a speaker at public policy forums and business conferences. Although the full weight of the economic and social impact of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games is still not in, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that in the first three months of 2010, they generated CAN$862 million in real GDP and created or supported 17,000 jobs.

The economic benefits, Mr Furlong admits, were not the first thing on his mind. “Our priority was to leave Canadians with a profound human experience.” Few would doubt that his organising team accomplished that goal. The success of the Winter Olympics has been credited to Mr Furlong’s managerial talents, frugality and policy of inclusiveness. But the real reason, he says, was the public. “The public was the bench strength of the games.” When Sidney Crosby netted that puck for the gold in hockey, “every Canadian was on the ice. The games were seen as a metaphor of what was possible.”


References

PricewaterhouseCoopers (2010], “The Games Effect: Report No. 6: Preliminary Economic Impact of the 2010 Winter Olympics on British Columbia and Canada”.

OECD (2010), Local Development Benefits from Staging Global Events.

See www.JohnFurlong.ca


©OECD Observer No 284, Q1 2011




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.7% Q2 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Sept 2017 annual
Trade: +1.4% exp, +1.7% imp, Q2 2017
Unemployment: 5.7% Sept 2017
Last update: 14 Nov 2017

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • The annual OECD Eurasia Week takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan 23-25 October. Writing in The Astana Times, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urges Eurasia countries to stay the course on openness and international integration, which has brought prosperity but also disillusionment, notably regarding inequality. The OECD is working with this key region, and Mr Gurría urges Eurasia to focus on human capital and innovation to enhance productivity and people’s well-being. Read more.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017