Adrenaline is a very well-known quantity for athletes but it’s exerted in short bursts for competitive edge. For events organisers, putting together the first-ever European multi-sport championships in Glasgow, the performance-enhancing hormone is building up now and has got to last all the way till August next year.
When I speak to Colin Hartley, Director of Glasgow 2018 European Championships, to give the event its proper title, I get a very real sense of a ‘busy man’, given the fact I could only secure an interview slot at 8:30am on the morning after a General Election.
I have been keenly tracking the progress of this ‘new’ event through occasional press releases, and a considerable ramping up has been noticeable in the last few weeks: from recruitment opportunities such as guest and hospitality manager to film maker and uniforms officer, to the launch of ticket sales, Hartley’s 100-odd core event staff are visibly moving up a gear as they prepare to deliver another sporting showcase – in partnership with Berlin which will host the athletics – that will be Scotland’s largest-ever event after the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
With its now established pedigree for multi-sport and multi-venue events, Glasgow is perhaps an apt choice, and the city is indeed ranked in the top five sports host cities globally, ahead of Los Angeles, Toyko, Sydney and Paris.
But unlike other cities vying for consideration of an accolade by the SportBusiness Ultimate Sports Cities Awards, it is being asked to stage an entirely new and untested event after six European sports federations decided to unify their individual sports under the umbrella of a single event.
Of course, economics had more than a part to play in that decision: there is a hope among the federations that a ‘spectacle’ event over 11 days combining sports as diverse and complimentary as cycling, triathlon, and swimming will attract much larger television audiences, and with the addition of a cultural programme running in parallel that it will reach beyond the confines of the deeply committed and passing interest sports fan.
It is, though, a big ‘if’ and Hartley – who has never delivered a multi-sport event in a directorship role (albeit he was very successful in running the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, to great acclaim) – is very aware of the challenge.
“It’s as full-on as any events job that I’ve had,” he admits. “It’s completely intense just now and it will continue right through but, again, every day is completely different as anyone who works in events knows and that’s what keeps us going. The adrenaline is there now and it will continue right through. “From inception to delivery it’s not much more than about two years between the concept and being fully realised – it’s quite a rapid growth so it’s been a challenge to establish an office and a team. We’ve got 100 staff just now and that will increase to a couple of hundred by the end of this year so it’s a big operation but we’re relishing it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else that’s for sure.”
Hartley wisely doesn’t mention the word ‘risk’, even though I do, but he does acknowledge the event is “phenomenally complex”, given the multi-factorial challenges of dealing with different sporting bodies with different demands, although he seems very confident that Glasgow can pull it off. There is no doubt it is a massively scaled down version of the Commonwealth Games – there is no athlete’s village or extravagant opening or closing ceremonies, for example – but there is a legacy of people who have worked on such an event (including Hartley himself) and volunteers will also play a part.
Hartley does give me a fascinating insight into the creative planning, though, and reveals that George Square will play a central part as a broadcasting, cultural and sporting hub that will hopefully act as a focal point for the entire event. He says the square will act as a ‘come-and-go’ centre for the duration and whilst he is tight-lipped about the exact nature of what he terms ‘opening and closing events’ rather than ‘ceremonies’, it is likely that George Square will be fundamental to those plans.
“For this event, we’ve made a decision fairly early on in terms of opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies that we’re not going to have something of a scale that requires its own stadium and its own quite extensive budget,” he says. “That was quite a conscious decision. We will have an opening event of course somewhere in the city and a closing event, but far more down-to-earth and efficient.”
“George Square will be a live site that certainly celebrates the grandeur of the setting – it will be a great position for broadcast and we have three days of sport going through George Square as well, with the cycling events, so it will be a real mix of sport, culture and broadcast opportunities and very close by we’ve got the Merchant City Festival which will be a much more street level multi-arts festival.”
He adds: “I think it’s really fresh; a lot of people look at opening ceremonies and I think it does split opinion in terms of the resources that go into them; they’re always very enjoyable but are they worth the cost is the question. So, we’ve taken a decision to have a cultural programme over 11 days of amazing content and celebration as opposed to putting all our eggs into those big opening and closing moments.”
What is also innovative is for the project ¬- under the overall direction and management of Glasgow City Council, of which Hartley is part – to combine its sporting and cultural programme in one events planning team, unlike the Commonwealth Games where they were distinct.
“Sport has to be perfectly organised, that goes without saying,” he adds. “But what makes it special on the multi-sport platform is the atmosphere in the city, the colour and the noise, and that comes about as part of the cultural programme. It’s a key part of what we’re doing and of our organising structure.”
Police Scotland is also embedded as part of the core event delivery team; with the recent terror attacks in London and Manchester, it is a decision that had already been taken and Hartley is keen to stress security is something he takes “very seriously”. It is manifestly too early to plan what resources will need to be put in place for the duration of the event but policing will be ‘intelligence-led’, meaning that decision will not be taken until much closer to the event itself.
“It’s far too early to say what might affect things in a year’s time but we certainly rely on Police Scotland to give us advice and guidance on how we plan our security,” he says. “This is the second biggest event that Scotland will ever have hosted after the Commonwealth Games; it’s a significant event with a significant footprint.” He adds: “We’ve got 12 competition venues, we’ve got live sites, we’ve got generally more people in the city and across the neighbouring local authority areas; there’s no doubt that obviously aligns with it being a high-profile event and we just need to plan that accordingly.”
The metrics of success for mega events nowadays tend to obsess on the rather all-encompassing and difficult-to-pin-down concept of ‘legacy’, which can self-evidently be widely interpreted and misinterpreted to mean everything and nothing. I’m keen to understand how Hartley himself will judge the success of this untried event and it’s refreshing to hear that his iron focus is on ticket sales (he’s hoping for a quarter of a million) and making the federations happy. “I think for me success, for the team, will be the individual sports, that we delivered their best-ever European championships and therefore as an umbrella, unified event, we created something that every sport is delighted about,” he says. “Success for me will not be that we deliver four of the six sports well and two are either just a wee bit happy or not happy, that wouldn’t work for us. We’ve got to deliver every sport to its best-ever level.”
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1. To be staged every four years the European Championships will combine the existing European Championships of Athletics, Aquatics, Cycling, Gymnastics, Rowing and Triathlon with a new Golf team event; organisers have agreed on an 11-day sports programme (2-12 August 2018), with 10 days of television coverage starting on Friday 3 August.
2. The European Aquatic Championships will take place at Glasgow’s Tollcross International Swimming Centre, with diving and synchronised swimming taking place at Edinburgh’s Royal Commonwealth Pool and open water swimming being staged at Loch Lomond.
3. Four European Cycling Championships will be staged in Glasgow. Track, Road, Mountain Bike and BMX will attract 650 of Europe’s top names to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, the Cathkin Braes Mountain Bike Trails, the streets of Glasgow and a new world championship and Olympic standard BMX track to be built in the Knightswood area of the city.
4. The European Golf Team Championships will take place at the Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course.
5. The European Artistic Gymnastics Men’s and Women’s Championships will be staged at The SSE Hydro, the venue for the 2015 FIG World Gymnastics Championships.
6. The European Championships for both Rowing and Triathlon will both be staged at Strathclyde Country Park in North Lanarkshire.