One Small Voice

2009-04-03 00:00

AROUND the world, well-paid armies of managers, writers, designers and gophers are preparing something called a “Bid Book”. These are comprehensive documents, offering chapter and verse on the bids by various cities and countries to stage one or other forthcoming major international sporting event.

Bid Books have recently been submitted to the International Olympic Committee by sharp-suited teams in the cities of Tokyo, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid as they compete to stage the summer Olympic Games in 2016.

Bid Books are also being created for the national rugby unions of South Africa, Ireland, England, Australia, Italy, Japan, Scotland and Wales, responding to the questionnaire issued by the International Rugby Board as they prepare to select host nations for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 or 2019.

More Bid Books are also being developed by the national football associations of England, Japan, Australia, Portugal and Spain, Holland and Belgium, USA, Indonesia, Qatar, Mexico, Russia and South Korea, all competitors in the crowded field racing to stage the Fifa World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

These structured documents, often running to three volumes, cover a variety of themes from match venues to ticketing, from governance to weather, from safety and security to the commercial and marketing conditions, from the transport plan to accommodation, and they are necessarily supported by the all-important blank cheques — the loosely-worded letters of financial guarantee demanded by the governing bodies and nervously signed by Finance Ministers on behalf of hopeful nations.

Visual impact is important. So professional photographers and pony-tailed graphic designers are contracted to pluck wild ideas from the deepest reaches of their imaginations. They usually start by proposing the use of high-profile sports stars, but then agents get involved, fees soar, budgets are cut, and most Bid Books end up featuring relatively inexpensive, smiling children of all backgrounds gambolling on grass in front of iconic buildings.

“Facts” inevitably need to be massaged. When Cape Town was bidding to host the 2004 Olympic Games, Bid Book editors fretted over their answer to a specific question about the number of days of precipitation (rain) between the dates allocated for the Games, based on meteorological records of the preceding 30 years.

With “a day of precipitation” officially defined as a day when more than three millimetres of rain fell, the city seemed compelled to report a dismal 11 days of precipitation in the 16 days.

However, this problem was creatively solved by the insertion of a small asterisk and an even smaller editor’s note confirming the definition of a “day of precipitation” as a day when more than five millimetres of rain fell. Thus, the book was able to report in large, bold, black type that, based on the records, the city could expect only three days of rain during the games.

Over the past 12 years, I have worked on no fewer than four Bid Books, namely the documents supporting the Cape Town 2004 Olympic bid, the 2006 Fifa World Cup bid, the 2010 Fifa World Cup bid and, most recently, SA Rugby’s bid to stage the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

A core team of experts in specific fields have contributed to each of these projects, developing a strong national skills base in this field. Indeed, the SA 2011 Bid Books has been widely recognised as meeting the highest international standards, providing all the nitty gritty information framed within the story of three young African rugby players — the then captain and vice-captain of the SA under-20 team and the captain of the Kenyan under-20 team — dreaming of starring at a tournament on their own soil.

All this is well and good. However, hand on heart, candidly, I believe the grim truth is that, with few exceptions, nobody ever read any of these four books. Nobody actually sat down and waded through the purple prose, the data and detail.

The simple reality is that bidding to host a major sporting event is an art, not a science. Bids are not won by beautifully printed Bid Books, presenting modern stadiums and impeccable transport systems. They are won by the dark arts of political manipulation, coercion and persuasion.

So the writing continues, but nobody is reading.

•Edward Griffiths is a journalist, author, former CEO of SA Rugby and general manager of SABC sport, and has been involved in various SA bid campaigns.

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