WORLD CUP, AHOY!
The various sporting event management experts who gathered at Josoor Institute's ‘Introduction to Running Major Events' weighed in on various issues ranging from preparing a winning bid to delivering a safe and secure event.
The various sporting event management experts who gathered at Josoor Institute's "Introduction to Running Major Events" weighed in on issues ranging from preparing a winning bid to delivering a safe and secure event.
"More often than not, it's the media, not the public, which decides the success or failure of an event."
While the debate about Qatar being allowed to host the World Cup rages on outside, within the country there is a quiet and determined progress on knowledge accumulation. The credentials of the speakers invited to the two-day lecture series on preparing for major sporting events, some of whom were top names behind the most successful and celebrated of sporting ventures of recent times, emphases goes to show Qatar's commitment to learn from the best and implement those lessons to live up to its Expect Amazing campaign. We had a chat on the sidelines with a very engaging speaker with a deep connection to the FIFA 2022 World Cup bid – Nigel Rushman of Rushmans which was behind Qatar's winning bid..
From bid to kickoff
Nigel Rushman is a veteran of many a mega-sporting event. With his firm specialising in several verticals like media services, accreditation, safety and security, staffing, etc., Rushman has been part of some of the biggest sports tournaments of the past decade, often as a consultant to bidding countries (as in the case of Qatar) and sometimes delivering end-to-end solutions, like in the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies, where he was contracted as the event director andwas in charge of almost every aspect of delivery of the megacricketing spectacle.
The first order of business for an organisation committee after winning a bid is zeroing down on its hosting strategy, according to Rushman. Qatar, post 2010, would have sat down and taken a long hard look at how it's going to go about hosting the cup within the guidelines and regulations laid down by FIFA and introspect on its event management capabilities with respect to all the specific functional areas and services. With this in place, it would have gone ahead to call in the expertise of sporting professionals and organisations either to help with the planning or train their own people. It looks like Qatar, with more lead time than any other country in the past, is opting for a combination of the two.
“Young people in Qatar [outside the Supreme Committee] don't want to go to the other end of the world and to learn the event management business,” Rushman says. “They'd much rather be trained by institutes like Josoor.”
“There are a lot of specialist agencies and we can only survive by operating globally,” says Rushman whose team, which has
numbered between 50 and 2,000 in the past, has presence in several far-flung countries like the UK, Monaco, Qatar, South Africa and Russia. “Our business model is to recruit as many people as possible in the country we are working so at the moment we have a team in Australia and New Zealand working on the next Cricket World Cup, and one just wrapping up affairs in the Caribbean where we were involved in the Caribbean Premier League,” he says.
For many working on these events for the first time, the pace of the work that goes into them comes as a shock; preparation that stretches back years, leading up to a frenzied few weeks before the event, the execution and the almost anti-climatic winding down. “Running a mega-event is like building a company for years, running it for a few months and then dismantling it after,” he says. For the local organisers it could be pretty traumatic, saying goodbye after working together on a project for months on end. But for Rushman and his fellow specialists, it's on the next country and the next event, where, more often than not, they bump into the same people all over again. At London Olympics 2012, Rushmans was involved in running the media centre, studio sets and the London Ambassador volunteer programme among others. “The Olympics is superbly complex with many sports spanning many locations, all requiring different specialists down to photographers and television crews,” he says. But whatever be the event, you'll find a Rushmans person involved; somewhere buried and out of sight but very present nonetheless, he says.
The media decides
One of the more interesting aspects of delivering events around the world for Rushman is the cultural differences, working with all kinds of people reacting in different ways to situations. “Through the course of my job I have made friends from Jamaica to the US to Russia and they all have their idiosyncrasies. The British are difficult to work with,” he laughs, “The Jamaicans have a kind of laconic approach to work. But it doesn't matter because the most important thing is to meet the expectations of the stakeholders.” In his experience, he has realised that, more often than not, it's the media, not the public, which decides the success or failure of an event. “Take the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Marred by logistic issues in the beginning and the bombing, the media declared that it was badly organised and wrote so everyday that it was the worst Olympics ever. But it wasn't.” This is why Rushman
says that it's doubly important to take good care of the press. “More people will see the World Cup in Qatar through the eyes of the media through television commentary, the social media and newsprint, if it still exists.”
But with the scathing media attacks of the last few months, has the media already passed judgment on the 2022 World Cup? Rushman denies that. “No. I don't think the media has already decided that the World Cup here is going to be bad. If you carefully look at media reaction to any major sporting event, a pattern emerges. At the beginning, when the bid is announced, the media always is skeptical, then comes the euphoria with the winning of the bid, followed by cynicism, doubt and fear, and finally the celebrations and the praise of the unworthy with the close of the event. It happens with all events and this is not just unique to Qatar which has come into a huge amount of unwanted media attention, especially in England.” He says none of the dedicated sports newspapers in mainland Europe has been as vitriolic as the “Murdoch press”. The newspapers in the UK have more sports pages than any other country on earth, he says. “You won't find any newspaper outside of the UK with 10-12 pages in the back dedicated to sports. And they have to fill it. And when there's nothing else of going on, they probably say to themselves, ‘Let's have another bash at Qatar. That's worth a go'.”
“If you were in Asia you might not even know of the criticisms,” he says. There is a particular cynicism and aggression in the English media, he says. “It was a huge incomprehensible surprise to the world of football when Qatar won the bid, this tiny country with all the obvious challenges. I don't think they have gotten over it yet. But they will,” he says reassuringly." And it will get better.”
The best bid won
Qatar won the right to host FIFA 2022 World Cup because it put forth a “much better considered and constructed bid,” Rushman says firmly adding that he'll go to his grave saying that. “The bid was very well focused on winning and there were so many reasons why Qatar won. FIFA was keen to take the World Cup to new areas – South Africa, Russia, the Middle East. From Qatar it could reach out to a third of the world's population in Asia and it was in a great time zone for television, with matches being screened during the prime broadcast time in Europe.” He also gives an example of the bid presentations to point out the little things that mattered in the end. “Out of the 22 members the FIFA Executive Committee, only four were native English speakers. But Qatar was the only country that presented in English, French and Spanish. The English bid spoke about how wonderful their premiership football is what which, was not the Executive Committee wanted to hear; it was so wonderful because they were stealing players from the European leagues. The moment I heard them talking about the EPL, I knew that they had lost their bid.”
So despite all the allegations around Qatar's bidding process, Rushman says there is nothing he would do differently if given the chance. “We knew even while bidding that we'd be highly scrutinised if we won and so were extra diligent even when others were bending the rules of the bid. We certainly anticipated these problems [ but I didn't expect it'd be quite so ferocious]; the corruption charges might have come anyways. People would have been curious, envious, disbelieving that Qatar won the bid on its merits no matter what we did,” he says.
But it did. Each bidder would fully use whatever resources they had at their disposal and for Qatar one of those resources happens to be money. Rushman explains how the two World Cups that were awarded simultaneously to Russia and Qatar make better business sense. “These were the only countries that had no economic challenges, were hugely wealthy and most likely to stage the best world cup under the circumstances. England was broke with not much government funding in sight. FIFA didn't want to host across two countries again (Japan and Korea), the USA was in the throes of a major recession. And here were the deep-pocketed Russian and Qatari governments promising whatever was needed. If you were FIFA and 95% of your revenues came from the World Cup, which would be the safest way to go?” he asks quietly
(Top) Qatar wins the FIFA World Cup 2022 bid; attendence at the "Introduction to Major Events" course by Josoor Institute
Qatar is home to multi-purpose stadiums like the 40,000-seater Khalifa International Stadium which hosted the final of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup