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Commercial Question

A Herculean task

updated on 27 July 2010


How many lawyers does it take to run an Olympics?


More than you may think…

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are one of the biggest sporting events on the planet - close to 1 billion people tuned in for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Games.

The London 2012 Olympic Games begin in exactly two years from now and will last for just 17 days (11 days for the Paralympic Games); but the planning for this four-week extravaganza stretches back into the last decade. The work of the lawyers involved in preparing for and staging such a spectacle will no doubt prove central to its success.

That's all well and good, but what do the lawyers do, exactly?

Getting the organisational structures and sponsorship in place
It is not simply a question of putting in a winning bid to host the games and then rolling up one's sleeves and getting stuck into building brand-new, state-of-the-art Olympic venues.

Who manages this process and where does the money come from?

First, the organisations responsible for delivering the games need to be set up. To do this, lawyers will need to be involved advising on the way these organisations are structured and how they should be governed; they will also draft agreements and advise on the legislation bringing these organisations into existence.

In the case of London 2012, the main organisational bodies include:

  • the Olympic Delivery Authority, which has responsibility for developing and building the new venues and infrastructure for the Games, and for their use after the 2012 event; and
  • the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which is responsible for preparing and staging the 2012 games.

These organisations cannot, however, deliver the 2012 games without money.

The £9 billion budget (approximately) for London 2012 is provided by a mixture of stakeholders (government bodies and charitable organisations such as the Department for Culture Media & Sport and the British Olympic Association). Additional revenue streams are provided through commercial partners, including a range of well-known corporate brands.

The lawyers' role in setting up and policing the contractual framework through which this revenue is sourced and filtered is central to the success of any Olympic Games.

Planning and procuring the works
Once the organisational and revenue structures are in place, attention can turn to the initial work of planning for, and procuring the services to build, the venues and infrastructure for the games.

However, before the first pile can be driven into the ground or the waterways dredged, the lawyers will be busy securing planning permission for the works. In the case of London 2012, every aspect of the build must meet stringent sustainability criteria and demonstrate its use post-Olympics (the 'legacy requirement'). Lawyers will play a pivotal role in ensuring that these requirements are set out in the contract documentation.

The lawyers will also be hard at work advising on procuring the services of contractors and other suppliers which will take on the task of building the infrastructure and venues for the games. Invitations to tender for various aspects of the works will be published, having been reviewed by the lawyers to ensure compliance with EU public procurement regulations. The bids submitted will be vetted by the lawyers to ascertain the level of compliance with the tender requirements.

Once the successful suppliers have been selected, the lawyers will finalise the contract documentation and appoint the suppliers to carry out the work. While this contract documentation has been standardised to ensure, among other things, certainty of risk transfer across the supply chain, the lawyers will be on hand to ensure that any bespoke requirements are effectively incorporated.

Building the venues and infrastructure for the games
With contractors and suppliers in place, work can commence on building the venues and infrastructure for the games, but the lawyers' work does not stop.

Those people responsible for project managing the construction phase will need legal advice on various issues arising as the build progresses, including health and safety, data protection, employment and insurance.

Protecting the brand
As well as advice in relation to the physical process of building the games, many lawyers will be involved with the protection of the Olympic brand.

Many companies pay an enormous amount of money to be associated with this unique brand, with some 'tier one' sponsors believed to be paying up to £80 million for the use of Olympic logos and slogans in their advertising.

However, the Olympic logos would be worthless if anyone and everyone could use them. A whole raft of legislation has been designed to protect an official sponsor's exclusive right to use the Olympic marks. The Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act 1995 created an 'Olympics association right' which is infringed by unauthorised use of any of the protected words or symbols, and the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 was brought in to prevent the creation of an unauthorised association between people, goods or services and the London 2012 Olympics.

Lawyers will be key in ensuring that these brands are protected and that any so called 'ambush marketing', whereby companies try to seek an association with the Olympic brand illegally, is stamped out.

The Olympics are not just about the games themselves. One of the reasons why London won the Olympic bid, and one of the ways in which it hopes London 2012 will stand apart from other Olympics, is the legacy that the games will create.

The Olympic Park and venues will need to be adapted to post-games use, with the venues themselves being descaled and transformed into facilities to be used by the local community. Lawyers will play their part in dealing with the contracts to bring this transformation into effect, as well as advising on various legal issues, including funding, planning and sustainability.

James Ladner and Charles Blamire-Brown are solicitors in the projects and construction group at Pinsent Masons LLP.