Few things catalyze infrastructure faster than a major international sporting event. With thousands of spectators, hundreds of media, and scores of dignitaries descending on the host city from around the world, governments want to make sure civic infrastructure projects not only get done, but get done right.
Typically this is no ordinary infrastructure build: hard deadlines must be met, high standards and unique requirements must be incorporated, and budgets must be kept in check.
At risk is the reputation of both the event and the governments involved. Completed successfully, civic infrastructure demonstrates a government’s capability to deliver on massive and complex projects within a short and rigid timeframe. But inefficient – or worse, incomplete – civic infrastructure reduces the odds of creating a successful legacy for the event and leaves a lasting negative impression with attendees and viewers from around the world.
Government infrastructure planners and their partners should not only think about the short-term needs of the sporting event. They should also consider what the legacy of the event will be long after the games or competitions are over. Will citizens and taxpayers remember the event for bringing much needed revitalization to the host city or for building assets that the public will perceive to be “white elephants,” providing little to no ongoing benefit?
Combine all of this with notoriously long lead times for infrastructure builds, complex event-related security considerations, and the need to involve multiple levels of event stakeholders, and many government infrastructure planners quickly find themselves woefully behind schedule even before they have started.
So what can governments do to make sure that the awarding of a major sporting event becomes a catalyst for positive and sustainable change?
- Start early: By the time the event organizing committee first meets with government partners, critical time has already been lost. And since most games-related infrastructure projects are actually adaptations of existing (and often long-planned) civic plans, governments and organizing committees will need to work quickly to adapt the existing designs to comply with “Games Standards.”
- Think long-term: A four-lane highway to nowhere is an awful legacy to leave. When planning civic infrastructure projects, governments and their organizing committees should carefully balance the long-term needs of the local population against the short-term needs of the event. Particular attention should be placed on creating infrastructure that is financially sustainable and meets the real needs of the local community.
- Find new purchasing models: There are numerous ways that governments can reduce the cost and mitigate the risk of major event-related civic infrastructure delivery. In some cases, private-public partnerships (PPPs) can be created to bring in funding and reduce risk (particularly where long-term commercial benefit may exist, as is often the case with fibre-optic networks or mass transit systems). In others, planners may want to focus their attention on the structuring of contracts with a mind toward formalizing roles, deadlines and specifications.
Above all, governments and their games partners should strive to integrate all their plans and operations. Even some of the smallest changes during the planning of a major sporting event can have a ripple effect on civic infrastructure plans. Event planning committees should work closely with city planners, contractors and governments to ensure that their communication – and their vision – are integrated and aligned.
What’s more, the theme of integration will need to run throughout the games – and infrastructure – lifecycle: from planning and financing through to operations, execution and legacy, the strength and degree of integration can have a direct impact on the success of the project long into the future.
And – as we clearly saw last year in Vancouver – a successfully run event can not only be a boon for the reputation of a host city or region, it can also be a strong catalyst for driving sustainable civic infrastructure. Just ask any of the 110,000 Vancouver residents who use the Canada Line every day or the hundreds of thousands who safely drive the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
Joel Finlay is based in KPMG’s Vancouver office and is the global lead of the firm’s major sporting events practice (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Seven questions to ask before you build
- How will you balance the specific needs of the event against the long-term requirements of the local population?
- How will you build partnerships with private sector participants to effectively reduce risk and allocate costs?
- What is the best approach for integrating games specifications into existing infrastructure plans?
- How will the resulting services be financed and maintained in the long-term?
- How can contracts be structured to ensure that projects are delivered on time and on budget?
- How will you monitor the progress of multiple interdependent projects to ensure seamless integration and reduce inefficiencies?
- What financing options are available and what are the tax implications for each?