Charmaine: Live site legacies

With first hand knowledge of Olympic live sites, George P Johnson’s senior director of public events, Charmaine Dobson, looks at the pivotal role live sites play…

The Olympics, as everyone knows, is coming to town. But those 17 summer days devoted to challenge and achievement are not just about sport. The Olympic celebration is also about bringing people and communities together and leaving a lasting legacy for the host country.

It was at Sydney 2000 that the Olympic “live site” was born. Set up by the Olympic Coordination Authority (OCA), the premise was to bring all the action to those people who, for whatever reason, would not be able to enjoy the events in the stadia. Large screens were to be set up in popular urban spaces not only to relay live sports coverage direct from the venues but also to show news, features and Games-themed programming, all supplemented by top quality live entertainment.

In 2000, I worked for Sydney’s OCA and witnessed first-hand the extraordinary impact the Olympic live sites had. We suspected that they would be a great way to enthuse and excite the local populace about having the Games in their city, but even we did not predict just how successful they would be – so much so, in fact, that the IOC subsequently made them part of the “transfer of knowledge” programme for future Olympics.

As marketing and communications manager for the six sites in Sydney, it was my responsibility to develop the media strategy and manage the publicity for more than 200 artists – from Savage Garden to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, from Aboriginal dancers to stilt walkers – who turned out to perform at them. And it wasn’t just in their leisure time that people made their way in their thousands to the live sites; operational for around 10 hours a day, they also attracted business people, who spent their lunch breaks soaking up, just for a short while, the atmosphere and the huge sense of camaraderie. Live sites take the concept of enjoying televised live sport with your mates into a whole different realm. What we found in Sydney was that people wanted to share the great moments of the Games with their friends and neighbours in an exciting community environment. Live sites really do take the action out of the big arenas and into the town squares.

As part of the legacy promised in the Olympics 2012 winning bid, the British government pledged that every single person in the country would have the opportunity to experience the Olympics – and I believe the live sites are an absolutely crucial part of the Government being able to deliver on that promise. Indeed, Olympics chief Lord Coe said recently that one of his major learnings from Vancouver 2010 was how important live sites are and what a vital role they will play in future Olympics in capturing the imaginations of Londoners outside the venues.

In future years, large public sports events will no doubt be measured in the first instance by the transformative effect they have had on infrastructure and participation. But it’s important not to overlook the more intangible “human” legacy– the generosity of spirit, national pride and joy, which results from activities which bring citizens and communities together. And that’s where the Olympic live sites, with their heady mix of sports action, entertainment and good old-fashioned family fun, all taking place in a safe, secure environment, have such a unique and valuable role to play.