Interview - Baku 2015 Chief Operating Officer Simon Clegg

(ATR) European Games chief tells ATR's Mark Bisson that preparations are going right to the wire... Offers thoughts on 2019 edition.

(ATR) Baku 2015 COO Simon Clegg tells Around the Rings it’s "full steam ahead" for European Games preparations as venue construction goes right to the wire.

"We continue to race ahead at 100mph which has been necessary since day one because of the compressed nature of delivering this event in such a short timescale," Clegg said of the 30-month lead-in to next summer’s inaugural Games.

With less than 200 days to the June 12 opening, the 55-year-old says there’s plenty on Baku’s to-do list.

"It’s full steam ahead. The workload and intensity of the workload is unbelievable but has to be sustained," he told ATR in Baku, venue for last week’s European Olympic Committees general assembly.

Baku 2015 is moving from the planning to the operational phase.

Still to complete are a series of broadcast contracts; around 30 have been been announced 30 so far. Deals are expected to be announced with TV companies in North and South America, China and Australia among others.

The seventh and likely final top-tier sponsorship will be unveiled in December, he added.

But it’s the stadium and arena build, overlay and fit-out that is most pressing for Baku 2015 organisers.

The aquatics centre is ready but the temporary venues for beach soccer and volleyball and 3x3 basketball won’t be built until after the winter - and there is a huge amount of landscaping to do in that venue cluster. "I am very relaxed about that. I am still confident they will be handed over in sufficient time for us to undertake overlay and fitout," said the former London 2012 director.

The athletics track has gone down at the 68,000-seat national stadium but Clegg says the venue isn't scheduled to be handed over to organisers until April. A domestic test event is planned just weeks before the European Games open.

He admits the venues are going right to the wire. "Yes, but they always were on a 30-month lead time," Clegg said. "We are making good progress [across the project].

"But no-one should underestimate just how much work still has to be done to deliver an inaugural event where there is no file on the shelf which actually shows what they did last time."

While Baku 2015 has hired officials involved in the organisation of the London Olympics, Clegg said they have had to adapt their expectations to the EOC’s event that is of "a totally different size and scale".

What next for European Games?

Clegg rejected the suggestion that Baku 2015 was setting the bar too high for other Games to follow, despite the fact that the oil-rich nation has seemingly invested billions of dollars. The 20-sports program is larger than initially envisaged. The dangers of gigantism, highlighted in a speech made by EOC president Pat Hickey at the general assembly, loom large.

"I don’t think it is. I understand the argument,"said Clegg, the British Olympic Association's first chief executive who has managed Team GB athletes at 12 Summer and Winter Olympics.

"But I would counter that by saying if you want a big bang moment with the creation of the European Games you would want to do it in a fairly spectacular way to ensure that those cynics out there questioning the value of this would say ‘wow’ this really has established itself very quickly within a congested international sports program," he added.

"Therefore I don’t have so many concerns about the second and third events because I think the EOC will adopt a very flexible approach."

Fourteen sports were rejected by the EOC in a bid to limit the size of the Baku Games. For the 2019 edition, the mix of Olympic and non-Olympic sports will inevitably change as the Games will be tailor-made to suit the host city's needs.

Can the Games get any bigger? "No, and I don’t think it should get any bigger," Clegg said, adding that 20 sports was probably the maximum for future editions.

Six unnamed cities are bidding for the 2019 European Games, with the EOC to announce the host by May.

Clegg said one of the drivers determining the size of future Games would be the provision of accommodation to create an athletes’ village without the need for any major new constructions. The sports program could be moulded around the maximum number of athletes and "sports appropriate for that country", he explained.

He said the commercial future of the event "is making sure you have a significant number of Olympic sports using the European Games as an Olympic qualifier for the Games the following year".

What are the early lessons from Baku 2015’s fast-track preparations for the 2019 host?

"The biggest lesson is that people will have four years to plan and not two-and-a-half years. There will be a file showing exactly how it was done last time and that can at least be a starting point as opposed to our starting point which has been a blank piece of paper," he said.

He said bidding cities should think about legacy from the outset: "Every city will aspire to have different legacies as a result of hosting this event and it’s important that they address these issues right up front."

Clegg predicts a "slightly smaller program of athletes and sports" for the 2019 European Games, noting "It’s really a matter for the EOC".

For now, it’s all hands on deck to deliver a spectacular and glitch-free Baku Games. "If I can provide the leadership to the organization to ensure we deliver that and if the rest of the staff continue to step up to the plate in the way they are doing at the moment then I am incredibly confident that we are going to deliver an event that the whole of Europe and the whole of Azerbaijan is proud of," he said.

Reported by Mark Bisson

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