By Philip Barker
The British Olympic Association’s chief executive Andy Hunt threw open the doors of his organisationâ€™s new headquarters to the media for the first time yesterday. One year into his job and with the Vancouver Winter Olympics just months away, he signalled his determination to continue a revolution in British sport by offering a devastating appraisal of the BOA when he took over.
â€œThere were a lot of things which for me werenâ€™t quite right,” Hunt said. “Our relationships with our stakeholders were pretty much broken , I think we were unsure of who we are and what we do, we hadnâ€™t figured out where we fitted in the elite sporting landscape.
â€œMorale of staff had become quite low, even though we had fantastic success in Beijing.
“We had a horribly challenging financial position. It was a difficult time. We had to move quickly. We have resolved the financial challenges, going into 2010 our plan is very much about having a balanced budget and thatâ€™s definitely our approach. But it will be challenging in 2011 and 2012.
“We are highly constrained by the joint marketing plan we have with LOCOG and that will continue to be a burden to us.â€
The BOA’s new HQ in Charlotte Street is quite a contrast to its old Wandsworth home of nearly 30 years, where the visitor was greeted with oak panels bearing lists of illustrious officers past – seemingly all dukes and lords – and an array of interesting artefacts from past Olympics.
Those offices – sold in a property deal secured with the help of former next-door neighbour Mick Jagger which made an estimated Â£5 million for the BOA – had certain olde worlde charm, but also a maze of staircases and didnâ€™t quite fit the bill for a modern sports organisation. â€œI knew we had to get out of there within 30 seconds of arriving,” said Hunt.
â€œWe were fairly self-serving before. It was very important that we make this a very modern vibrant efficient organisation.â€
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At 60 Charlotte Street, it is all glass, Olympic torches, buzz words and little motivational epithets in an open plan office.
â€œBetter Never Stopsâ€ is the state of the art, management-speak motto. For the more traditionally minded, the Olympic motto Faster Higher Stronger is also there, though it would have been good to have seen the Olympic creed which was first coined in London more than a century ago given equal prominence.
But maybe “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not so much to win but to have taken part, just as the important thing in life is not to have conquered but to have fought well” does not sit too well with today’s thrusting PR gurus.
The BOA has secured a three-year rent-free clause on the offices as part of what they claim is the lowest rental contract negotiated in the West End for 15 years – estimated at Â£500,000-a-year.
Hunt and the rest of the BOA’s team, Sir Clive Woodward and all, share the same computer terminals with the rest of the 48-strong staff in a clean-desk, open-plan operation.
It is almost unbelievably tidy, by managerial edict. You wonâ€™t find desks piled high with record books or tapes or other â€œresearchâ€ material. Uncluttered, but it does lack a certain warmth.
Staff must eat in a bespoke dining area which links the BOA with the British Paralympic Association, sharing headquarters for the first time, a move which makes a lot of sense.
As Chef de Mission, Hunt leads a Great Britain team for the first time in Vancouver next year. â€œVancouver is our immediate priority. Winter sports have 1.5 per cent of the funding of summer sports but results are very encouraging.â€
Hunt did not hide his disappointment at David Daviesâ€™ recommendations last week on television sport’s “Crown Jewels”, where amid the news that the Ashes should be free-to-air, buried in other news was the suggestion that Winter Olympics no longer merit guaranteed terrestrial coverage.
â€œWe were rather surprised,” Hunt said. “Winter sports get a pretty poor share of the deal right now not only in terms of funding and exposure to the British public. It is an area where weâ€™ll fight the case.â€
The inaugural Olympic Youth Games in Singapore also loom next summer. The BOA is talking to broadcasters about coverage and although the IOC is throwing the kitchen sink at the new baby, it may be more difficult to whip enthusiasm for a British audience.
â€œWe are working to try and find a good solution, but it is not going to get prime time coverage.
There are some interesting opportunities, particularly around new media. I think we will see an incremental level of interest simply because of the run up to 2012,â€ Hunt said.
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