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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Positive Leadership: Inspired Leadership - The Historical Perspective on the London 2012 Olympics

In January 2003, a storm was gathering in Washington, Whitehall and Baghdad when the then Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell went to the cabinet with the idea that London should bid for the 2012 Olympics. 

“We started with no votes around the Cabinet Table,” she said. She went round the departments one by one, to Health, Education and Transport, and told them what the Olympics could do for everyone. Tony Blair, whose last minute lobbying later proved so crucial, dismissed the idea at first.

Tony Blair was much more preoccupied with Iraq, and rightly so. I said to him, “How are you going to answer this question. We’re the fourth largest economy in the world, London is the greatest city in the world, we would like to think. What will you say to someone who asks you ‘Why didn’t you dare bid to host the games?’ I’ve never forgotten the way he looked at me.

In his memoir, Blair recalls that Jowell lectured him to man up:

“I really didn’t think that was your attitude to leadership. I thought you were prepared to take a risk. And it is a big risk. Of course we may not win but at least we will have had the courage to try.” When Tessa says this, you feel a complete wimp and rather ashamed. You know she is manipulating you, but you also know it’s a successful manipulation.

I got a call the next morning from his Principle Private Secretary saying ‘The Prime Minister will support your recommendation.”

Two years later, the American businesswoman appointed to lead the bid Barbara Cassani resigned, because she didn’t think an American bid leader would win the games. “She deserves great credit,” said Dame Tessa Jowell.” She said the person who could win it is Seb Coe.

It was only six months later that the double Olympic gold medallist stood on stage in Singapore and said:  ”To make an Olympic champion it takes eight Olympic finalists. To make Olympic finalists, it takes 80 Olympians. To make 80 Olympians it takes 202 national champions, to make national champions it takes thousands of athletes. To make athletes it takes millions of children around the world to be inspired to choose sport.” Jacques Rogge was up not long later, opening his envelope and reading out the word “London.”

From the very start, the London 2012 Olympic bid has been characterised by the single-minded passion, persistence, vision and determination of all those involved in hosting the Games. Congratulations!

For more background into the bid process for the London 2012 Olympic Games, see: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/06/international-olympic-committee-london-summer-olympics)


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