Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hosting an International Sport Event - A student's experience

University of Worcester Arena

Those who know me will probably agree that I'm quite a passionate person. One of those passions for a long time has been event organising and from an early age I've been able to put it into action whether it be a local cricket tournament or a school holiday coaching clinic. It's not surprising therefore that it's an area within our Sport Management degree I'm very much looking forward to and my understanding is that during our second semester in Year 2 we'll actually be running our own live event!

Volunteering at the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships recently gave me a great opportunity to experience some of the things it takes to run an international sporting event from the inside. Perhaps the most noticeable thing right from the outset was just what a vital role teamwork and communication play in ensuring the success in hosting an event of this nature.

Just from the logistics side alone, it only takes one break in communication, one delay or something unforeseen to have a knock-on affect on the entire schedule for the rest of the day. It's therefore not surprising that it takes a large team, regular communication and everyone working towards a common goal in order to minimise problems, to ensure a successful event.

Being my first international event, I'm far from being an expert but I still believe it's important to take note of the positive as well as negative aspects and to apply the best practices and improvements into other events one may have involvement with in the future. As mentioned previously, I thought the tournament was an overwhelming success and when pointing out areas of improvement (in my opinion) it's by no means a criticism to the event or the organisers. I thought everyone did an outstanding job and worked excessively long hours throughout the two weeks of the tournament and undoubtedly weeks and even months leading up to it.

As a city, I thought Worcester was a perfect choice. Its central location makes it easily accessible from various airports and it was pretty much a centre point for teams and officials arriving from Heathrow, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

New Road, Worcestershire County Cricket Ground & Cathedral
The actual venue, The University of Worcester Arena, is perfectly located just on the edge of the city and within a mile away, in between both university campuses which provided accommodation and meals to the teams and officials.

Worcester itself of course is a beautiful English city, rich in culture and history and provided a perfect base for visitors. Both the Arena as well as the campuses were wheelchair accessible and purposely built for this kind of event. Located immediately next to the Arena is the Riverside Building which formed the perfect location from wherein the event's operations were run, meetings were held and organisers were based.

Riverside Building next to the Arena
An area I thought could be learned from was the fact that we only had one Team Liaison meeting and it was only a couple of days before the end. I think it would have been much better had we all met at the start of the event, not only to be introduced to one another but also be properly briefed and be given an opportunity to raise immediate questions. Then getting together on a couple of occasions to offer feedback, discuss and address possible issues and concerns and ironing out any issues which may have occurred early on, I think would have been a good idea. This would have been a great help to those who have never done the role before and a perfect opportunity for those who have experience to pass their knowledge, help and suggestions on. A perfect example is Dave, the Liaison of Turkey, who worked at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics or Sonja (Italy Ladies), Helen (Sweden) and Sibylla (Germany) who were Liaisons at Euro 2013 in Frankfurt. I think it would have been nice for them to have been given an opportunity to share their best practice and perhaps it's something that could be improved on.

Zuzka and Laura at St. John's Campus were always helpful
The staff at St. John's Campus where we were based were amazing as well and more than deserve a mention, in particular Zuzka and Laura. From the moment I arrived waiting to welcome the Italian team who were detailed by more than three hours, I was greeted by cheerful smiles and always quick to offer their help. Like so many campuses, it seemed like a maze in the beginning but nothing seemed to be too much for them and instead of just shown directions or pointed in the right direction, they'd even walk me there. It's service like that, when people go that little extra mile which makes the job all the more enjoyable.

The quantity of food on offer was plenty I thought despite the odd grumble from one or two people. The quality perhaps wasn't always outstanding but then that's not always easy when catering for hundreds of people in a buffet style. The biggest downside in my opinion was the fact that it lacked variety, and after two weeks I think most people got a bit tired of the same breakfast, same vegetables and same carbohydrates. The juice certainly wasn't of excellent standard and if it was my event I'd certainly look at ways of improving the catering element. I never had a problem in clearing my team's table, despite many of the players often refusing that I do, but I do think they often seemed under staffed in the dining area and having someone to clear tables on behalf of the guests, not to forget that most of them are in wheelchairs, would have been an extra bit of service that could have gone a long way.

Talking of saving time earlier on, a huge amount of time was lost all having had to queue up in one line for food. There was definitely enough space to separate the buffet table into two or more sections. I'm thinking in particular during breakfast it would have been much better to have hot food let's say at one table, cereals and continental items at another and maybe even drinks, coffee and tea at another. Too often did people have to join a queue having to wait a long time before they got to a section they actually wanted.

Sibylla, Germany's Liaison worked at Euro2013 in Frankfurt 
I thought transport ran pretty well. The drivers were all friendly and most of them very helpful and it was great that they had their own little marquee on the campus. Perhaps it would have been a good idea if each driver were allocated a specific team or given a notice to put up against the window as to which team he or she was transporting, like the minibuses that carried the wheelchairs. Having said that, it was never really a problem finding out which bus was scheduled for which team and I always made it part of my duty to find out which bus was ours about ten minutes before departure. Although the minibuses followed the team bus in convoy, I also think it might have been better had they left a few minutes earlier in order to try and get the chairs offloaded earlier, ensuring it was always ready for when the players arrived.

All the volunteers at the Arena were amazing and I can't give them enough credit. They were always quick in loading, offloading and moving the wheelchairs and constantly carried a smile on their face! They were a joy to work with and a credit to the event! I guess there wasn't much choice in the matter, but it was a great shame that the goods lift was blocked by the enormous goal construction. Perhaps one of the only noticeable things missing in the design of the arena for a large event is an in and out area. We always felt as if we were up against the time, trying to get the team as much time possible to prepare. It would have saved so much time if there was one area where the wheelchairs of teams who were leaving the Arena were taken through and another area for chairs of teams entering the arena. The fact that there was only one loading area often created "traffic jams". Another idea that would have saved a bit of time is for a schedule to be put on the wall or noticeboard of which changing room was allocated for which team so that it was visible and known immediately on arrival. Again, although this was not a huge problem mainly because I ran ahead and made it my duty to find out as soon as I stepped off the bus, there were occasions where some teams went in to the wrong changing rooms causing the odd problem or two.

These guys were amazing!

With regards to scheduling in particular training, I think it would have been a good idea to allow a ten or fifteen minute gap between teams' training times on a specific court and stated clearly on the time sheet. Although we were told later on that the first fifteen minutes included this "crossover" time, it would have been better if this was written on the time sheet instead of putting one team finishing at say 13:15 and the next team starting at 13:15. Had it read Team 1 finishing at 13:15 (expected to be off the court at 13:20) and Team 2 starting at 13:30 it would have created less confusion and hassle too. This is exactly the kind of issue that could have been discussed at Liaison meetings early in the event. Again, overall it wasn't a major problem and the longer the tournament went on, the smoother things went.

I liked the system that was in place for requesting changes to transport times, training and meal times. We generally had to give 24 hours notice through filling and handing in a request form and was then notified of the changes by text. The text however just stated that your request has been accepted - I think it would have been even better if it included the new time as sometimes you'd have more than one request pending and therefore there was uncertainty sometimes as to which request was granted.

All in all, I think the event was an overwhelming success and the organising committee can be very proud of themselves. From a student's perspective, it was an incredible experience and it's given me a great insight into what it takes to run a global event. As reflected upon within this blog, there are numerous things one can take away from an event like this and apply it next time to make it even better. It's very rare I suppose to have an event without any problems, but I guess it's all about minimising the risks, having plans in place for when things don't go according to plan and applying best practice from previous events, making it even better.

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