The Olympic Games: A Logistics Challenge of Herculean Proportion

Olympic Rings London 2012It seems that the Olympic Games is an event that people love to hate.

The scope of the Games makes it one of the most far-reaching and complex initiatives in modern times. The breadth of its influence is its attraction, its strength, and its everlasting weakness.

The Games has become, since its inception, a lightning rod for every grievance that mankind can muster. Organizers have been found to be unscrupulous, competitors have been exposed as cheaters, terrorists have used the event highlight their evil causes, and it has been branded as a money-wasting circus, catering only to the rich and elite of priviledged society. Protesters flock to the Games like flies to…well…honey.

Moreover, in an era when we chase the ideal of ethical and sustainable supply chains, the Games and its sponsors have been accused of fostering unfair labor practices from Africa to Southeast Asia.

With all of this mud being slung about, the Olympics still manage to captivate the imagination of billions around the globe. And rightfully so.

As a youth, I competed at elite levels in sport, and coached high performance athletes that included National Champions. I have counted Olympians among my closest friends. I know what it takes to get to the Olympic Games. And I also know that most athletes achieve success by honest, ethical means.Canadian Mens Rowing

The Olympic Games will always, I hope, stir an incredible and wonderful sense of excitement within me, and a sense of pride that I was once able to participate in and contribute to athletics at that level.

Before we explore the subject of Olympic Logistics, I wanted to share a video that I find inspirational. It is a promotional video, which works to connect the Olympic Spirit with our everyday lives. It contains the lyrics, “What have I done today to make me feel proud?” – an insistence that we live each day to the fullest, and give our all.

And so it is that in my current profession, I look upon those who meet the challenges that staging on Olympic Games event, from a Supply Chain and Logistics Management perspective, with enormous respect and admiration. Yes, there is always an aspect of shameless capitalist self-promotion involved sponsoring and supporting such large-scale events – but isn’t that a little like the athletes themselves? It is an opportunity to showcase the best that you can offer, and you have a right to be proud if you are able to succeed.

Professor Richard Wilding of the Cranfield School of Management wrote an interesting piece last month in his blog “Innovating the Global Supply Chain.” It describes the astounding scope of the logistics challenges faced by organizers, and how they are rising to the occasion:

The Olympic games is Britain’s largest peacetime logistical exercise, it is equivalent to running 26 simultaneous sporting world championships at the same time.  It is anticipated that 9 million spectators will be attending the main games and 2 million spectators attending the Paralympic games.  In total over 300,000 athletes, officials, media, games “family members” and workforce will also be in attendance.  London tourism chiefs are anticipating 500,000 people will be looking to stay overnight in London during the games.  The games are taking place in the heart of London during the summer which is always the busiest time.  In June “soft openings” occur of venues and the Olympic village with the official opening of the Olympic village on the 13th July and its closure on the 14th September so for a period of 3 months the Olympic party will consume the city.

However the implications of this event on the way logistics & supply chains operate is significant.

My article in The Logistics of the Games in Cranfield “Management Focus” Spring 2012 (pp22-23) outlined some key issues in this blog my intention is to provide links to material and some further discussion.
For Central London at “steady state” deliveries and collections make up 17% of the traffic rising to 25% of journeys from Monday to Friday.  This equates to 281,000 freight journeys delivering goods including food and retail items.   The Olympics requires an additional 1 million items of sports equipment and 250,000 items of luggage to be moved and managed.   We then need to consider feeding the additional people, providing excellent “retail therapy” for visitors and of course providing somewhere for people to sleep!Logistics can be defined as “the detailed coordination of a complex operation involving people, facilities and supplies”.  The complexity of the Olympics Logistics operation is the responsibility of UPS, the official Logistics partner, it has been involved, for example, in moving 10500 beds sourced in china and Malaysia through the supply chain, has secured 80,000 square meters of warehousing space to accommodate the demands of the Olympics.  UPS have the unenviable task of managing the “last mile” into the Olympic venues.  Loads are brought into warehouses, unloaded and checked, everything is X rayed for security purposes before being loaded onto vehicles to be sent into the venues.   But what goes into the venues also needs to come out!  So the Olympics decommissioning is also a significant challenge involving retrieval, return to warehouses and finally disposal. (Read more…)

Professor Wilding alluded to the fact that UPS has been engaged to act as the Official Provider of Logistical Services to the 2012 Olympic Games. They have the experience serving the Olympics at previous venues, they have the equipment, and they have the expertise. Like the champion figure skater, once she gets to the podium once, it is pretty difficult for others to knock her off. Be that as it may, UPS has produced the following short promotional video that explains their commitment:
Watch this next video where British Olympic Bronze medallist and London 2012 gymnastics hopeful Louis Smith draws a parallel between logistics and training in sport. Smith joined the team of UPS London 2012 Olympic Ambassadors, alongside fellow Olympians Ben Ainslie and Denise Lewis, and television sports presenter Steve Rider, to mark the delivery of the 250,000th item (a 3-meter landing mat) into the UPS London 2012 logistics centres.
To mark the occasion, Louis kindly took some time out of his busy training schedule to visit the Tilbury logistics centre to see first hand the logistical preparation work taking place ahead of the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.
The Olympic Games will take place, with Herculean efforts expended by the organizers and supporters. There will be political and commercial spin. There will be detractors and supporters.
My advice is that the human race relax for a couple of weeks, and bask in the sunshine that is the true and genuine Olympic Spirit. Take the time to appreciate the wonderful dedication of the athletes, the selfless devotion of the thousands of volunteers, and the extraordinary expertise that will be displayed by the logisticians.
The event will come and go in the blink of an eye. Be ready, and enjoy the moment.
Your comments are welcome.

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