Whether or not the 2012 Olympic Games will be good or bad for British businesses is a multi-headed monster of a question. Dan Matthews invited some of the UK’s most dynamic entrepreneurs to have a stab at the answer.

Summing up the spectacle of London’s hosting of the Olympic Games, one BBC broadcaster uttered a sentiment that even the most sceptical Brit would struggle to disagree with: “Can we afford it? Probably not. Was it worth it? Undoubtedly yes.”

Rather like spending the rent on a wildly successful party, we went for broke and pulled off a spectacular show. But now that the fireworks have all plopped back to earth and fizzled out, questions are being raised over an earlier pledge that the economy, as well as national self-esteem, would receive a boost.

Ministers said massive infrastructure investment would regenerate East London – check; that the spectacle would showcase the Capital and Britain generally – check; and that businesses would benefit from a surge in footfall around the city – erm…

Sponsors certainly benefitted. John Lewis reported sales 14.9 per cent higher in the week to 11 August compared with the same period last year. Meanwhile, sport-related sales soared 178 per cent during the same seven days.

Adidas predicted that its massive sponsorship package for London 2012 would nudge it passed Nike as the world’s foremost sporting brand, while even McDonald’s no doubt saw an upswing from its metropolis-like restaurant erected in the shadow of the Olympic stadium.

But non-sponsors were far from guaranteed a boost. London hotel owners, who ahead of the Games imagined massive demand from spectators, whacked their prices up only to see occupancy rates tumble.

Spend per room also slipped because guests left early and returned late from events, forsaking the mini-bar and in-house dining for refreshments scoffed and glugged between events in the Olympic Park.

Meanwhile, questions hanging over the London transport system’s ability to cope with an influx of passengers persuaded many ‘everyday tourists’ to delay trips, causing a drop in footfall in parts of London not touched by the Games.

Jonny Holmes is co-founder of VendEase, a vending machine operator with interests stretching from Brighton to Birmingham, but concentrated mainly in the South East. Like many he anticipated a spike in demand from London hotels, but instead experienced a drop.

“Well ahead of the Games we started doing some work for Cadbury who were the official treat provider. They contracted us to install machines at LOCOG and dotted around the Olympic park during the construction phase,” says Holmes.

“Without this we probably would have seen a net drop in demand. The hotel side of it is down quite a lot. But the event itself has showcased London well and we’ll see some benefit in years to come. If we had been solely reliant on hotels it might have been a different story.”

Nick Thistleton, co-founder of upmarket karaoke business Lucky Voice, agrees that the event was a huge success but adds that the leisure industry was hit hard by what he calls “transport scaremongering” which turned London into a “ghost town”.

“As a vehicle to bring lots of business to London, I think it was quite a dramatic failure,” he says. “It’s a great shame that someone somewhere decided that it wasn’t worth a few Tube delays to turn London into a bubbling mass of involvement and celebration.

“Anyone who lives or works in Central London knows that it turned into a ghost town during the Olympics. The transport scaremongering was extremely effective and people stayed out of town in droves.

He adds: “Everyone with leisure businesses was negatively impacted and we were no exception. The tourist influx never materialised and our regulars were encouraged to stay at home.”

One business that has benefitted from the Games glow is Vive Unique, a business connecting tourists with homeowners who are prepared to rent their property in short bursts. Co-founder Claire Whisker describes the event as “a real catalyst” for establishing the business which launched in July 2011.

“We ran an initial flyer campaign and were inundated with homeowners wanting to rent out their homes for the Olympics,” says Whisker.

“Most were unaware of the potential of, and year-round demand for, short lets in London and were delighted when we were taking bookings for them at Christmas, Easter and other times during the year. The Olympics has helped to raise awareness of what is now a growing industry.”

The near-term picture for entrepreneurs is mixed at best; at worst statistics gatherers could soon be pointing to figures showing that the UK’s recession became even more entrenched in August. But what about the longer-term?

The Olympics is advertising that money can’t buy: a sustained two-week spotlight beaming down on London with warm, benevolent rays. If tourism fell over the summer then businesses, at least based in London, should see a jump compared to normal demand in the autumn and next year.

There are even more difficult-to-measure factors, such as a likely dink in public attitudes to health and exercise which could help lower NHS care bills over time, allowing more expenditure on medical supplies from the private sector.

Looking ahead, Alastair Stewart, managing director of Etc Venues, says the next year will be crucial for British businesses in recouping some of the costs of hosting the Olympics.

“Short-term, the effect of the Olympics on our business has been negative with significant disruption to normal business directly attributable to the unnecessarily alarmist messages about transport,” he says. “The real test will be in 12 months and whether any of the goodwill and uplift in the nation’s morale can be sustained – let’s hope so.”

But Jonny Holmes says there could be a smattering of things to look forward to: “The impact will vary on different sectors – hotels had overall a negative immediate reaction but they should experience a return over the next few years. It’s also possible that people will have postponed trips until later in the year.

“There’s quite a lot of legacy work that we are pitching for on the construction side of our business, lots of converting of various sites into apartments and the like.

“There was a global audience and it is pretty much accepted that we did a good job as a host, so you’d like to think that people will want to come and see it. It would be hard to put a value on that advertising.”

Whether or not the UK economy breaks even on the Games may never be proved, but the fact that there are winners and losers is unquestionable.

One thing is certain: businesses are hoping – and politicians are praying – that the legacy of this glorious event will tip more entrepreneurs into the former category than into the latter.

Dan Matthews is a director of the Supper Club, an exclusive membership organisation offering peer-to-peer advice to some of Britain’s best entrepreneurs.

By Dan Matthews

Source: www.londonlovesbusiness.com

Margaret Maughan, Britain's first ever Paralympic champion, lit the cauldron here tonight to mark the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games following an emotional and spectacular Opening Ceremony.

It was after midnight when the 84-year-old former archer, who now lives in Hertfordshire, performed the honour to conclude the Ceremony in what was a stunning final segment that saw Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend – an aspiring Paralympic triathlete – emerge with the Flame at the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, just outside the Olympic Stadium.

Fortunately for London 2012, it was the very Flame used in the 24-hour Torch Relay from Stoke Mandeville and it arrived just in the nick of time despite fears it would not make the Ceremony due to delays on the route to the Stadium that at one point reached two-and-a-half-hours.

Flame in hand, Townsend descended on a zip wire onto the field of play and handed the Torch to David Clarke, a visually impaired athlete competing in the ParalympicsGB five-a-side football team at the Games.

Clarke passed it to the final Torchbearer Maughan, who won Britain's first gold medal at the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.

She lit a single tiny flame within one of the copper petals of Thomas Heatherwick's specially design cauldron, which triggered the ignition of all the other petals as the elegant stems gently rose towards each other and converged to create one great Flame of unity to conclude the event.

The Ceremony titled "Enlightenment" had begun hours earlier with a rare public appearance from internationally acclaimed and celebrated British scientist Professor Stephen Hawking, the most famous disabled man on the planet.

The 70-year-old from Oxford gave the world a global message of hope and optimism as he urged people to be curious and create a brave new and better world for everyone by challenging perceptions and stereotypes that limit the potential of humans.

"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet," Hawking said.

"Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.

"Be curious."

His words sparked a dramatic "Big Bang" that was followed by a wonderful sequence based on William Shakespeare's famous play "The Tempest" which saw British actor Sir Ian McKellen in the role of Prospero as he sent his daughter Miranda - and a worldwide audience - on a journey through the Ceremony.

The journey of Miranda - who was played by Nicola Miles Wildin - was one that combined soaring operatic performances with alternative British urban punk and international cinema cult music and songs, dramatic high wire aerial performances and dance movements across the roof of the stadium.

It was then that the Queen arrived with International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven to signal the start of the athletes' parade.

It saw 164 teams march around the cheering Stadium and seated on the field of play while it concluded with a deafening roar for the ParalympicsGB team, led round by wheelchair tennis star Peter Norfolk.

London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe took to the stage and declared: "Prepare to be inspired, prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be moved by the Paralympic Games of London 2012."

Sir Philip then claimed that "Tonight is the start of something extremely special" before the Queen officially declared the London 2012 Paralympic Games open.

Miranda's dreamlike journey continued again with spectacular dancing and song from a variety of hugely talented able-bodied and disabled performances before, in the best traditions of quirky British humour, the world's biggest apple bite took place in a tribute to Sir Isaac Newton as over 60,000 audience members simultaneously took a bite from the apples that were given on arrival.

It was then that Hawking reappeared for a final address to a rapturous reception.

"The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world," he said.

"We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.

"What is important is that we have the ability to create.

"This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics.

"However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do, and succeed at.

"The Games provide an opportunity for athletes to excel, to stretch themselves and become outstanding in their field.

"So let us together celebrate excellence, friendship, and respect."

It was then that the cauldron was lit, and rather fittingly by Maughan.

She had a car accident in 1959 which left her unable to walk and she was treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where Paralympic Games founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann pioneered the use of sport in therapy.

It was there, upon the advice of Sir Ludwig, that she took up archery before she went on to win Britain's first Paralympic gold medal in 1960 and then to compete at a further four Paralympics.

Her lighting marked the end of a wonderful show that was the brainchild of Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings.

"The Paralympic Games is the second largest sporting event in the world, and it's taking place in our home city," said the co-artistic directors of the Ceremony.

"We couldn't be prouder to have been asked to direct the Opening Ceremony."

"We wanted our Ceremony to be both spectacular and deeply human.

"Having worked together over a number of years we were determined that the Ceremony should speak from the heart, tell a story, showcase our world leading deaf and disabled artists and rise to the emotional and historic occasion of the homecoming of the Paralympic Games."

After tonight, there will be no doubting that Sealey and Hemmings achieved their goal in style.

By Tom Degun at the Olympic Stadium in London

Source: www.insidethegames.biz

Sergei Ovchinnikov, who coached the Russian women's volleyball team at the London Olympics, has reportedly committed suicide.

He was 43.

"Sergei Ovchinnikov suddenly passed away at the team's [pre-season] training camp in Croatia," Dynamo Moscow said on their website.

He had combined his job with the Russian team as head coach of Dynamo Moscow.

There was no cause of death given but it was widely reported Ovchinnikov among the Russian media that he had commited suicide, possibly as a result of Russia's disappointing performance at London 2012.

Ovchinnikov had been appointed coach of Russia's team and they were considered to be among the favourites for the gold medal having won the World Championships in 2006 and 2010.

But they were knocked out in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Brazil after squandering six match points.

"He took the Olympics very personally," Vladimir Alekno, the head coach of Russia's men's team who won the gold medals at London 2012, told Interfax, the Russian news agency.

"I saw what he was going through and how upset he was after the defeat.

"He didn't talk much.

"Even after victories he was always thinking about something and smoked a lot."

Alexander Yaremenko, the general director of the All-Russian Volleyball Federation, was unable to confirm the reports that Ovchinnikov had commited suicide.

"So far nothing's clear, all I can do is confirm the fact that he has died," he said.

By Duncan Mackay at the Main Press Centre on the Olympic Park in London

Source: www.insidethegames.biz

Just weeks after announcing a revamped Ethics Committee aimed at combating corruption as part of his road map to reform, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has criticised one of the body's two independent chiefs.

Earlier this week, Joachim Eckert, a German judge, was quoted as telling a news magazine that Blatter needed to play his part in cleaning up the organisation or he would no longer be acceptable as its leader.

But in what can only be construed as another embarrassing episode in his Presidency, Blatter made it clear he was not happy with the comments of a man whose praises he was singing back in July.

"A judge should not say anything," Blatter told Germany's Sport Bild newspaper.

"I have never experienced it that a judge makes a comment about an ongoing case; he only says something when he makes the judgement."

In the same interview, Blatter said he did not agree with a suggestion made by the former President of the German Football Association, Theo Zwanziger, now an FIFA Executive Committee member, that there should be a maximum age for serving as an FIFA administrator.

Blatter has no problem with restricting the period of tenure he and his colleagues can have in office – but draws the line when it comes to how old they can be.

"I'm in favour of limiting the length of time officials can serve but against an age limit," said the 76-year-old, who is unlikely to bid for a fifth Presidential term in 2015.

"Age has nothing to do with skills – there are 70-year-olds who are still very young in their head."

A draft revision of FIFA's statutes includes a proposal to impose an age limit of 72 on officials at the time they are elected.

It would also limit any FIFA President to two four-year mandates and Executive Committee members to three four-year terms.

By Andrew Warshaw

Source: www.insidethegames.biz