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Watford-born British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt explains why Better Never Stops are much more than three words across a reception desk
The British Olympic Association (BOA) is based in a modern and mostly open-plan first floor office in Charlotte Street, London.
One of the first features that greets you in the reception area are three words on a pillar – Faster Higher Stronger – the motto of the Olympic movement. Look across and there are three more words written across the front of the reception desk: Better Never Stops. Those 16 letters underpin the philosophy of the BOA, an organisation that is constantly looking to the future and will not rest on the historic achivements of those incredible 17 days in July and August.
“Our mantra is better never stops and it very much is like that. You’d kind of think that we’d now be having 120 days of basking in glory,” Andy Hunt, the Watford-born BOA chief executive replied when I asked if it was a conscious decision not to have any pictures celebrating the summer’s Olympic successes on the office walls.
“What have we done for the last 90 days? I think I’ve done 36 of 39 half-day debriefs with sport, we’ve done debriefs with every functional area that was involved in London, we’ve undertaken surveys and internal debriefs. We are absolutely an organisation that is constantly striving for excellence and you can’t sit back and reflect on it.
“It was amazing what was achieved – 29 gold medals, third place in the medal table, 65 medals – totally, utterly unbelievable. But like I said to you, we want to do better next time and you can’t look back.
“We’ve been out to Rio with a number of the team leaders only a few weeks ago. We’re already locking down all our planning for 2016 because if you want to compete up there in the top three or four nations in the world you have to be ahead of the game – and absolutely what we’re going to be is ahead of the game. We’re looking out for way beyond 2016. We’re hoping to win the right to host the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 with Glasgow.
“Nothing ever stops, the whole mantra of the organisation, everything we do is about continuous improvement.”
The former Watford Grammar School for Boys pupil’s belief that TeamGB can surpass its achievements of the summer is a major factor in his desire to remain in a role he has held for four years.
“We’ve created a platform which I believe will allow us to go on and do more,” Hunt explained when we met at the BOA’s headquarters earlier this month. “It isn’t a high water mark. It’s so important we don’t do what other nations have done and make their home games their ultimate high water level in terms of what they achieve. I don’t believe that will be the case here.
“If you look at our sports system, if you look at the fact we only medalled in 16 of the 39 disciplines there’s plenty more sports where we could excel and take our learning and best practice from the sports where we’re very, very successful and enhance our performance. And the Government and lottery funding is there to make that happen which is great.”
Hunt is also committed to using his position to help “follow through and deliver” on what many would contend is now the most important word associated with the Games: legacy.
“I think it’s absolutely essential we truly leverage the legacy of these Games and don’t just let it slip away. That isn’t just the physical legacy which is really, really important,” said the 48-year-old, who was “determined to make sure the park had an Olympic association going forward, so I was pleased we got that done” when it was decided to name it The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Another key aspect of the physical legacy has been the BOA working with the London Mayoral Development Corporation so “they work with sport to make sure sport sits at the heart of that park going forward”.
“It’s going to be a fantastic platform for us for hosting international events and hopefully will become a base for many sports in this country because we truly have some of the best venues in the world,” Hunt said prior to last week’s announcement of the Gold Event Series, which aims to bring more than 70 of the world’s top sporting events to this country in the coming years.
“But importantly we’ve got to make sure that we absolutely maximise the opportunity from inspiring young people from around the Games to get involved in sport. There’s some great anecdotal evidence already out there, across sport, of clubs being inundated with interest. We’ve just got to make sure we follow through on it.
“If you go back to 2003 and look at the Rugby World Cup, I think the Sunday morning after rugby clubs across the country were absolutely rammed with young boys wanting to play rugby but of course there weren’t the coaches able to be able take them on.
“So many sports have planned for that [the interest], but it’s just ensuring we follow through. And it’s not just about those who want to take part in sport, in terms of playing sport, but making sure we’re seizing the opportunity of the inspiration that adults have had about volunteering and getting involved in sport or indeed in other areas.
“So for me, why continue? A, because I think it’s a fantastic opportunity coming up in 2014, 2016, 2020 but also we’ve got to make sure we follow through and deliver the legacy of the Games and that’s multi-faceted.”
While it is too early to judge whether the legacy programme has been a success, I asked Hunt if it was in the position he hoped it would be three months after the curtain came down on London 2012.
The chief executive replied: “I guess for it to be further developed or to be in a better place we would have probably needed perhaps more investment having been made in the legacy programmes up front. So a lot more focus of attention on what element of sports investment was ensuring that clubs, school sport, community sport could seize every opportunity that was coming its way. I think we’re doing an okay job at that, you can always do more.
“I think some of the challenges around the Olympic Stadium maybe could have been avoided. The seating versus track issue could have been avoided.
“School sport: there will probably need to be some fundamental policy challenges to really move that to the level we all know it needs to get to.
“If you really want to make a fundamental change in school sport, you need to change policy, you need to make sure sport is a fundamental part of the primary curriculum, that there are PE-trained teachers in every primary school, that the appropriate time and money is available, that local authorities are mandated to maintain sports facilities and so on.
“There’s lots we could do and those are things that if I look back in hindsight, I’d guess I’d loved for us, and more broadly for everybody to have influenced those decisions up front. We still have the opportunity for some of those things to come good but those are the ones that I would pick.”
British sport has a unique opportunity to build on the success of the Olympics but the BOA has also entered what the London 2012 Chef de Mission calls “a different phase”.
Two days after I travelled to London, the man who masterminded London 2012, Sebastian Coe, was elected unopposed as the organisation’s new chairman in succession to Colin Moynihan.
Although the election of the former chairman of the London organising committee (LOCOG) was the formality it was expected to be, Hunt, understandably, chose to talk about “if” the two-time Olympic 1500m champion was elected, rather than “when”.
He said: “If Seb’s elected on Wednesday he will be an outstanding chairman for this organisation, he’s an outstanding ambassador for this country, I think he will serve us well in terms of our profile in international sport and, importantly, will perform a slightly different role to Colin Moynihan.
“Colin Moynihan has done an excellent job of making sure this organisation was transformed from what was a fairly traditional, one might say slightly old fashioned organisation in terms of the way it worked within the sporting system into being a much more business-like, commercially dynamic organisation which is truly sitting at the top table of British sport.
“That’s Colin’s great legacy for the BOA. He was the catalyst for that transformation. I wouldn’t be sitting here doing this job if he hadn’t had the vision and ambition to make sure off the back of the London Games, that could take place.
“It’s a huge commendation and accolade to Colin that somebody like Seb would want to take on this role, it really is, and that’s something we should all be very proud of. And I’m massively proud of what Colin’s achieved and I’m hugely excited about having Seb as a chairman for what we’ll achieve going forward.”
Under Coe’s chairmanship, Hunt believes the next four years will be “a lot about collaboration” for the BOA, “making sure we all work together to maximise the benefit” of London 2012.
He explained: “I think a lot of the success of the Games is down to the fact that people worked so well together, it was cross-party, non-political, everybody focused on one objective.
“The sole objective was to deliver the most outstanding success of the Olympic Games and look at the outcome we got by everybody working aligned, focused in one direction, not trying to claim for something they didn’t do but everybody working together as one team.
“The next four years for us is to take that learning, take that experience and work callorabatively across sport because do you know what? If we can deliver what we did in London 2012 as a nation just imagine what we can deliver going forward in so many areas. There’s a lot to be learned there.”
It is perhaps unusual for an interview to begin and end with broadly the same question but it felt appropriate in the context of those wonderful achievements, images and sounds that did so much to lift the spirit of this nation for an all-too-brief but glorious spell. So I asked Hunt to reflect once more on arguably the greatest Olympics the world has ever seen.
“We exceeded not only the public’s expectations, but we exceeded our own expectations too as you always have a secret target that you don’t necessarily share with everybody else,” he said. “We delivered our support to the team at a level which I’m massively proud of.
“It's been humbling to go round and to share the experience at different events across the county over the last couple of months and realise the effect it’s had on people. It’s much deeper than just an amazing sports competition.
“People are more confident in themselves, they are more confident in this country’s ability to deliver, they are interested in sport in a way that I don’t think they’ve been before. We’ve now created a generation that probably now understand disability in a way that’s never happened before and we saw this country unite at a level that probably hasn’t happened since the second world war I should think. I’m massively proud of that and it’s something that will be very, very hard to repeat.”
Admitting the emotional comedown after the post-Olympics and Paralympics victory parade had been “huge” – “I think for everyone involved it was a time of mourning” – he added: “A question I’ve been asked a lot is did you enjoy it?
“Yes, of course I enjoyed it but until that final moment when the last athlete had left the Olympic Village and we’d pulled everything out; in fact, it was probably about seven o’clock on the evening of the parade – which was something else to be involved in – the job wasn’t over.
“I really enjoyed it when that was done, when I can look back and say did we utterly, utterly deliver to the best of our ability at every possible occasion to the very final moment?…I think we did…I think we did...
“And that’s not me, it’s a team effort. It’s about having extraordinary people around you that deliver extraordinary things.”