Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Commonwealth Games Association of Canada CEO Lashes Out at Criticism Over Halifax's Demise

Shortly after the collapse of Halifax's bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I used my monthly column in the SportDecision newsletter to discuss some frustrations that some of my readers and colleagues had about how the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada (CGC) handled the situation and the overall bid process. The collapse was a major failure that could have a lasting impact on amateur sports in Canada and potentially future large-scale bids, and it was time to take a hard look at what went wrong and how it can be corrected for the future.

Yesterday, SportDecision published an official response to my piece from CEO Thomas Jones of the CGC. While a response to such a critical piece is both expected and welcome, I was disappointed with the quality of the letter that seemed desperately defensive and lacking of any relevant answers that would support his argument. His unfounded shots at my credibility come even as he admits that the CGC is "acknowledging its shortcomings, and taking decisive steps to apply the lessons learned going forward" - almost identical to my conclusion that the "CGC will quickly determine where they went wrong and initiate the change required."

While Mr. Jones' letter seems in its entirety to be an attack on my credibility - I have indeed never met or spoken to this man, or even exchanged emails. His comments and suggestions about what I have or have not considered and whether I have made certain assumptions or not, put his premise in a vulnerable position.

Please read my original piece and the official CGC response letter below and then continue to read what I believe to be the key unanswered questions.

CGAC to Blame for Halifax Failure

Find the comments and analysis of Robert Livingstone from about major sports bids every month in SportDecision.

March 2007 - “Here is where it all begins” has become an ironic epitaph that can now be found when surfing the Web site of Halifax ’s failed 2014 Commonwealth Games bid; below it is a letter from bid CEO Scott Logan that explains his organization’s withdrawal, but fails to answer many key questions.

The phrase, meant to be an inspirational message designed to bring athletes and facilities to Nova Scotia, can now be used to indicate the starting point of certain reform within Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC). The bid’s failure has exposed many weaknesses with Canada’s participation in the Commonwealth Games bid process, most clearly the failure of CGC to recognize the rapid growth of the Games, its demands and the national association’s responsibility to become integrally involved in the process from start to end.

Even within the last few years, the Games have grown to a much larger scale with more athletes and more sports; costs for security and transportation have increased and the emphasis on sustaining the environment has added additional overhead to preparations. As a result, hosting the Games has moved beyond the financial reach of most Canadian cities, obviously including Halifax.

Sadly, Halifax’s three domestic competitors had access to more financial resources and would have still been in the race today if they had been chosen instead. York Region (part of the Greater Toronto Area and a bid that would likely have gone on to be known as Toronto 2014), Ottawa and Hamilton all have a greater population base and would have been supported by the province of Ontario. The previous two Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester, U.K. and Melbourne, Australia and had access to huge populations. Similarly, the next instalment in 2010 will be held in New Delhi, India.

Unfortunately when bids are conceived, they are often driven by the dreams of municipal leaders who don’t have the experience and understanding of what is required – or they simply get bad advice and lack the initial resources to make the right decisions. This seems to have been the case with Halifax’s bid and a start-up team that grossly underestimated what was required until skilled resources were brought on board to shed some light. But by then, it was too late.

It is CGC’s responsibility to provide the initial resources required to assess and qualify a bid – then to nurture and deliver the selected Canadian bid to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF). It seems they failed on both accounts and at the end they must take full responsibility for that failure.

The CGC will quickly determine where they went wrong and initiate the change required, but unfortunately they must wait another four years for the opportunity to bid again. Don’t expect the CGF to automatically send the 2018 Games to Canada though. This opportunity is now gone and Canada is owed nothing.

Robert Livingstone,

Commonwealth Games of Canada Response

May 2007 - Commonwealth Games Association of Canada (CGC) asked SportDecision for the right to respond to the recent article CGAC to Blame for Halifax Failure from Robert Livingstone – . Here is the official answer from Thomas Jones, CEO, CGC :

To Alain Hotzau - SportDecision Editor:

A column in your April newsletter may have left readers with an inaccurate and unbalanced view of Canada’s Bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. While the author, Robert Livingstone of, is entitled to his opinion, his conclusions, in many cases, are based on factual errors and flimsy speculation.

Firstly, Mr. Livingstone pins most of the blame for the failed bid on the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada (CGC). There can be no doubt that CGC must accept its share of the responsibility for the demise of the Halifax 2014 bid – and we have publicly done so on numerous occasions.

But it is na├»ve – to put it mildly – to suggest that one organization should be held exclusively accountable for an initiative that was enormously complex, politically-charged, and highly competitive.

Mr. Livingstone demonstrates an obvious lack of understanding when he suggests that CGC had not been “integrally involved in the process from start to end.” To the contrary, CGC was fully engaged every step of the way, from the domestic selection process – which was more rigorous and transparent than ever before – through every stage of the international bid until funding was abruptly cut off in early March.

We enjoyed a respectful and highly productive working relationship with colleagues at the Halifax 2014 Bid Society and we collaborated on virtually every aspect of the bid competition. In fact, CGC has built excellent working relationships with virtually every key stakeholder – from the Commonwealth Games Federation, to national sport organizations across Canada, to the 70 Commonwealth Games Associations around the world.

To add insult to injury, Mr. Livingstone echoes a regrettable, but common misconception – that cities the size of Halifax are somehow too small to stage an event like the Commonwealth Games. If he had taken the time to review the detailed bid documents released in March by the Bid Society (and posted on the Web site), he would have quickly realized that, to the contrary, Halifax would have been an ideal location for the Games.

In fact, by winning the right to host the 2014 Games, Halifax could have created opportunities for other, similarly-sized Commonwealth cities to benefit from staging this major international event.

He also failed to acknowledge the results of an economic impact report, commissioned by the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), that concluded the Games would produce $2.4 billion in economic activity across Nova Scotia, generating $750 million in household income, and creating almost 18,000 jobs.

When all is said and done, the demise of the Halifax Bid is a great disappointment for anyone with an interest in building Canada’s sport system, providing desperately-needed facilities for summer sport athletes, and leaving a lasting legacy for Atlantic Canada.

Sadly, Canada has missed an opportunity that may not surface again for many years. Yes, CGC is taking a hard look at its role, acknowledging its shortcomings, and taking decisive steps to apply the lessons learned going forward.

One of our biggest challenges is to address the many misconceptions that linger in the aftermath of the bid’s demise. It has been a difficult task, particularly since some observers, like Mr. Livingstone, have chosen to accept the superficial, simplistic conclusions of Bid critics, rather than seeking out a more balanced and factual interpretation.

I trust that your readers are more interested in the latter.

Thomas Jones
Chief Executive Officer
Commonwealth Games Association of Canada

In his letter, Thomas Jones claims that the CGC was "engaged every step of the way" in a process that was "more rigorous and transparent than before". If so, since the CGC is ultimately responsible for the Commonwealth Games brand in Canada - they must accept full responsibility for what happens with the bid. He denies this because it is "naive ... that one organization should be held exclusively accountable for an initiative that was enormously complex, politically charged and highly competitive." Wow - I guess that it would also be naive to believe that they were ready to run an organizing committee to host the Commonwealth Games.

Shortly before the Canadian bids for nomination were finalized, Calgary pulled out of the race when they concluded the costs were too high and that federal funding was questionable. When a relatively large, rich city that has solid sports bidding and hosting experience ('88 Olympic Winter Games) comes to this conclusion, you’d think the CGC might take note, and properly advise other bidders to take a hard look. Apparently they didn’t because it took Halifax several more months and they came to this same conclusion.

As a partner in the process, the CGC should have understood that in the early stages bid committees don't fully comprehend the bidding process and the scope and costs of the Commonwealth Games. This is where and when the CGC should get involved, especially at the domestic bid level. They are entrusting one group with the CGC franchise so they must do proper due diligence before they make any selection.

But perhaps the CGC doesn't have the proper experience on board. Mr. Jones continues to insist that it is a "common misconception" to believe that small cities will have difficulties staging the Commonwealth Games. Then he references the bid documents to back up his claim.

Mr. Jones, isn't the budget that caused doubt among stakeholders among those same bid documents?

Those familiar with the bidding process know that the Commonwealth Games are growing rapidly and thus have growing infrastructure and venue demands. Recent bid winners such as Manchester, Melbourne and Delhi have show the increased tendency for the Games to be contended in larger cities. The scope of the Games have increased by the numbers of countries, atheletes and sports contended. There have been increased requirements for technology, security and transportation. Costs have skyrocketed.

I'm not doubting that had they won the bid, Halifax would have done a good job hosting the Games. But in reality, that's only a small part of tendering and winning a bid.

The conclusion I've drawn is that the CGC made a poor choice when they elected Halifax for their national nomination. Indeed, myself and many others were confused with this choice when it was originally made. Whether it was fueled by politics, marketing or misinformation - the CGC made that choice.

While the subsequent events might have been out of their control, the CGC must now realize that they need to be more involved and properly vet the validity of bids before their nomination.

So instead of attacking my credibility Mr. Jones - why not come up with a constructive response that explains why Halifax was chosen; how the CGC did their due diligence before the selection; and why the CGC shouldn't be fully accountable for their choice?


Mayer said...

As an American I can't really identify with the disappointment of not winning a Commonwealth Games.
Based only on this blog entry, I think there are similarities between what has transpired with Halifax's Commonwealth bid and New York's Olympic bid. While New York made it to the final vote, they essentially were in the same boat that Halifax is in today once their Olympic Stadium was axed just weeks before the vote. People also wondered whether the USOC used proper judgment in selecting New York over San Francisco and whether the USOC gave New York enough guidance during the bid process. I think in light of Halifax's failed bid we can applaud the USOC for trying to correct what went wrong in the 2012 bid. They really held the hands of, got involved with, and gave guidance to the Los Angeles and Chicago 2016 bids, sanding down each one's rough edges so that the country would have the best possible bid entered into the international competition. One such example of this is when the USOC told Chicago that their nice little bid was useless without a half-billion dollar guarantee from the city. Mr. Jones may learn that it will take this level of involvement by the CGAC for a Canadian city to win the Commonwealth Games.
Just as an aside, it sounds from reading that 2014 was a particularly good opportunity for Canada, and that 2018 will not be as good an opportunity. Why is that? It's not like the 2014 games will go to a different North American country.

jim jones said...

Well done Rob. I have to say that Thomas Jones should really get on with life. Consider that the man is exchanging letters to the editor about how we missed the opportunity of a lifetime and the Chris Cochrane of the Halifax Herald is to blame well it shows the character of MR Jones IMHO.

We have been down the path of getting into a billion dollar boondoggle with sydney steel and that grew to over 2 billion dollars.

The nerve of this Thomas Jones to actually were not authoerized to pull out by the commonwealth games federation on london england . LEt me tell you something MR Thomas Jones it is the Taxpayers of Nova Scotia and HRM that you were ready to push off a cliff into a construction schedule that was actually the same as montreal 1976.

The difference is it took quebec 30 years to pay off the debt with 6 million people while nova scotia if you plan had of worked would have been in a debt payment situation for your hobby for the next 120 years .

MR Thomas Jones please leave the building called nova scotia and don let the door hit you in the rear .
We really dont need monorail salesmen like you in our community telling us that people in england should have control of our treasury.