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Running the risk? The risk management of everything Olympic

London 2012 promises to be, like every successive Olympics, 'the best games ever'... but what political and administrative pitfalls lie ahead for the governance of Olympic risk?

Dr Will Jennings, British Academy postdoctoral research fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), explores this question in the Winter 2005 edition of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation's Risk&Regulation| magazine (published today, Tuesday 20 December). He considers historical emergence of the concept of 'Olympic Risk', and the burgeoning risk industry that surrounds the Olympic movement and argues:

  • With increased opportunity comes risk: The emergence of the concept and reality of Olympic risk is a consequence of a relentless growth in the scale and complexity of the Olympic Leviathan - and its global profile - combined with risks affecting the international political economy and administration of modern sport.

    Dr Jennings reports: "Risk is now ubiquitous in both the selection of host cities and organization of the Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) selection process was a self-confessed exercise in risk assessment. Even ahead of the IOC vote in July 2005, industry reports were promoting risk management of London 2012 - warning UK firms that 'with increased opportunity comes risk'.
  • The historical emergence of Olympic risk: the criticality of 'risk' to the modern Olympic movement must be understood in the context of over a century of Olympic history, through which risk has been discovered and construed through the glories or ignominies of past Games.

    A number of seminal events have provided defining images in the emergence of versions of Olympic risk: The Munich Massacre of 1972, the $1bn deficit of Montreal 1976, the Cold War Boycotts of Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984, Ben Johnson in Seoul 1988, and Terrorism and Ambush Marketing at Atlanta 1996.
  • Financial risk: As the $1 billion deficit of the 1976 Montreal Olympics demonstrates, the financial risks associated with hosting the games can be significant. Over the past 30 years, staging costs have varied, but typically the final figures have far outreached initial estimates.
  • The risk management of everything Olympic: The development of the modern Olympics has produced a global industry of risk assessment and risk management - with London 2012 only the most recent instalment.
  • Reputational risk: Heightened media spectacle and the symbolic status of the Olympic Games means that when everything can go wrong, everything is a reputational risk.

    Dr Jennings says: 'It is instructive that public opinion research is now an important element the IOC bid assessment. Use of this assessment component is recognition of the criticality of public support to successful implementation. However, even the prediction of future public opinion is a risky business.
  • Political uncertainty and risk: There is evidence that the politics of uncertainty has permeated the Olympic movement, with a rise to prominence of Olympic risk management since 1996. For London 2012, risk is already an organizing concept in the practice of Olympic politics and administration.

    'In this, the leading strands of risk management are directly informed by experiences from Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004,' says Will Jennings. 'It remains uncertain how fickle public support could be when the bulldozers move in and council tax bills arrive in Londoners' mailboxes.'

Jennings concludes: 'The apparent ubiquity of Olympic risk is an inevitable symptom of the increasing complexity of the physical and organizational architecture of modern Olympic Games. London 2012 is no different in this regard.

'Risk casts its shadow through the potential contingency of public support and political and reputational risks attached for government and organizers. There is no reason why this should not be 'the best games ever'. However, they may also be the riskiest yet.'

Running The Risk? The Risk Management of Everything Olympic is by Will Jennings, British Academy postdoctoral research fellow at the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation at LSE.


A PDF of this for the article is available on request. Contact:

  • Will Jennings, email will.jennings@manchester.ac.uk  
  • Jess Winterstein, Press Office, tel: 020 7955 7060, email j.winterstein@lse.ac.uk 


Running The Risk? The Risk Management of Everything Olympic by Will Jennings, ESRC/BP Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CARR, is published in Risk&Regulation on Tuesday 20 December 2005.

Dr Will Jennings is British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation at the London School of Economics. He is currently working on a book entitled Bread and Circuses 1967 - 2000, exploring the politics and administration of public celebrations in Canada, America, Australia and Great Britain.

Risk&Regulation, Issue no.10, Winter 2005 is available in print and online, Risk&Regulation Magazine| 
If you wish to subscribe to the print version, please contact Stephanie Harris, tel: 020 7849 4635.

Risk&Regulation is the biannual magazine of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR). The magazine contains articles by leading scholars in the fields of risk and regulation and presents the latest research findings and commentary on risk and regulation related fields including managerial governance, financial control, utilities regulation, health, safety, and the environment.

The ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation (CARR) is an interdisciplinary research centre located at the London School of Economics and Political Science. CARR's research focuses on the comparative analysis of the organisational and institutional contexts of risk management and regulatory practice. In addition, CARR acts as a national and international hub for the field of risk and regulation studies through its outreach and visitors programmes. See: Analysis of risk and regulation|

20 December 2005