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Originally published August 1, 2004

Furlong Gets CBC Rope-A-Doped

Rich PattersonThe other day I wrote that "Mainstream Media Missed the Mark" in reference to not reporting the whole story regarding the financial downside of Athens -- a $12 billion deficit. Each Greek household will have to come up with $75,000 US.

Mainstream media, especially in B.C. wants to stay positive about the games. Unfortunately, they seem to be supporting 2010 in the same way media backed Bush in the first few months of the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq - unconditionally. However, as the public now realizes, time eventually percolates truth to the surface in spite of some mainstream media pandering to public sentiment.

A few OlyBLOG readers and one media rep took exception to my comments and let me know that Rosa Marchitelli of the CBC had VANOC CEO John Furlong against the ropes in a Canada Now television broadcast on August 30. I saw it too, but it was broadcast after I posted the "Mainstream Media Missed the Mark" piece below. When Furlong was asked if 2010 would suffer the same economic disaster as Athens he tapped danced and remained evasive even after repeated questioning from Marchitelli. She wasn't hostile or overly aggressive, but she was insistent and in fact pleasant in her approach. I spoke to a CBC rep who told me the "Canada Now" piece probably won't be streamed on their website, but if I wanted to purchase a copy I could do so by calling Bowdens at 800.363.1281 - re: file ROSADEBRIEF.

Hooray for the CBC. Considering they are the official Olympic television broadcaster in Canada this was a bold move. Maybe they felt they had to repay viewers after subjecting us to too, too much commentary between Olympic sporting events. Next time we need more coverage of events and less Brian Williams airtime.

Regular readers know that OlyBLOG isn't a cheer leading section. It's a place to come for business and promotion news relating to 2010. Sometimes business news can be harsh. In fact most of the time business news is harsh, and especially when the business is entertainment masquerading as sport. Which brings me back to John Furlong. Is he ever going to figure out he's in the entertainment business? I hope so, because his and our success depend on it.

During the Marchitelli grilling Furlong looked and sounded like a cat with a mouth full of feathers when he was asked if 2010 was going to saddle taxpayers with a whopping bill. He literally did not know how to effectively deflect the question, and instead prowled in a circle like 'Sylvester the Cat' looking for a place to spit. Dick Pound's criticism of Furlong is starting to ring prophetic.

John Furlong needs better media training. Marchitelli's question was simple and he should have not only seen it coming, but also been prepared to answer without flinching. What in hell was he thinking? Furlong needs a media coach with more international experience. Jeff Ansell for example is a well respected media trainer who rubs shoulders with U.S. presidents, plus he coaches a long list of CEOs and executives across Canada and United States including luxury resort hotel executives here in Vancouver. Jeff's favorite words of wisdom for anyone being interviewed are to tell the truth and explain how you're going to deal with the problem. 'My advice' is to sound genuinely concerned, and not, under any circumstances, portray yourself as being evasive.

Furlong should not have lent credibility to a problem that does not and may never exist. He should have seized the opportunity to reassure taxpaying television viewers by telling them what he is going to do and how is going to do it. Instead he was evasive and visibly exasperated with Marchitelli and made it sound like he could not be counted on to control costs for the Winter Games, which I'm sure was not his intent. If he would have answered it like the $300,000-a-year executive he is paid to be it wouldn't have been an issue, but thanks to his faltering he left CBC viewers wondering how much we are going to have to shell out to host 2010. It's not a good feeling for a province that is finally starting to get back on its feet.

Furlong could have also shared that British Columbians have much less of a fiscal challenge than they think regarding 2010. First, the Summer Games is an extravaganza about three times the size of the Winter Games in almost all respects including number of athletes, events, facilities, sponsorship and licensing revenue, size of audience, etc. Secondly, we just saw what happened in Athens -- that alone is enough to keep John Furlong and every member of his executive team awake at night and working harder to control costs, but still put on a world class event that will do Canada proud.

From the very beginning I've emphasized that everyone including taxpayers and SMBs must come out of 2010 economically healthy. Several months ago Furlong tipped me off at an all day conference hosted by law firm Singleton Urquhart that he might be over his head. The primary focus of Furlong's message in his keynote address to a room full of influential architects, engineers and developers was his personal quest to win medals in 2010. Instead of offering the room something economically tangible to grasp, he performed a cheerleading routine. Maybe now you're starting to appreciate why it was so ridiculous to send such a huge VANOC contingent to Athens, especially considering it cost us $380,000.

Furlong is doing some things right, and I'm still in his corner, but there is no doubt he has to move much quicker and he has to widen his peripheral vision. He also has to more seriously consider the Games from an international perspective and conduct himself accordingly. Regional vision is probably one of his greatest weaknesses. You can hear it in his voice. Furlong should have made it very clear during the CBC interview that B.C. has the federal government as a partner and that provincial taxpayers are not in this alone. We are not stupid and most of us know taxpayers are going to have to absorb some cost. Almost every single Olympic region does. Ideally it would be nice if corporate sponsors were not allowed to make any profit until all costs for the Games have been recouped, but so far I seem to be the only one singing this song.

This is one of the reasons B.C. needs to elect better politicians. Instead of all the whining about the east ignoring the west we need smarter politicians who know how to negotiate a better position for us. We also have to understand that the IOC is not our partner in the true sense of the word. The IOC's primary mandate is to make sure the image of the Games is well represented even if it is at the expense of the host region. If it was any other way do you think Athens would have ended up with a 15 billion USD debt ? Where was the IOC when Greece first fumbled the ball? Partners look out for each other. The president of the Athens Olympic Organizing Committee (ATHOC) should be chasing down NBC and all the sponsors who made a killing on the backs of Greek taxpayers and small businesses.

John Furlong should have looked straight into the CBC camera and taxpayers' living rooms and said, "I'm not going to let anyone, including the IOC intimidate Vancouver, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada or me into overspending for 2010. We will do what we have to in order to present the greatest sporting event possible, and we will not be swayed by anyone. We will do it on Canada's terms. It's not what we spend -- it is what we get out of it. I will work hard to ensure that whatever we spend we will get back many times over, and at the end of the day 'ALL' Canadians will benefit economically as well as promotionally and patriotically."

Unfortunately, John might not have thought deeply enough about putting it in these terms if all he's pondered so far is a plan for gold medals -- and not economic success for everyone.

*Ed. Note: We invested over three years and a six-figure budget researching Olympic organization relationships with sponsors, contractors, suppliers, partners, etc. The results surprised us too -- mouseover below

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