Pedlars, pedestrians, policing and puddles: a case study of some of the operational challenges of a peripatetic event (the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay in Dorset).

Authors: Fox, D.

Start date: 3 July 2013

The operational aspects of events management are gradually receiving more attention in the literature, but the challenges associated with peripatetic events such as marathons, carnivals and other similar events have tended to be overlooked. The largest example of this type of event is the Olympic Torch Relay, which is also one of the main non-sports events associated with the modern Olympic Games (Horne & Whannel 2010). The London 2012 relay took 70 days travelling 8,000 miles (13,000 km) through the UK and was supported by more than 13 million people lining the route (London 2012, 2012). For most of the local authorities who were responsible for ensuring the safe passage of the Torch through their district this was a unique event. Additional operational responsibilities and complexities (Cashman and Harris 2012) fell on those authorities who also organised the evening community celebration events each day.

Previous contemporary experience of hosting the Torch Relay came from the 31 mile tour in London of the Beijing Torch in 2008, significantly referred to as the ‘caged torch procession’ (Horne & Whannel 2010); a mock torch relay in 2011 developed by financial sponsor LloydsTSB, when ‘a prototype of the 2012 torch was taken to key sites around the UK, staging photo opportunities, as part of a campaign to select a proportion of the 2012 Olympic torch bearers’ (Miah & Garcia 2012 p.112) and the national Dress Rehearsal held in April 2012 in Leicestershire, which replicated day 46 of the principal event (BBC 2012). Therefore most local authorities who had little or no direct experience of what to expect relied on these events in their planning.

This case study draws on secondary data sources and primary data from participant observation by the researcher through her involvement with the Relay in Dorset, to examine some of the operational issues of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay from the perspective of the event organisers. It concentrates on four aspects: the commercial, social, political and environmental. The commercial aspects of the Olympics including the Torch Relay have been the subject of considerable literature (for example, Ferrand et al. 2012; Garcia 2013). In Hampshire, more than 450,000 residents lined the streets enhancing the local economy by an estimated £10m (Masker, 2013). Similarly much was made of the sponsorship of the Relay (for example Bannerman 2012) and local authorities were especially aware of the problems associated with ambush marketing. Less publicised was the issue of the pedlars who became integrated into the Torch Relay ‘caravan’ and the operational issues based on whether they were licensed or certified. Crowd management was a major issue not only as the Relay passed, but also at the community celebration events. Security was similarly integral to the operational process with the complexities of several police forces crossing various political boundaries to be negotiated. Finally, the natural environment had an impact too, particularly the weather, as England had the wettest year on record (Met Office 2013).

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