The official ‘legal services provider’ role will become commonplace
When the flame is lit on 27 July and the London 2012 Olympic Games are officially declared open, it is not just our athletes who will have had an unrepeatable opportunity. London 2012 is unquestionably the biggest show on earth and a once-in-a-generation event for both the UK and also, more specifically, UK plc as well as UK LLP.
In 2009, Freshfields was appointed official legal services provider, the first time there has ever been a single firm appointed as official legal services provider to an Olympic and Paralympic Games. But the firm’s involvement goes back further than 2009. It has been helping to prepare for the Games since 2003, when it assisted with London’s bid to be host city. The challenge was to successfully develop an event of this size, duration and complexity in a city that had not previously hosted such a huge event. By comparison with the London 1948 Olympics, London 2012 is of a different dimension. It will bring together 9 million spectators and 16,500 athletes from 205 nations.
The first task was to advise on the governance structure. Essentially, this was a job of co-ordination: taking the mass of legal rights and entities needed to stage the Olympic and Paralympic Games and turning them into a simple, two-body structure. One body is public, the Olympic Delivery Authority. It is responsible for developing and building the new venues and infrastructure for the Games and their use after 2012. The other is private, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). It is responsible for staging the Games. Once London won the Olympics in 2005 and both were established, decisions around delivering the Games started to be made.
When Freshfields was appointed in 2009 the hard work of the legal services role really started in earnest. Every element of preparing and staging the Games has some legal aspect, not just the obvious ones such as building stadia or rules on anti-doping. Since 2009, more than 300 Freshfields employees have been involved from every area of business, including more than 30 lawyers on secondment to LOCOG in Canary Wharf.
The standard opening line of meetings has been ‘this has never been done before but’, and the task-list has included unique roles such as checking the EastEnders script for brand-protection issues (the Olympic torch will be visiting Albert Square), procurement of bespoke horse ambulances and harbour revision orders to take powers over the sea at Weymouth and Portland. The tender process leading to Channel 4 being awarded the UK TV Paralympic broadcasting rights was another notable legal first; they have never before been separated from the Olympics.
But the legal story goes beyond the Games. Legacy is where the long-term dividends will pay out, and it is not just about which football team may move into the stadium. It is about the raft of long-term improvements and opportunities offered by the event.
One of the things that made the bid successful was its aim to create a sporting legacy that will benefit future generations. The Fields in Trust charity that safeguards outdoor spaces, in particular its London 2012-inspired Queen Elizabeth II Fields Challenge, will provide young people with recreational space regardless of where they live. Land agreements have been negotiated and ownership determined to ensure that these areas survive indefinitely.
Being the first official legal services provider and contributing to the delivery of the biggest peacetime logistical event on earth is an exciting challenge and an achievement to be proud of. It has already led to new client opportunities, including the Winter Games in Sochi and FIFA’s 2022 World Cup. If Freshfields can set a strong precedent, there is every reason to anticipate that the official legal services provider role will become commonplace.
In the meantime, let us enjoy the spectacle of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host the greatest sporting event in the world.
Tim Jones is lead partner on London 2012 at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer