The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are almost upon us. And most of us are more excited about the Opening Ceremony than we are about the sporting events that follow. But what does it take to ensure this spectacular event goes off without a hitch – and lives up to the expectations? To find out, we take a look at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony from an events manager’s perspective:

It takes a whole village of specialists

What you can be sure about is that if you are one of the event specialists working on the Olympic Opening Ceremony, you will be just one of a hundred (or even one of a thousand).  You will be part of a workforce of professionals, performers, volunteers, technical crew, and organisers.

The Olympics is what people call a ‘mega-event’, and no part of the Games is bigger than the Opening Ceremony. In fact, it will not only be a group of event specialists working together on this event, but groups of event planning companies co-ordinating their efforts.

The director makes the calls

The recent trend in organising Opening Ceremonies has been to give over the reins to an acclaimed film director. At the helm of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony was Academy Award-winning British director Danny Boyle.

Likewise, the Rio Opening Ceremony has been entrusted to filmmakers Fernando Meirelles, Daniela Thomas, and Andrucha Waddington.

Events managers, planners, co-ordinators, and specialists are some of the resources used by the directors to realise their creative vision and to organise the logistics.

A real ‘glocal’ event

The word ‘glocal’ is a combination of ‘global’ and ‘local’. Few events are as perfect an example of this concept as the Olympic Games.

Big international events management companies tasked with organising any part of the Games need to work with local events companies throughout the duration of the planning phase. Local resources are also very important when it comes to security, skilled labour, suppliers, contractors, performers, artists, and volunteers.

Conversely, if you work as a local events manager, you will still be working with international stakeholders, security companies, transportation companies, broadcasters, and the International Olympic Committee.

A lot of money and a lot of pressure

The London Olympics Opening Ceremony cost almost $39 million, while the previous Opening Ceremony in Beijing cost about $93 million.

As any events manager knows, there is much that can (and will) go wrong with an event of this magnitude. During the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, one of the four arms of the Olympic cauldron malfunctioned as it was lit during the Opening Ceremony. Milena Parent and Sharon Smith-Swan write that: “Incidents like these can set a negative tone that then becomes a challenge and can overshadow the Games for their duration.”

Always bigger and better

The Olympic Games Opening Ceremonies have become such a global cultural phenomenon in recent times that there is a lot of pressure on the organisers to exceed any and all expectations. This is because it has become one of the biggest opportunities for a country to show off on an international stage.

Consequently, the host country will always insist that each round of the Olympic Games needs to be bigger and better than the previous one. This objective then becomes the responsibility of the events planners, directors, and stakeholders.

For example, Japan’s Opening Ceremony is already reported to include a man-made meteor shower that will be launched by satellite!

Planning starts yesterday

Each Olympic Games’ host country is nominated years in advance. We already know that Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympics. You can be assured that planning has already started.

In fact, Japan already started planning its Opening Ceremony as part of its bid to host the Games back in 2013!

Yet you can be assured that on the night of the event, it will seem like things can still go wrong with people rushing around, putting out fires, and making on-the-fly decisions.

It’s more than just a show

Organisers don’t only work on the Opening Ceremony. It’s also about the Closing Ceremony, the Medal Ceremonies, and the athletics events in between. Many event specialists assist with the Opening Ceremony, and then go on to the other venues to work there for the duration of the Games.

Moreover, even the Opening Ceremony itself involves many different elements not directly related to the performance, such as organising security, transportation, and seating for dignitaries and VIPs.

There are certain rituals involved

The Opening Ceremony might be a big theatrical production, but it is also filled with protocol and procedure.

The Opening Ceremony includes these segments, after the big theatrical show is over:

  • The Parade of Nations: Participating athletes march into the stadium carrying their national flags.
  • Speeches: The President of the Organising Committee, the International Olympic Committee president, as well as a representative of the host country (generally the head of state) make opening remarks.
  • Flag raising: The Olympic flag is carried into the stadium and hoisted to the sound of the Olympic Hymn. The Olympic Oath is then spoken by a representative athlete and judge.
  • Olympic flame: The Olympic Torch is brought into the stadium and the cauldron is lit by a well-known athlete.
  • Release of the doves: The ceremonies are concluded by releasing doves in the stadium. In recent years, however, there has only been a symbolic release of doves.

Getting the job done

Without a doubt, working on the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is one of the most difficult projects an events manager can undertake. But it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a significant accomplishment to add to your CV.

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