Jerome Frost is part of a unique experiment: the first government-to-government agreement for a group of major sports events experts in one country to advise those staging an event in another.
As global cities leader at Arup, the international design, engineering, architecture and planning firm, Frost is part of a UK group that also includes Mace, the international consultancy and construction company, and 4global, the major event and sports business consultancy, that is assisting with elements ranging from design and procurement, to construction management delivery and operations planning for Lima 2019.
Like many other members of the group, Frost’s experience includes working on the London 2012 Olympic Games. Speaking at Arup’s London offices, Frost tells Sportcal that the British government responded to an invitation from its Peruvian counterpart to tender for the advisory role because it “saw it as an opportunity to trial a different government-to-government approach.”
Asked why the UK bid had triumphed, he says: “London 2012 was seen as an exemplar. Our views were formed and shaped by London 2012. Also, the empathy shown to the Peruvian authorities. It feels like a partnership, rather than telling the Peruvian authorities how to do things.
Jerome Frost, global cities leader, Arup
“It’s not about parachuting in with expertise gained from another project. We’re learning as much as they are - and it means that we [Arup], as an organisation, are invested in Peru [in the future].”
The aim, Frost agrees, is communicating expertise. “With all games – and Peru is no exception – you’re starting from scratch, with no experience of bidding or delivering the games,” he says. “Even in London, we took a lot of advice from others. It’s a process of education, and it’s important to do it in a partnership. We’re helping the Peruvians on the ground to learn and understand. We’re not there to do; it’s an advisory commission. The aim is to leave behind a legacy of capable and experienced people who will go on to do other projects. That’s what happened in the UK.”
The Pan Am Games are “a lot smaller” than the Olympics, but, Frost contends, are “the right scale for a city the size of Lima.” What’s different about Lima 2019 is that it is “being seen as an opportunity to get to grips with some of the big challenges in the country. There were floods in the north of the country and the games give an opportunity to experience organising big infrastructure projects. It’s a model for the recovery of major infrastructure in Peru and across South America.”
Specifically, a dedicated infrastructure taskforce has since been announced by the UK's foreign secretary that aims to involve UK teams advising on projects in Lima and across the country - leveraging British expertise to assist in delivering reconstruction in a more efficient and managed way. Representatives from Arup attended the visit to Lima as part of the foreign secretary's announcement.
Peru is not alone in needing advice to stage major events, Frost says, given that even highly sophisticated developed countries do not necessarily have recent experience of doing so. “Peru is a fantastic model for giving a recipient country confidence and a backstop,” he says. “If we look to the future we’ll find other emerging markets now at a point that they feel that major events are something they would benefit from to help accelerate other projects.
“Santiago is next [to stage the Pan Am Games, in 2023], and I’m sure they’ll be looking at our legacy. It applies equally to advanced economies. The UK didn’t have experience; it had history, but on a different scale altogether. There’s not too much difference between host countries with advanced or emerging economies. We may find very developed countries bidding and still needing to draw experience from elsewhere.”
At the same time, Frost says, the requirements of host cities are changing. “Look at LA 2028 [Los Angeles’ plans for hosting the 2028 Olympics]. The public authorities are not building venues at all. There, the legacy will be more about the social and economic impact. It requires a very sophisticated approach.”
Peru plans to invest about 5 billion soles ($1.5 billion) on new infrastructure to host the games, the organising committee announced in June last year.
The estimate comprised 3 billion soles for transport infrastructure and 2 billion soles for sporting infrastructure, with the organisers anticipating that the games will generate earnings of 5 billion soles for the local economy. About 680 million soles of this will be direct earnings and the rest indirect, they said.
Sixty-two per cent of the required sports sites already existed and the work consists partly of improving, adapting and modifying the facilities, the largest and most expensive being the Pan American Villa, which will act as the athletes village, housing the majority of the 9,000 athletes and officials involved in the games.
Typically, Frost argues, the decision to host major sporting events has been taken in isolation, instead of as part of the long-term development of a city. “I’m a huge fan of events as a catalyst and a means of driving other agendas,” he says. “If you don’t have another agenda, you shouldn’t be bidding for the games. It creates an opportunity to align the event with major policies for growth for the city.
“The real legacy for London is the development of London’s businesses that gained from that knowledge, which is now being exported overseas. Ten thousand jobs were created in Stratford [east London] that wouldn’t have happened without the timescale [of hosting the Olympics]. The event fired the city to transform the way it was managed, and it was left with an organisational and capacity legacy.
The most important thing for cities to focus on now is, how do you take the event to the masses?
“Taking events out of the ticketed zone, and spreading them to the city through live sites, leaves an even stronger legacy. The most important thing for cities to focus on now is, how do you take the event to the masses? We’ve given a lot of thought to that in Peru and elsewhere and we’re developing ideas for LA.”
Frost is speaking, of course, at a time when cities are displaying unprecedented reluctance to take on the perceived costs involved in hosting major sports events, especially Olympic Games (three of the original line-up of seven cities that entered the current race to host the 2026 winter Olympics pulled out – Sion, Graz and Sapporo). Can Frost understand that caution?
“Of course, I understand those concerns,” he says. “The costs are still significant, whether borne by the public or private sector. Therefore, you have to focus on the value the games can bring. You have to understand very clearly the plan for your city. That’s what we should take as the learning from the success of the Olympics in London: the organisational legacy, the way in which the transport system operated across London, for example. There were massive efficiency gains. The [centralised] transport control centre is activated for an event, but there’s an opportunity to capitalise permanently, with live monitoring of traffic. When all the emergency services are looking at one source of information, it brings about a collaborative way of working that didn’t exist before.”
Have there really been such improvements as Frost claims? Perhaps it takes a city planner to spot them - and to be able to envisage what the alternative might have been. “I’ve lived in London all my life, and the ease of moving about is palpable, and the shift happened at the time of the Olympics,” he claims. “You might also say the courage to do [major rail infrastructure projects] Crossrail 1 and HS2 came from the experience of the Olympics. You have to remember that before the Olympics we had difficult projects like Wembley [the much-delayed and over-budget redevelopment on the national stadium], which completely undermined confidence.”
Aware of the increasing scarcity of bid cities, the IOC has taken action to try to address the problem through Agenda 2020 by attempting to reduce the costs and complexity of both bidding for and hosting the Olympics, and by implementing a more consultative bid process, in which candidate cities’ priorities are taken into account. However, Frost proposes a total reassessment of the relative importance of the various client groups associated with an Olympic Games.
“The games were rightly conceived in history to be centrally focused on the participants,” he says. “But now that they’ve moved into the realm of billions [of dollars], we have to recognise that that emphasis needs to be shifted to the public view of the games, because the public bears the costs. Public ambition needs to predominate.”
This is likely to represent a radical proposal in the eyes of the IOC, which has always regarded the athlete as king, leading generations of bid cities to claim to be putting the athletes first in their bid books and presentations.
However, “A better games experience will happen in a city where the public is fully behind the games,” Frost argues, adding: “The starting point for planning needs to be the socio-economic benefits. The IOC needs to be open to very differing concepts, depending on the city, and it also needs to be prepared for differing concepts of returns. With the advent of digital technologies, as well as improved technology in stadia, there is now much more scope for a broader audience. In order to make that a reality, cities need to be freer to do more, to demonstrate that different income streams can flow back into an event.
If you’re almost wholly reliant on ticketing as your primary income, you’re excluding a vast number of people
“It’s an opportunity to look at a different business plan that might sit alongside the public focus. If you’re almost wholly reliant on ticketing as your primary income, you’re excluding a vast number of people. Media rights are increasingly tied to social media, which means you’re gaining audiences not inside venues but outside and across the city. So much value was gained in Russia [during this summer’s Fifa World Cup] from events that took place in parallel [with the action in the stadia]. I’m not sure we’re fully exploring how much that can be captured.
“It will be interesting to see what LA does. They’re investing upfront, engaging in youth and sports activities, which will be the test bed [for the games themselves]. They can build up to the event through social engagement: what’s happening at the local sports centre, not just the physical manifestation of a live site. From a media rights perspective, that might not currently be looked at as an opportunity, but there is huge interest in engaging with the sports arena.”
Typically, opponents of cities considering bids to stage major sports events point to the cost involved and invite citizens to imagine how many new hospitals and schools could be built with the same amount of money – a highly persuasive argument that has been the downfall of a series of bids in recent years. What is Frost’s response to it?
“If you take that sum of money, you could always make an argument that it could be used differently,” he acknowledges. “But the reality [at London 2012] was that that site had been planned and thought about for 30 years. The Olympics made it [the redevelopment] happen, along with many other things. It does galvanise everyone around a single date, and it did bring schools, housing and investment.
“My single message would be: use that date mercilessly to galvanise yourself into accelerated delivery [of benefits to the city].”