In fact, it is the travel requirements of athletes and their support teams that is one of the most important elements of any competition schedule. Not only do the sporting individuals have to make it to the training camp or competition venue, but so must their valuable equipment, nutritionists, physiotherapists and even food.
Managing the travel of one country’s Olympic team athletes, support structure, sponsors and equipment for the London 2012 Games takes a team of over 30 people (which triples as the event approaches), who have been working full time on the event since the host city was announced by the IOC.
Neil Pace, Head of UK Event Operations at ATP Event Experts, the specialist corporate hospitality and events business with a track record since 1984 in the sports sector, explains:
“The 2012 Olympics might be just around the corner, but we already have a team carrying out logistics and site visits for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the host city. Sports events carry many considerations from finding accommodation that can allow teams or athletes to bring their own food and chefs, to ensuring high security protocols can be applied, for example, for international football teams.”
“Major sporting events are also highly popular opportunities for corporate entertainment, particularly from sponsors. This means that as well as moving athletes safely and comfortably, the travel, events and logistics activity must deliver first-class experiences that bring together the values of a business with the sport in question. The considerations are endless.”
ATP Event Experts has shared a list of seven considerations and requirements when planning, booking and making the travel logistics of a major sporting event work:
1. Up in the air
With international sporting events sometimes playing host to hundreds of thousands of fans, media and corporate sponsors it takes a true expert who can find the best possible seats at the best possible price. As fans from all over the world converge on the host city in question, finding a suitable flight for an entire sports team can often prove a bit of a challenge and should be one of the first things taken into consideration when planning. Top athletes require the best treatment so for long haul flights, Business-class is nearly always a must and that usually includes a team’s support staff of coaches, assistants, medics and nutritionists. For short haul flights within Europe, economy class is normally booked due to cost factors.
2. Would you like the window seat or the aisle?
Many athletes, particularly for sports like basketball, volleyball or rugby are so big that they require special seating arrangements when travelling. One of top rugby clubs we manage the travel for have a few players who some might describe as "statuesque”. Some of these players cannot physically sit next to each other in a standard economy seat so it's normal operating procedure to sit the large players next to the smaller players. It’s our job to make sure the athletes in question arrive at their destination refreshed and ready to compete.
3. What’s in your Luggage
Luggage is often the most challenging aspect of moving professional athletes to tournaments and events around the world. From dealing with issues of shape (sports equipment, bikes, etc.) to volume (consider the amount of kit the average football team requires - balls, medical equipment, uniforms, physio equipment, etc.) to security risks (shooting rifles, speed-skates, etc.) there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transporting athletic luggage and organisers always need to be prepared for the most obscure carry-on and baggage requests. To put it into perspective, the average kit for a professional football team usually comes in at around 2.5 tonnes. Due to sheer size, often the kit and equipment travel separately in a special ‘kit van’ ahead of the team, where possible. Going down this route provides a few advantages as often you can fit more kit into a van or two compared to an aircraft hold. And of course the savings on transportation costs can be a major factor.
4. Food glorious food
Nutrition is an essential part of day-to-day life for any athlete and specialist food and supplements are often required at the hotel or venue where they are staying. Due to fears of contamination many athletes want to travel with their food and supplements, rather that it arrive separately which raises challenges when working with the weight restrictions for luggage across airlines. Each team will normally have a standardised menu which the hotel chef will see and agree on prior to a team’s arrival. Professional sports teams often travel with their own chefs who will cook some of the food at the hotel but most of the time will just oversee the operation and work alongside the hotel chefs. The menu for a professional athlete’s diet commonly includes grilled foods such as chicken, fish (never fried), salads, pastas, rice (high carbs), fruit juices and smoothies.
5. Location, location, location
Whether it is the Radisson or The Ritz, finding the ‘right’ hotel in the host city of an international sporting tournament is one of the most important considerations when moving professional athletes. Potential locations need to be evaluated in terms of whether the site will allow for a good night’s sleep without a lot of distractions and that the hotel is not in an area where there is absolutely nothing to do. Care also needs to be taken to distance the team/athletes from rival fans and press so as to allow the athletes to dedicate themselves completely to the competition or event at hand.
6. If your name isn’t down….
Security for athletes and their equipment is very important, as is the discretion of the hotel employees. Many teams travel with their own security who will work hand-in-hand with the hotel or venues. In some cases a destination might not be used to handling the accompanying press and fans that this brings. For example, site visits for hotels for the 2012 European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine included adding in how a security detail can work in a hotel that has never previously had this consideration. Often officers from the local police force will also travel with the team to ensure security and safety issues are adhered to.
7. Last orders
Alcohol and athletes do not mix, and with some sports this is more of a consideration that others. Some teams, or their sponsors, require quite bold steps such as bars in a hotel to be closed, and mini bars to be removed from rooms. Other sports teams simply want hotel staff to be clearly briefed that alcohol is not to be served to anyone in their group. At the team manager’s discretion, once the last match has been played, the players and staff often relax in the hotel bar with a few drinks to (depending on how they performed) celebrate or forget about the tournament.
Sporting clients of the ATPI Group include the England 2018 World Cup Bid Team, the Welsh Football Association and the Dutch National Olympic Committee as its Official Ticket & Travel Partner. The ATPI Group employs over 1,400 people worldwide in 50 offices situated in 31 different countries, and is behind the travel and/or event logistics of some of the biggest brands in the world.