The McKay interview: Debbie Jevans
Michael McKay talks to one of the most influential women in sport today. Debbie Jevans CBE, Director of Sport for the London Olympics 2012 and CEO of England Rugby 2015. Here she describes how sport remains a power for good – despite the obvious challenges...
Sports administrators are the unsung heroes of the big event. Taking us behind the scenes is Debbie Jevans, a former Grand Slam tennis player and a Wimbledon junior champion. However, she learnt her considerable management skills as General Secretary of the International Tennis Federation, establishing tennis as an Olympic sport. Debbie was also the first woman Director of Sport for an Olympics (London 2012), having helped win the bid in Singapore in 2007, and recently CEO of England Rugby 2015.
McKay:Your life in sport has been so interesting - but would it be fair to say that you made your reputation with the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics?
Jevans:From my perspective I’ve been very lucky, having been involved in sport for many years. For London 2012 my role was actually quite straightforward – to deliver across 26 sports, working with a fantastic team. The key was to put on a show, and aligned to that make sure that the athletes’ needs were taken care of, as well as delivering the medical and anti-doping programmes.
McKay: And it was regarded as one of the most successful games ever! What were the elements of success in London?
Jevans: As an event organiser all you can do is set the building blocks for success. We worked incredibly hard from an operational perspective and then we had the icing on the cake — the Games Makers — who were absolutely amazing. The weather was also very kind - and we all remember “Super Saturday” when Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah won their gold medals!
McKay:One of the recurring issues with any Olympics is legacy? Do you think there was a meaningful legacy in London?
Jevans: Yes I do, without question; an enormous legacy. What we did - and the Government and the London Delivery Authority also did this very well - was to think about the legacy in the build up and delivery of the Games, so when it came to the Olympic Park and the infrastructure, the plans were already in place. If you go to the Olympic Park now it’s an amazing facility!
McKay:The Olympics continues to grow – will we see is getting any bigger?
Jevans: In terms of number of sports and athletes, I think it’s pretty close to being as big as it can get. You are literally building a village for 10,500 athletes – in fact 15,000 people with support staff. What the IOC is doing now, correctly in my opinion, is capping the number of sports but with a review every four years to allow for a degree of churn. For example, BMX, skate boarding and snow boarding are coming in while older disciplines go out. Another consideration could be to develop multi-venues in a host country, rather than just one city.
McKay: Then you went to England Rugby to be CEO, which is still perceived as a masculine sport. What was it like being in that environment?
Jevans: I didn’t find it difficult to be a woman in that role and I cannot understand why anyone would be against diversity. But this has to come from the top. For example, at London 2012, 50% of my managers were female - and I will continue to fight to see more women in leadership.
McKay:And the organisation was first class! What were the differences between running London 2012 and a game like rugby?
Jevans:From an operational point of view it’s different - one sport versus 26, and 12 venues versus 34. But the fundamental principles of event delivery are the same. You cannot do it on your own; you deliver in partnership with local authority support - for transport, accommodation, security, accreditation. Another important element is looking after spectators and volunteers.
McKay:Cycling, football, athletics - all great sports, all damaged to a certain extent by the vast amount of money from sponsorship and TV. Can we still put our trust in human performance?
Jevans:Increased investment in sports is ultimately very positive. We now have a lot of athletes making a good living, and strong sports industries in equipment, infrastructure, sponsor-servicing etc... However, the other side of the coin is people trying to cheat the system in order to attain that wealth.
As far as doping is concerned, when athletes test positive and receive bans there are serious questions to be answered. It is an issue of leadership and we must ensure that we have a very robust and independent anti-doping programme. And as we have seen recently and allegedly at FIFA – we must ensure transparent governance.
Each sport needs to put in place a professional structure with the controls that you would expect in any such organisation. But I would say, having worked closely with FIFA when we delivered the Olympic football, it is very important to understand that there are hundreds of people working honestly - day in day out - to promote the sport and to develop it worldwide.
McKay:So can we be optimistic about the future of sport?
Jevans:Absolutely. I am proud to be Vice-Chair of Sport England and have seen communities where kids now play sports instead of being on the street. Business is also waking up to the fact that performance and teamwork translate into leadership skills. In my mind sport cuts through political, racial or religious barriers and we should continue to see it as a power for good.
Michael McKay, based in Founex, Switzerland, is an international communications, public affairs and management strategies consultant with over 40 years experience. He is also anexperienced master of ceremonies, event moderator and broadcaster.