Sema takes gold with $250m Olympics IT contract

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SEMA, the Anglo-French computer services group, has won a prestigious contract to handle all computer systems for the Olympic Games from 2002 to 2008, ending IBM's 38-year association with the games.

The deal, believed to be worth about $250m (pounds 150m), is the largest ever sports-related IT contract awarded. Sema will be responsible for integrating and managing all computer systems, including ticketing, transport and supplying of data to media agencies and the Internet.

The contract covers the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, US, in 2002, the summer games in Athens in 2004 and the winter and summer games in 2006 and 2008. It is a major coup for Sema, which wants to become a global player in the computer industry. It is thought to have fended off EDS, the US giant.

"The upside is that it opens Sema to becoming a worldwide brand,'' said George O'Connor, analyst at Granville, the investment bank. "The challenge is for them to execute on a worldwide basis.''

The contract came up for grabs after the International Olympic Committee fell out with IBM, which has handled the systems for 38 years, blaming the US group for the logistical problems in Atlanta in 1996. The two are also believed to have differed about who would have commercial control of the IOC's website.

Sema has experience of dealing with large sports events, having worked on the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and handled IT for the 1996 European football championships in the UK.

The contract is the first of three to be awarded by the IOC. The others are a deal to handle the timing, believed to have been won by Swatch, the Swiss group. The contract for computer hardware is likely to be fought out between suppliers Compaq and Sun Microsystems of the US.

Pierre Bonelli, Sema chief executive, said: "It is a unique opportunity to demonstrate our skills and experience in the management of long-term complex projects on time and to budget at the world's most highly regarded sports event."