Olympic Games: Clash of egos blamed after Olympic bid drops Cassani

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The Independent Online

One year from now, London will know if it has succeeded in its attempt to host the 2012 Olympic Games. And the omens yesterday were not looking good as the chairman of the London bid, Sebastian Coe, faced stinging accusations that his ego and lack of leadership were putting the bid in jeopardy.

One year from now, London will know if it has succeeded in its attempt to host the 2012 Olympic Games. And the omens yesterday were not looking good as the chairman of the London bid, Sebastian Coe, faced stinging accusations that his ego and lack of leadership were putting the bid in jeopardy.

A row has been triggered by the removal of Barbara Cassani from the bid payroll. The former leader of London's campaign to host the Games, who stood down from the role six weeks ago with the pledge she would continue to immerse herself in the project, will work only one day a week.

Her departure has triggered the resignation of the project manager, Jane Willacy, who has blown open tensions within the bid team with claims that the project is directionless and driven by ego.

In becoming the first employee to quit London 2012 since it was formed just 14 months ago, Ms Willacy, alleges in her resignation letter that the there was "no apparent decision-making process and no leadership" at the bid's Canary Wharf headquarters.

In a barely disguised attack on Lord Coe, she said the bid required a "leader that will need to understand what needs to be fought for in a 'winning' bid and the stamina and the guts to fight for it."

Ms Willacy, who worked alongside Ms Cassani from the days when the American founded the budget airline Go in 1997, blamed "self-centred" employees on the changes at the top.

She said she was "concerned that individual agendas will be allowed to compromise the quality of the bid" and further claimed that already some senior staff were more worried about the trajectory of their career path after the decision on the host city is made.

She described the bid's public relations and its support f rom government and among the public as "wholly inadequate", the latter echoing a criticism from the International Olympic Committee when it included London among the remaining five candidates on 18 May.

The letter has dented London 2012's growing repuation for tightly controlling its public relations and a search for the source of the leak will be complicated by the fact that Ms Willacy sent the e-mail to the chief executive, Keith Mills, but copied it to the main bid "stakeholders" - the British Olympic Association, the Mayor's office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Her comments - music to the ears of leaders of the bids from Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow - were quickly downplayed in London which had hoped for a better way of marking yesterday's milestone of exactly a year to go before the International Olympic Committee decides on the 2012 host city.

Ms Willacy was being portrayed as a "disgruntled" employee whose judgement was impaired by loyalty to Ms Cassani (so strong is the bond that she was mentioned in glowing terms in the businesswoman's recently published memoirs).

London 2012 insisted that Ms Cassani was still "100 per cent" committed to the bid although it acknowledged her work on the blueprint due to be submitted to the IOC in November would now be supplemented by the highly regarded Australian consultants MI Associates, recently hired from the failed Rio bid.

Its chief, Jim Sloman, was chief operating officer of Sydney 2000 and won many plaudits for helping to run arguably the best Games to be staged.

Others, however, were prepared to admit that while the climate at the bid company's headquarters was happier than for some time, Ms Cassani may have finally paid the price for her ebullience.

Critics said that her style had been ideally suited to the early days of setting up the company from scratch, armed with only a mobile phone and contacts book early last summer but had not been universally popular since.

She clinched the £150,000-a-year job as the preferred candidates withdrew from the race amid Government dithering over the bid and her style has rankled particularly among some Whitehall civil servants. On overseas assignments early in the bid, she was known, in the spirit of enterprise, drastically to change itineraries at the last minute, leaving her aides in despair. A source said: "She is used to snapping her fingers and getting things done but sometimes this has been known to put noses out of joint."

London's dash for 2012

15 May 2003

London is one of the last of the nine cities to declare its candidacy for staging the 2012 summer Games.

16 September

Barbara Cassani admits to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that London has fallen behind its main rivals.

18 May 2004

Bid makes it into the final five cities but is criticised by the International Olympic Committee for "often obsolete" public transport and lack of public support.

19 May

Cassani quits, handing leadership of the bid to Seb Coe, saying the chances of winning were better with a leader "born in London".

2 July

Cassani is taken off the payroll and her duties as vice-chairman are reduced to one day a week.

6 July

With a year to go until the IOC's decision, a former employee alleges lack of leadership and decision making within the bid team.

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